Oil analysis has become an important aid to preventive maintenance. Laboratories recommend that samples of machine lubricant be taken at scheduled intervals to determine the condition of the lubricating film that is critical to machine-train operation. Typically 10 tests are conducted on lube oil samples:
Viscosity. This is one of the most important properties of a lubricating oil. The actual viscosity of oil samples is compared with an unused sample to determine the thinning or thickening of the sample
during use. Excessively low viscosity will reduce the oil film strength, weakening its ability to prevent metal-to-metal contact. Excessively high viscosity may impede the flow of oil to vital locations in the bearing support structure, reducing its ability to lubricate.
Contamination. Oil contamination by water or coolant can cause major problems in a lubricating system. Many of the additives now used in formulating lubricants contain the same elements that are used in coolant additives. Therefore, the laboratory must have an accurate analysis of new oil for
Fuel Dilution. Oil dilution in an engine weakens the oil film strength, sealing ability, and detergency.
It may be caused by improper operation, fuel system leaks, ignition problems, improper timing, or other deficiencies. Fuel dilution is considered excessive when it reaches a level of 2.5 to 5 percent.
Oxidation. Lubricating oil oxidation can result in lacquer deposits, metal corrosion, or thickening of the oil. Most lubricants contain oxidation inhibitors. However, when additives are used up, oxidation of the oil itself begins. The quantity of oxidation in an oil sample is measured by differential infrared analysis
Nitration. Fuel combustion in engines results from nitration. The products formed are highly acidic and may leave deposits in combustion areas. Nitration will accelerate oil oxidation. Infrared analysis is used to detect and measure nitration products
Total Acid Number. This is a measure of the amount of acid or acidlike material in the oil sample. Because new oils contain additives that affect the total acid number (TAN), it is important to compare used oil samples with new, unused, oil of the same type. Regular analysis at specific intervals is important to this evaluation.
Total Base Number. This number indicates the ability of an oil to neutralize acidity. The higher the total base number (TBN) the greater its ability to neutralize acidity. Typical causes of low TBN include using the improper oil for an application, waiting too long between oil changes, overheating,and using high-sulfur fuel.
Particle Count. Tests of particle count are important to anticipating potential system or machine problems. This is especially true in hydraulic systems. Particle count analysis made a part of a normal lube oil analysis is quite different from wear particle analysis. In this test, high particle counts indicate that machinery may be wearing abnormally or that failures may occur as a result of temporarily or permanently blocked orifices. No attempt is made to determine the wear patterns, size, and other factors that would identify the failure mode within the machine.