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In an effort to explain the meaning of oil analysis for those who lack specific knowledge, we often make direct comparisons between maintenance and conditions of the human body (Table 1). We often state that oil is the lifeblood of machines, and that oil analysis serves as a blood test for your machine.
There is one comparison that I've not yet read about but see all too often: attention deficit disorder. ADD is the inability to maintain attention, resulting in impulsive behaviors and/or motor restlessness. This is a common occurrence in the infant stages of many oil analysis programs, and is a shared condition among all industrial sectors.
A key indicator of ADD is the inability to complete tasks. A person with ADD may be genuinely excited about starting a new project, but lacks the ability to finish the task, often resulting in a situation where the uncompleted task creates a level of negativity versus a path to improvement. In fact, most of these people suffering with ADD will jump into a project without having all the information of how to see the project through to the end. This results in the need to perform more work than if the task were properly planned and implemented.
Oil Analysis Perspective
Upon initiation of a reliability program, members of the newly created reliability team generally have a high level of motivation to get the program running. This includes the implementation of an oil analysis program. A common mistake is to begin oil sampling without completing the appropriate steps to ensure program success. This is the first characteristic of an incomplete or failed program, and chances are likely that within two years such an oil analysis program will be considered a failure.
Case in Point
I had a client who believed his company was ready to move forward with the type of in-depth oil analysis I perform. After nearly 18 months of receiving 95 percent of its oil sample reports at a poor level and declining, the company opted out of the service. They were recommended to initiate aggressive filtration to reduce cleanliness levels to a conservative, yet achievable level. Unfortunately, the plant's ability to take the appropriate steps that would allow for this filtration (for example, installation of breathers, quick-connects, etc.) was questioned.
Repairing the damage.
While ADD is a condition that results in a chemical adversity in the brain, several of the steps to treat human ADD parallel the steps to understanding and correcting a failing oil analysis program.
Obtain a comprehensive assessment of the current situation.
Properly implementing a successful oil analysis program requires a thorough understanding of the current condition compared to conditions that qualify as world-class. Once a qualified oil analysis and lubrication expert makes an assessment, then you can make informed decisions how to move forward.
Oil analysis education.
Relying on the laboratory data evaluators is not sufficient in establishing a world-class oil analysis and lubrication program. Often times, a well-educated end user can spot issues that may have been missed by the lab analyst due to the amount of time spent reviewing the sample data.
Make appropriate changes in work function.
This may require bringing in an outside expert, either on a contract or permanent basis, to help implement the appropriate strategies. Work function changes can include changing the sampling method, modifying the test slate for a given component, or modifying equipment to allow for proper sample collection and contamination control.
Seek continuous improvement.
Advances in oil analysis tools and testing is an ongoing quest. Anyone involved in the evaluation of used oil samples should stay current with the latest research and diagnostic tools in the oil analysis industry. This allows the end user to pose questions regarding possible test slate modifications that may provide more information at a negligible cost. Annual third-party audits on oil analysis and lubrication practices can help to fine-tune the program and identify any deficiencies that may remain.
Attention deficit disorder, as it relates to the human condition, can often be remedied with medication prescribed by doctors specializing in psychiatric conditions. With reliability ADD, there is no medication to fix the condition overnight. However, just as medical conditions require time for improvement, the recommendations given by oil analysis and machinery lubrication specialists will result in a decrease of the symptoms that lead to program failure.