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"We often receive reports from our oil analysis lab, but no one at the plant seems to know what all the results mean. Can you offer any advice for better understanding these types of reports?"
An oil analysis report can come in many different forms, depending on the lab and the tests being conducted. However, in most cases, these reports will include some standard items, such as the identification information, raw data and laboratory recommendations.
This information will provide details about the customer, the machine from which the oil was sampled and the lubricant type. Interpreting the results will depend on the type of oil being sampled as well as other influencing factors, such as the operating and environmental conditions.
Oil analysis results typically are presented in a variety of formats. Some may trigger an obvious abnormal value, but more often the data will require a baseline sample for comparison. This baseline usually comes from a sample of new oil from the same batch.
Based on the results and the identifying information, the oil analysis lab will make some general recommendations. These commonly will be included in a paragraph or two within the report. There also will be an identifier at the top of the report to indicate if the overall results are normal, reportable, unacceptable or severe. This frequently will be color- and/or number-coded. Regardless of the results, the report should be analyzed thoroughly by a plant-based interpreter.
Be sure to communicate with your lab and ask any questions you may have. Most laboratories are eager to help make their results more impactful.
The raw data may be the most confusing of these three items. Although there are other elements to an oil analysis report, it is critical to understand the types of tests being performed and how they are reported. For example, particle contamination is reported with an ISO contamination code based on ISO 4406. This procedure reviews how a particle counter identifies the number of particles at several different sizes per a specific volume of oil and then reports a code such as 18/16/14.
Viscosity, acid number, moisture contamination, elemental data, etc., are examples of other types of information that must be understood. While this can be overwhelming to untrained personnel, with proper training, good resources and some practice, these reports can become an effective tool to help you reach your reliability goals.