Oil Sampling and Filtering: How to Save Money and Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Scott Briner, Advanced Composites

As the leading supplier of thermoplastic olefins (TPOs) and polypropylene compounds to the North American automotive industry, Advanced Composites in Sidney, Ohio, operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Its product line consists of proprietary formulations designed to meet specific original equipment manufacturer (OEM) applications, ranging from super-ductile materials required for interior-trim, side-air-bag (SAB) applications and highly engineered TPO compounds needed for scratch-resistant, mold-in-color instrument panels to compounds designed for exterior bumper-fascia and body-side moldings.

At a facility that runs 24 hours a day, scheduling and completing proactive maintenance can be challenging. Work orders may be created to take a line down for oil filtering, but scheduling in most cases makes it difficult for this to happen in a timely manner.

Thankfully, Advanced Composites is an organization that fosters development and improvement. This has enabled the preventive maintenance (PM) program to be transformed into a proactive maintenance program.

Through this shift, the company was able to increase savings and reduce its carbon footprint. This article will describe how the necessary changes were implemented to its maintenance and lubrication program, as well as provide a glance into where the program is heading in the future.

A Brief History

Before the current maintenance PM coordinator started working for Advanced Composites, the original maintenance and lubrication program consisted of only two semi-annual oil changes. The PM task team would change out the oil on their vital equipment during the July and December shutdowns as a preventive measure against breakdowns.

For reference, vital equipment is defined as the equipment necessary to keep the facility running and making product. The current lubrication program is set to only sample equipment that has 20 or more gallons of oil or is defined as “support vital equipment.” This equipment has a direct impact on all production operations, such as laboratory test equipment or air compressors.

Through semi-annual oil changes, Advanced Composites was disposing of 916 gallons of oil per year on average and spending an average of $11,475 on just 12 pieces of equipment. Changing out the oil semi-annually on these machines started to become a fruitless and very costly PM task.

At the end of 2012, Advanced Composites took a step in the right direction by beginning an oil sampling program. Unfortunately, the program was put in place with very little direction or knowledge of how to run it. Oil samples were scheduled to be drawn as a quarterly PM task.

The team would go to the equipment, open it up through the breather port, and draw a sample with the vacuum pump and tubing. Sometimes additional contamination would fall into the gearbox through this sampling procedure. The reports would come back and be filed away.

When it came time to filter, personnel would go out to the oil shed/maintenance shop to get a plumbing fixture to attach the filter cart to the gearbox (or other equipment). This process could take up to 30 minutes. Sometimes the plugs and pipes were not wiped down, leading to additional contamination entering the system.

In 2014, after almost two years in the evolution of Advanced Composites’ early maintenance and lubrication program, Scott Briner was hired as the PM administrator. His responsibility was to lead and manage this lubrication program and the preventive maintenance program. Within the first few months, Briner started Noria’s lubrication training and took the certification test to obtain his Level I Machinery Lubrication Technician (MLT I) certification through the International Council for Machinery Lubrication (ICML).

After receiving his certification, Briner implemented an “oil change/filtering worksheet.” This worksheet helped him to better manage, schedule and then note when jobs were completed. It also provided a paper trail to file electronically for future reference as needed.

However, for the first six months of Briner’s first year with Advanced Composites, the PM team was operating on the limited knowledge of how to use and understand their current oil analysis results. When the quarterly oil sample was sent out to be tested, it usually would take the laboratory more than 30 days to return the results.

Waiting this long for sample results was not helpful, especially if there was a problem that required urgent attention. By the time it was determined based on the results that an action such as an oil change or filtration was needed, it was time for the next quarterly oil sample to be collected.

As Briner began looking at the results closely, questions about the reports sometimes would arise. He would reach out to his contact at the lab and often have to wait for days or weeks to receive an answer.

Advanced Composites was just taking the word of its lab as to whether anything needed to be done on the equipment. This made personnel feel as if the lab was driving them. The company was not steering the wheel of its own lubrication program.

Advanced Composites also was struggling to find the right time to conduct oil changes and filter oil in a timely manner. With a production schedule that is seven days a week, 24 hours a day, the PM team would have to work closely with production management to find out when and how long the next line changeover was scheduled for the vital equipment that required lubrication attention. In most cases, by the time oil changes or filtering could be conducted, it was time to extract oil samples on the next scheduled quarterly PM task.

The facility was not even close to being preventative with its lubrication PM program, let alone proactive. Frustration was beginning to build, and Briner knew big changes would be necessary to create a world-class lubrication program.

Gallons of oil disposed of based on 12 pieces
of vital equipment being maintained semi-annually

Cost of oil disposed of based on 12 pieces of vital
equipment being preventively maintained semi-annually

Fostering Change

Briner met with the maintenance team and brought forth his concerns about the current state of the lubrication program. Right away, they gave him the go-ahead to seek a better laboratory to handle the oil samples.

They also asked him to establish a set of goals to work toward, make changes and improve in a timely manner. There were many things he wanted to improve at this point, but Briner had to limit his list to the most important goals first. The initial goals were as follows:

  1. Perform oil filtration on vital equipment in a timely manner by finding a way to filter the oil while the equipment is still in operation.

  2. Obtain a better laboratory to handle the oil samples with a quicker turnaround time for the results.

  3. Find training, possibly with the new laboratory, to gain the knowledge and understanding to read the oil sampling test results.

  4. Improve the prevention and common practices relating to oil contamination within the lubrication program.

  5. Continue to improve and reduce the lubrication carbon footprint.

  6. Continue to improve the lubrication program’s file history, including oil sample test results and work completed, possibly within a spreadsheet.

After this list of goals was submitted, Briner attended his first Reliable Plant Conference & Exhibition in 2017. The purpose of his attendance was to sit in as many sessions as possible to gain points toward his MLT I certification. To his surprise, he received much more for his visit.

Reliable Plant Conference

The second and third goals on the list centered on finding a new laboratory. At the Reliable Plant Conference, Briner discovered a lab that promised to have oil test results back within 24 hours and at a savings of half the current cost per sample.

The new lab also agreed to train Briner on how to read and understand the results to proactively tackle issues. Now he would know how good his oil was and whether it could last until the next scheduled quarterly oil sampling.

In addition, this lab could provide an online database with a history of the oil sampling as a bonus service. This database makes it easy to go back and look at baseline samples to see trends and spikes. For instance, Advanced Composites received a report indicating what was considered a high particle count.

Previously, a filtration work order would have just been scheduled, but after examining the current report, some past reports, and the baseline report, the company determined that the particle count wasn’t high at all. It was consistent across all the samples. There was no need to create a new work order. This saved a tremendous amount of man hours.

Personnel at the new lab were also very interested in visiting the Advanced Composites facility to get a better idea of the environment in which the equipment operates. This allowed them to recommend the best tests for the equipment.

Briner now receives better results that are tailored to his type of production and equipment, and he is in a better position to advise the maintenance team on what to do. They can see when a problem is coming, and if something keeps recurring in the results, they can dig into it to determine if there is a larger issue.

This has resulted in the company spending small amounts on little, immediate fixes rather than discovering a $1 million problem 30 days later. Partnering with this new lab effectively crossed two items off the to-do list.

At the same conference, Briner met Bernie Hall, who said he could help with in-service filtration. They discussed installing “oil access assemblies” on a vital piece of equipment to see if they could filter while the equipment was in production. After a few phone calls and emails, Hall had all the information needed to put together the first assembly. On Aug. 25, 2017, the assembly was installed on a trial basis and tested for about 30 days.

One piece of the assembly is installed into the drain port. This portion includes a quick connect and sampling tube. The tube goes directly into the gearbox and can be bent upward so the sample is taken away from the bottom and side sediment for a more representative sample.

The quick coupling still permits draining, but it also allows a permanent connection to a filter cart. The other piece of the assembly is installed into the breather port. This piece includes an area where a desiccant breather and another quick connect can be installed for filling or connecting to a filter cart.

The mounts worked great. In-service filtration was able to be completed and with a much better method of extracting oil samples. Once the 30-day testing period was over, Briner obtained purchasing approvals from the maintenance team. By the end of 2017, all the vital equipment had been fitted with these mounts.

The drain mount (left) and breather mount
(right) installed on a vital piece of equipment

The mounts and expedited oil analysis reports improved the success and completion of work orders. Because Briner was receiving reports faster and understood them better, he could create work orders for the PM task team to complete. Before the drain and breather mounts, they had to schedule work alongside the production schedule to determine when these vital pieces of equipment could be taken out of service for filtering.

As mentioned, sometimes the work could not even be completed before the next oil sample. Now, because these mounts with quick couplings are already on the machines, the team can simply hook up the filter cart and come back in a couple of hours.

These mounts were the biggest gamechanger of all the improvements. With the first three major items on Briner’s list crossed off, he began working on the other improvement items.


The filter cart connection on one of the breather mounts

Reducing Contamination

Reducing oil contamination has been a continuous improvement process. Advanced Composites first had to educate and train its team on ways to prevent contamination. Briner introduced “maintenance touchpoints,” which are handouts that are reviewed by all team members, discussed, signed and then filed away in the training folder.

Within the maintenance touchpoint, Briner gave one word to remember: COPPER, which stands for contaminated oil, proactive practices, effective results. The reason “COPPER” was chosen is because copper is a contaminant in the facility’s oil. The goal is to remember that if personnel are proactive in preventing contamination, this will lead to more effective maintenance results.

To aid in better storage and handling practices, a set of rules was created to prevent oil mishandling and contamination. The current rules include the following:

  1. Do not mix different types of oil. Verify which type of oil is needed for each application and then use the correct or provided handheld container in the oil storage shed.

  2. When replacing oil, only drain into buckets and containers clearly marked for “used oil.” These are located in area No. 5 within the vacuum waste tote storage areas. No used oil should be stored in the oil storage shed at any time for any reason.

  3. Do not use any provided handheld container for used oil if it is intended for new oil and located in the oil storage shed.

  4. Only use the trash pump to pump used oil. Never use any other filter pump to assist in draining out used oil.

  5. Always ensure the funnel, new oil container and area around the opening to each piece of equipment are clean and free of any foreign debris when refilling new oil.

  6. Keep the tops of oil drums in the oil storage shed free and clear of any and all foreign debris. Ensure the drums are clean before and after extracting oil from them.


The "used oil" storage and buckets are kept
far from the new oil storage.

The equipment installed had a tremendous impact on preventing and reducing contamination. The drain and breather mounts have allowed Advanced Composites to engage in better filtering and sampling practices. Before, the facility was only filtering during shutdowns or changeovers.

Personnel would have to install and connect to plugs and pipes, and filtering was performed on cold, uncirculated oil. Usually, the pipes and plugs were not wiped down, which would lead to more contamination entering the system. Now, they are able to complete in-service filtering while the equipment is making product.

Most importantly, the oil is warm and agitated, so the filtration is better. The team has also installed desiccant breathers on their machines for moisture and particle prevention.

Currently, Briner is looking to fine-tune the time required for the equipment’s quarterly oil filtering. This could potentially save man hours and workable filter cart conditions.

In addition to filtration, the drain and breather mounts have improved sampling practices. Previously, personnel had to open the system to the dusty environment to obtain a sample at the breather port.

Now, they can collect an oil sample without opening the system to the outside environment. The sample is pulled directly into the bottle while the equipment is in full operation, providing a better representation of the oil’s condition. Doing everything they can to minimize contamination during the sampling process ensures the results are reliable.

The percentage of retained and filtered oil
to changed oil for 2017 and 2018

Carbon Footprint

One of Advanced Composites’ goals as an organization is to reduce its carbon footprint. Within the lubrication program, the company strives to minimize oil waste by educating the PM task team on how to prevent oil contamination. This starts with properly filling equipment with new oil and continues through oil sampling and daily visual inspections of all seals and oil levels.

Back when Advanced Composites was performing semi-annual oil changes, it was leaving a big carbon footprint in terms of its disposed oil. As mentioned previously, the facility was disposing of 916 gallons of oil per year and spending an average of $11,475 annually on just 12 pieces of equipment.

Through improved understanding of oil analysis results, better sampling and filtering, and contamination reduction strategies, unnecessary oil changes were eliminated.

From 2013-2016, the company focused on putting all the necessary blocks in place so it could start gathering and reporting numbers.

One of the biggest changes was to the work environment. The team had to be educated on the importance of providing these numbers, which could then be reported to upper management, allowing them to see the improvements being made.

In 2017, 28 pieces of vital equipment were being maintained. By filtering 1,856 gallons of oil, the site retained 1,293 gallons in the machines and only had to change out 563 gallons. In 2018, 25 pieces of vital equipment were proactively maintained with the drain and breather mounts installed. The facility filtered 1,510 gallons of oil, retaining 1,350 gallons and changing out 160 gallons.

As you can see, Advanced Composites was able to significantly increase the amount of oil it retained in its machines while decreasing the amount of changed oil over the course of one year. It also found cost savings in reducing the amount of disposed oil.

Oil disposal, not including pick up and surcharges, cost the company $7.50 per gallon on average. In 2012, the disposal cost for the used oil would have been $7,410. In 2017, that number was roughly $4,222.50 for the 563 gallons of changed oil. In 2018, it was only $1,200. That is a 71.6 percent increase in oil disposal savings in just one year.

Briner is now trying to find a better way to recycle used oil. Currently, a waste contractor picks up the used oil, but Briner is exploring the possibility of having more control of what happens after it is collected.

Improved Record-Keeping

Since 2017, a much more accurate electronic filing account has been kept of Advanced Composites’ oil analysis results, oil changes and filtration. The online database provided by the new laboratory has helped Briner maintain an electronic history of oil sample results.

He can add or remove equipment without affecting any historical information in the database. Instead of digging through files and papers for analysis history, he can simply pull up the information on his computer to instantly compare sample reports.

The oil change/filtering worksheet has changed the work environment as well. It is mandatory that this worksheet be filled out before and after any work is completed, and then returned to Briner for review and electronic filing.

A label maker was also purchased so oil sample labels wouldn’t need to be handwritten. This has saved a lot of time. Briner’s advice is to contact your oil analysis laboratory to find out what information is required on your printed labels.

This may even speed up the turnaround time of your oil analysis results. Customizing your label on each sample helps the lab keep better records and makes the process easier when issues with the sample results arise.

Example of an oil sample label used
at Advanced Composites

Future Improvements

Many other improvements are being planned to increase savings and prevent oil contamination. The next big project is to enhance the oil storage area. Advanced Composites has already made changes to its handling practices to reduce contamination, but improvements to the storage area will further aid in decreasing contamination. Briner hopes to create a more user-friendly storage facility that will allow for lubricant inventories to be better controlled.

Within this revamp, a color-coding system is being considered with dedicated transfer hoses and oil containers. Briner would like to add drum mounts to aid in filtering, sampling and transferring new oil. These mounts will also provide a clean connection through the use of quick connects.

On a smaller scale, Briner is looking to improve his facility’s grease gun management. By weighing the pumps of grease from each grease gun and labeling the guns with this information, the PM task team will know exactly how much grease per pump they are applying. This should prevent overgreasing the bearings on vital equipment.

Reliable Support

Since 2014, Advanced Composites’ lubrication program has grown and is continuing to grow because of the guidance and continued support from the maintenance team as well as outside contractors such as Checkfluid and TestOil. Also, if it were not for the PM task team of Paul Henman and Levi Cole along with Chuck Riddle, the implementation of all the changes would never have happened. As the saying goes, “There is no ‘I’ in team.”

This successful journey required everyone working together to reach this point, and it will take everyone working together to continue to make improvements to the lubrication program at Advanced Composites.

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