Mike Barrett is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Eurofins TestOil. He's currently working to help reliability practitioners maintain the health of their rotating equipment through same-day oil analysis services. Mike also specializes in helping teams develop programs, or providing guidance and support in getting a program back on track. Mike recently spoke with Plant Services editor in chief Thomas Wilk about his experiences, as well as what makes programs work, what trouble spots programs run into, and where you might want to take a look at improving your own oil analysis program.
PS: I'm excited about this conversation, because the Reliable Plant trade show was only about a month and a half ago and that's heavily focused on lubrication and oil analysis. Plant Services does an every other year survey focusing on predictive maintenance as well, and our research shows us clearly of the four or five most commonly used techniques, oil analysis is far and away the most popular and the most used. So maybe we can start with a question: in your opinion, as a 30 year veteran of this space, what are some of the reasons why oil analysis is so widely used?
MB: I would say that the financial cost to get involved with oil analysis is virtually nothing. You know, there's not a lot of upfront investment to buy any sort of hardware or software to get involved. It's really a matter of getting sample bottles from the lab, taking an oil sample, and sending it in. Everybody, I think, at this point realizes that the benefits of oil analysis are significant in keeping your equipment up and running and essentially extending oil changes. Those are the two main reasons why you do oil analysis. People understand that, and when they're looking at which technology should I get involved with, there's nothing upfront financially to purchase to get involved with oil analysis. Vibration has hardware/software, infrared has hardware/software, ultrasound has hardware/software, so it's more of a financial commitment. I think it's pretty easy to get a program going. But to keep an effective program alive is much more difficult.
PS: Before we started recording our conversation, you mentioned that there are a lot of complementary technologies, like those three you mentioned, to oil analysis. That isn't to say that oil analysis is superior to the others, but like you said, it's a good entry point to folks trying to get perhaps more proactive, more predictive about their maintenance scheduling.
MB: Yes, it's really all about predictive and condition-based monitoring. When I started, there was no such thing, people just would take oil samples, and if they found a problem, maybe someone would make a corrective action and fix it. As we developed reliability centered maintenance practices, the philosophy changed in that you would want to look at your individual equipment in the plant, and then do a sort of reliability assessment and say, how can this equipment fail? What are the specific faults that can cause it to fail? And then the idea is, ok now we're going to take a predictive technology that can find that fault.
You can have a lot of faults and maybe oil analysis is never going to find a specific fault on that failure, so you wouldn't want to implement it. But a lot of our customers have gone through the reliability process and understand their faults. What I see is vibration and oil analysis working together to find a lot of machine faults.
Misalignment is probably the biggest. Vibration would pick that up, oil analysis picks that up, and when you get a high wear metal count and you get a high frequency on your vibration, a corrective action is go out there and take a look at the gearbox, and ask is it out of alignment, and we fix it by putting it back in alignment. It's that kind of thinking that has developed from the early 1990s to today, so they are complementary in that fashion.
PS: Let's get to the real meat of our discussion about programs. That's something you've been specializing in for decades now, and I'm excited to hear from you some of your insights with meeting so many plant teams in developing so many oil analysis programs. In your opinion, are there one, two, or three things that you think that make a program work? We can talk about the risk points later on, but let's start with what works.
MB: I can give you four right off top my head. (1) We set up like five programs a week, and the ones that work, and what is most important, is you have an owner who's in charge. Who's the champion of the program, who's got some passion about oil analysis?
(2) Two is, do you stay in compliance with taking your samples? We get programs that start all the time, and say, these 30 machines we're going to sample monthly, these 20 quarterly, these 50 twice a year. Do you stay in compliance on that sample schedule? (3) The third is, how are you getting your samples? Do you have a good sample point so that the samples we are getting are producing good data? And is it a consistent person who takes the samples?
If we can get a good sample, and you're doing it on a set schedule, and you have someone who's passionate about it, who likes looking at the reports, then I guess the fourth would be, (4) are you taking corrective action? We find problems all the time. You send me 100 samples, and I'm going to find 30 problems. But are you actually doing anything to fix those problems? Because you're going to send me those same 100 samples next month, and I'm going to find the same 30 problems. And then I'm going to raise my hand and say, what are we doing here? Why are we taking samples if you're not going to fix anything? If you have those four things, you have a good program, when you don't have those four things, it's not as good.