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Managing Effective Fluid Analysis: 10 Steps to Realize Your Return on Investment

Quality fluid analysis helps reduce repair, rebuild, or replacement costs and cost avoidance for excessive downtime

Fluid analysis is an incredible tool to ensure your maintenance program sees a significant return on investment for your efforts. Not only is it an informative diagnostic tool, but fluid analysis also can help you increase productivity and boost company profits. Whether you are looking to use it alone or alongside other diagnostic technologies, fluid analysis can help you detect a variety of problems before they become failures.

Learning how to effectively manage your fluid analysis program is necessary if you wish to have a real impact on your return on investment. Quality fluid analysis helps reduce repair, rebuild, or replacement costs and prevents equipment downtime. Whether you are using fluid analysis to make sound maintenance decisions or save money, there are a few steps you can take to better reach your company’s objectives.


1. Set Attainable Goals

Measure the success of your maintenance program by setting attainable goals. Then, review your current practices and strategies to see if they are helping you reach your goals. If they are not helping, it may be time to reevaluate your methods.

Try tracking:

  • When fluid analysis recommendations result in equipment maintenance;
  • How much downtime has decreased and, conversely, how much uptime has increased;
  • The amount of money saved by extending drain intervals and reducing consumption of oil.

Don’t forget to track your documented accomplishments and share those wins with your team!

2. The Perfect Team

If someone is taking full responsibility for the implementation of the fluid analysis program, this individual is your program champion. This could be you or a team member you feel would be successful at managing this particular project. Other roles to determine include those who will be pulling samples and managing the data.

Samplers are typically the personnel responsible for fluid and filter changes and other routine maintenance. They should be trained on the installation and use of the sampling devices and methods you’ve chosen to use. They should also know how to properly document sample information sent to the laboratory.

Data managers need access to a computer and the Internet, and should have solid computer skills and an understanding of databases. They also should be given extensive training on the fluid analysis data management software programs you intend to use.

3. What to Test

Most fluid analysis program goals are centered on saving money. Those savings can be realized through reduced downtime, increased production, less fluid purchased, less equipment replacement, or less repairs and/or rebuilds. However, what to test depends on your objectives.

For monitoring the condition of the unit and the fluid, advanced testing for wear, lubricant properties and contamination are used. The base number, acid number and oxidation/nitration testing are vital to extended oil drain intervals. Particulate analysis monitors the size, count and distribution of ferrous and nonferrous wear particles using ISO particle count, particle quantifier (PQ), or analytical ferrography and micropatch testing.

4. Sampling Frequencies

Although an equipment manufacturer’s recommendations provide a good starting point for developing preventive maintenance practices, sampling intervals can easily vary. The degree of criticality to production is the most important factor in determining which units or components you will test and how often.

Environmental factors, such as elevated temperatures, dirty operating conditions, short trips with heavy loads and excessive idle times, are also important sampling considerations. Dirt, system debris, water and light fuels tend to separate from the oil when system temperatures cool. In order to collect a representative sample, they should be collected while the system is operating or immediately after shutdown.

Timing is also critical. Trend analysis works best when sampling intervals are consistent and samples are shipped for analysis immediately. Maintenance personnel responsible for sampling should be well trained on the appropriate sampling point(s), the designated method for pulling samples and the recommended sampling frequency for each specific component.

5. Know Your Equipment

Accurate, thorough and complete equipment and fluid information improves in-depth analysis and increases the value of a data analyst’s comments and recommendations. Obtain the most current, accurate equipment identification information for your laboratory. This includes:

  • Make;
  • Model;
  • Application;
  • Filter types with micron ratings;
  • Sump capacity;
  • Hours/miles on the unit;
  • Hours/miles on the fluid;
  • If fluid has been changed or topped off.

Make sure to consult every resource available to you, such as procurement records, inventory databases and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) service manuals. Once the laboratory has imported the information, request a copy to verify its accuracy and make sure to communicate any needed changes promptly.

6. Take an Active Role in Minimizing Sample Turnaround Time

Don’t let the value of fluid analysis results and recommendations be diminished by unnecessarily slowing down how the sample is processed. Samples can be received more quickly by the laboratory when the sample label information is legible and accurate, but the fastest processing occurs when samples are submitted online.

To make sure your sample is processed efficiently:

  • Clearly mark special instructions on the label and close all lids tightly.
  • Use a mail service that has online tracking to send samples to your laboratory.
  • Receive your results electronically.

7. Review Your Reports and Take Action

When reviewing your most severe reports, consider all other available diagnostic information, such as vibration analysis, thermography, ultrasound, in-line sensors, or any other information you may have at your disposal. Make a decision either to act on the analyst’s recommendations or order more testing. If the data analyst recommends resampling, immediately sample again or at half the normal interval to verify results. If not, monitor the unit closely and sample again at the normal interval.

8. Manage the Data

Raw data can be overwhelming and does not give clear recommendations on what to do next. Use the tools available to sort old and new data into reports to identify trends and correlations. That data then can be compared to industry standards or normal ranges to provide useful information, such as when to perform preventive maintenance and when to wait. Many data management systems can run reports automatically, providing easy to understand recommendations without a large time investment.

Have a system in place that allows you to take action

9. Continually Monitor Fluid Analysis Communication Channels

Have a system in place that allows you to take action. Failing to do so may not only lead to unnecessary downtime and/or failure, but drastically reduce the value of your fluid analysis dollar. The effectiveness of fluid analysis is best measured when the maintenance performed can be correlated to fluid analysis recommendations. Your laboratory should be able to document your feedback on maintenance or diagnostics performed and use it to improve its flagging and severity protocols.

10. Choose the Right Laboratory

Expect quality results from your fluid analysis laboratory. Quality data should be repeatable, reproducible and have validated degrees of uncertainty available to the user. A2LA’s accreditation of a laboratory’s compliance with ISO17025 – now the international standard for testing and calibration laboratories – is the highest level of quality attainable by a testing laboratory. Dedicated to formally recognizing competent testing and calibration laboratories, the independent and nonprofit A2LA is the most stringent, internationally-recognized accreditation body in the industry.

When deciding if a fluid analysis laboratory is right for you, consider the following:

  • Can it meet all the requirements of your program?
  • Can it perform the testing you need in an appropriate amount of time?
  • How does the laboratory ensure consistency from location to location?
  • Will you always be able to speak with an analyst?
  • Does the laboratory provide training?

Although price is always a factor, quality results, good turnaround time and good communication are essential to both a good relationship with your laboratory and maximizing your return on investment for your fluid analysis program. Any condition-based monitoring program must be viewed as a service that saves you money, nota cost. If substantial cost savings cannot be attributed to fluid analysis, serious changes to the current program should be considered. If it is not saving you money, you are not doing it right. Successful fluid analysis programs do pay off!

Henry Neicamp

Henry Neicamp is a Technical Business Consultant for POLARIS Laboratories®. Henry brings more than 30 years of experience in sales and fluid analysis, lubricants and field services. He is an active member of STLE (Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers) and is a certified lubrication specialist and a certified oil monitoring analyst, Level 1, through the STLE. www.polarislabs.com

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