Making the most of your oil analysis data

How oil analysis plays a key role in your maintenance program

Nov. 16, 2023
"You don't have to be a chemist with an analytical chemistry degree to do a really good job of oil analysis and data interpretation."

Jim Fitch is the CEO of Noria Corporation and is the founding director and a former board member of International Council for Machinery Lubrication (ICML). Paul Hiller is ICML Marketing Manager. Jim and Paul recently spoke with Plant Services editor in chief Thomas Wilk at the SMRP Annual Conference about the importance of industrial training, overcoming challendges associated with oil analysis, and the new ICML 55® standard.

Listen to Jim Fitch and Paul Hiller on The Tool Belt Podcast

PS: Oil analysis is the cornerstone in a lot of ways to a responsible maintenance program, whether it's preventative or predictive. As someone who goes into a lot of the plants and has a lot of work with people, are you seeing patterns right now to the challenges they're facing? What problems they're coming with to the ICML perhaps, and also perhaps at Noria, to help them solve right now?

PH: By the time I’d be involved with them at all, they'd already be looking to certify. I think that most of the people I tend to talk to at the conference here have set up contracts with third-party labs to do their analysis, so they don't necessarily pursue, say, the LLA certification for in house personnel, although I’ll always recommended it. Their challenge then is to find a reputable, fast turnaround, comprehensive lab somewhere that they can get fairly quick results. It helps to have somebody in house that can communicate with the lab on that level of information, and then to recognize when there might be some shortcomings in the labs, reports, and such. I think the challenge has always been to have a good turnaround, and a lab that's responsive to your reporting needs. But I'm not hearing new kinds of challenges in that area.

JF: What we've seen, and we've been involved in oil analysis since the early ’80s, is less reliance on the laboratory analysts to interpret the data and more engagement by the local person at the plant to take the data, knowing what the machine is, knowing the history of the machine, reliability history, the type of lubricants that are used, the duty cycle, workloads, things like that associated with the machine. That person may also have information on vibration and thermography, and ultrasound, or inspection information. All of that is creating a picture of the machine’s health, so oil data is just one part of that. 

We want the user, the practitioner to have competency of what tests are run, what alarms and limits to set, and how to interpret the data and not rely on the analyst who's working in a laboratory. He may be two years out of college or something, may not even have a college degree, and he's trying to go through 500 oil analysis reports before the end of the day, and he's just going through them fast, he may have never seen a compressor before in his life, or a gearbox, or a turbine generator, he's just been told about it. That person may be good alerting to abnormal data, but really interpreting from the standpoint what's going on there and how to respond to that data, they're really not equipped. Clearly are some exceptions, but they're not (normally) equipped to do that. The end plant person is much better. 

PH: He'd be the subject matter expert.

JF: You don't have to be a chemist with an analytical chemistry degree to do a really good job of oil analysis and data interpretation. If you're a mechanic, you've been on the inside of the machine, you've seen how machines fail, you understand the failure modes and all that, you're far better equipped to interpret oil analysis data than an analytical chemist.

PH: Especially being able to provide the context like Jim is saying, all the all the details and parameters and the environmental issues around a particular unit for a machine, and all the machines that are supposed to be running alike, but there's that one that needs that special attention because it's a little bit different. The lab analyst outside a third party is not going to know that unless the in-house expert provides that information.

JF: Yeah, there's something called exposures. What has the oil been exposed to? What's the heat it’s been exposed to? What's the chemistry, the process chemistry? What is the particle contamination, moisture coolants, the metallurgy of the machine, loads, pressures, temperatures, all that kind of stuff, influences that data. You mentioned what we call bad actors, those are these machines that have chronic problems, you know, maybe this is one of those machines. Think about all the other data that needs to be included in the decision on whether to tear the machine down or to try to remediate a problem or something like this. Not just oil, but oil is a part of that condition monitoring universe, a big part of it.

PH: This is where certified people (to make a plug for certifications, of course) in-house, even an LLA, would be in the best position to make those decisions, not your analyst on the outside.

JF: So who is that certified person? That person is someone that has lubrication fundamentals training, that would be our MLA level 1. Then moving that into oil analysis basics training, that the MLA level 2 includes sampling and three categories of oil analysis, data interpretation, alarm limit setting, all of that. And then if it's a larger plant and a lot of assets, we need to probably have an MLA level 3. This is a person that knows how to design a lubrication program, how to set up an on-site laboratory, how to modify machines as necessary, proper location sampling ports, all of that would be in that Level 3 certification. The ICML program is perfectly suited to help them through those training and certification steps.

PS: Let's wrap this up with a discussion of ICML 55®, the standard that has been recently augmented and evolved. Paul, could you tell us about the advances made this year with ICML 55?

PH: Yes, ICML 55 is a standard that was introduced in 2019, as a response to the broad nature of ISO 55000. And ICML 55 is the result of a committee of 45 experts from all around the world who put their heads together and developed this standard. It basically takes all the decision points and all the considerations of the broad ISO 55000 document, and brings all those decision points down much closer to the shop floor, where lubricated asset management decisions are made. So it almost translates the broader document for lubricated asset managers, and now they can take all the concepts and apply them directly in the plant. 

The ICML 55.1 is the requirements document that was introduced in 2019. It lays out all the things that ought to be considered for a successful sustainable lubrication management system. There's a lot of recommendations and requirements in there that a manager might not have ever considered otherwise, and it standardizes all those requirements. 

This year, finally, we introduced ICML 55.2, which is the follow up implementation guideline. That takes the 12 areas that are introduced in 55.1, the 12 areas of a successful sustainable lubrication management system, and it expands on them and explains how they can be implemented. 

Then there's a 55.0 Executive Overview that can be provided to management so they know what's going on and feel part of the picture. All those have been published this year. The 55.1 was reformatted to fit the new series, which is presented in a hardcover and sold through our publisher.

JF: This really got started many years ago, I think like eight years ago, when ISO 55000 first was published. And that's that standard is harmonized with ISO 9000, harmonized with 14,000, other ISO standards. But if you look at that document, the 55001 version of that document which are the requirements, and you read through it and look for words like “reliability,” “physical assets,” “gearboxes,” “bearings,” “turbines,” “hydraulic systems,” the word “maintenance,” the word “lubrication,” the word “lubricants” – none of those words exist in that document. 

What we realized when we looked at it is that is a very holistic document, I call it the forest. It’s trying to take care of the forest. But if you want a healthy forest, you’ve got to take care of the trees, and you got to know how to take care of the trees. One of the important subcomponents there is the lubrication of mechanical physical assets. So we knew that that was the perfect assignment for the ICML, we went out and we created an outline, it's kind of like a engineering specification, for lubrication excellence. If you were to write that specification for lubrication excellence, what would it look like? Well, there are a lot of different opinions out there. And we knew we couldn't just make it a Noria opinion, or this person’s opinion or that person’s opinion. 

We assembled a stable of experts, these are people from around the world that are high profile individuals that have a reputation for expertise in one area or the other. We brought them together and we showed them the outline of what we're trying to achieve, but we needed to put flesh on the bone there. What are all these 12 chapters? What do we need to include? And it took us three years! It was a struggle, because you know experts don't agree, but we didn't give up, and eventually we got everybody's input. We let every one of these experts review the language of the other experts, and then we had to condense it all down and decide what made more sense, what was more right than other things. 

We brought it down to three remaining experts: Bryan Johnson, who was chairman of ICML at the time, myself, and Drew Troyer. The three of us got into a room and we just fought through this and condensed it down. And that left us behind what it was now, what we call the ICML 55.1, which is the requirements document. It’s very special, unprecedented, and we will see Part 2, which is how to do Part 1, catch traction around the world. We’ve already seen that.

PS: That's awesome. I imagine there's a lot of folks who, when they saw Part 2 emerge on the market, they're relieved to say, “okay, this is how the experts say we do this, specifically down to line item action this, action that.” That's exciting,

PH: We're billing it now where the Overview document (55.0) explains why to do a lubricated management system, and then the Requirements document (55.1) tells what to do, and the and the Guideline document (55.2) tells how to do it. The why, what, and how.

PS: We're looking at a flyer that's being passed out here at the SMRP show for the ICML 55 series. If anybody wants to find this flyer, or the documents, where can we point them to?

PH: This flyer is available at our publisher’s website. River Publishers is handling all the orders and publishing, we're not doing it in-house anymore, so if you were to go to our ICML website and click on the ICML 55 tab, there's more write-up about this with the links to the publisher website to read more and order today, that kind of thing.

About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University

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