What to Look For in an Oil Analysis Lab

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Most industrial plants in need of oil analysis services might begin their search on the web. While this is a common and effective place to begin the evaluation process, it definitely will not tell the whole story. Knowing the right questions to ask after the initial search is completed is crucial in uncovering a superior provider from an average oil analysis provider.

While the discerning potential customer may ask questions regarding testing capabilities, process and protocol, and price there are other questions whose answers may mean the difference between a seamless interaction and a laborious one. It is these questions that are most commonly overlooked and most important to understand.

With your time and money on the line, and so many oil analysis labs to pick from, how do you choose the right company? Here are five critical questions to ask when evaluating an oil analysis laboratory to ensure a successful long term oil analysis program.

1. What is your normal turnaround?

Contrary to popular belief, there are oil analysis laboratories out there that have the capability to provide high quality results and reporting in 24 hours. If the lab you’re working with doesn’t provide this, at least make sure expectations are defined up front. Know exactly what you’ll be receiving, and when. Do “days” include weekends? What about business hours?

While sample turnaround varies, just asking this question up front can give you a good idea of the overall process efficiency. No matter what the turnaround time, there should always be notification systems in place so that you know when your samples have been received and when your samples are finished. The samples you pull contain time sensitive information which should be conveyed to you in a prompt fashion. The sooner you get your results the better your program runs.

2. Is there an open line of communication?

It’s important to know you won’t be left high and dry in the event you need answers or support immediately. Often times pressing machine problems arise unexpectedly and your search for help may take you back to your oil analysis report. Do you get a human voice to talk to when you call? Is there any on line communication available? How quick does someone get back to you? What sort of expertise do the lab personnel maintain? These questions are best asked directly.

3. Are Web-based management reporting tools available?

Web-based management tools make managing and administering your oil analysis program much easier. With web based tools you can view reports, order supplies, print labels, monitor your sampling activity, import data, and many other functions. The time you’ll save and aggravation you will avoid using a web-based interface makes the answer to this question critical in your decision-making process.

4. Does the lab automatically include analytical ferrography?

Ferrography is a technique for analyzing the wear particles present in fluids that indicate mechanical wear. Performing ferrography enables the analyst to see the whole picture. It is important that your lab takes testing to the next step by performing analytical ferrography on abnormal samples. Ask the lab if and when they perform ferrography and what they charge for the test. It’s important to determine whether a lab offers ferrography because there are some instances where the standard tests uncover problems but may not be able to quantify the extent of the abnormality.

5. How are alarm levels compared?

In assessing machine condition, it is essential not only to look at the machine’s current and past data, but also compare that particular machine with the “family” that the machine is a member. Families can be made up of machine types, manufacturers, models, and sump capacities depending on the level of information provided by the user. Statistics are calculated by looking into the database and extracting previous test results of “family” data. Family alarming produces tight limits which provide great value to the oil analysis user.

Another alarming method is to use customer specific limits. When a customer has previous knowledge of machine fault levels, it is beneficial to provide these hard limits to the lab. They can be utilized at either the machine or customer level to trigger appropriate alarms. If there is not enough information identifying a machine but there is historical information for the specific sampling point, alarms can be set by using linear regression.

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