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Switching from a reactive to proactive maintenance strategy helps reduce costs, improve operational efficiency and confidence in your equipment. Oil sampling is an essential part of a maintenance strategy but often gets overlooked, until it’s too late.

Lubricating oil is often changed at set intervals regardless of condition of the oil or system. This may be based on operational hours, mileage or time period and is called preventative maintenance. However, most of the time the oil and unit may be in a good condition and not only does it waste money on new oil, the process of an oil change can actually introduce contamination into your system that can cause wear and failure of your machinery.
 
There are 4 main maintenance strategies that a business can adopt, these include:
 
Reactive – This approach waits until equipment becomes faulty or fails. There are some circumstances where this is a viable option, but it is only really valid when components are cheap and quick to replace or the equipment is not critical.
 
Preventative – This involves the replacement of replacing components or changing oil at set intervals. This approach is more beneficial then reactive as it uses data to predict when equipment typically fails or when oil comes to the end of its life. The operator then schedules the replacement before this period. The disadvantage with this system is that it doesn’t take into consideration the true condition of the machinery or oil. This can lead to oil and components being replaced too early which results in unnecessary and costly waste. More importantly, it does not identify the machinery that will fail earlier than statistically predicted, nor does it identify the cause of any wear taking place.
 
Predictive – Under this strategy, units are analysed for abnormal wear to identify areas that may need maintaining. This can be done by oil analysis as well as other none destructive testing methods such as vibration, thermography and acoustics. Oil analysis can help identify different components that are wearing abnormally which is important because different parts of the system are made of various metal alloys, each with its own properties.  A predictive maintenance strategy can identify evidence of wear in a unit, such as piston wear in an engine or gear teeth wear in gearbox, and can allow repair work to be carried out before a failure occurs. However, it does not identify why the failure or fault happened in the first place.
 
Proactive – A proactive approach to maintenance is what sets oil analysis apart from the other strategies because it is both predictive and proactive; identifying the root cause of the problem before the onset of wear. For example, machinery may also show evidence of dirt ingress, which can be detected and identified as a fault with the air induction system or seals.  The combination of a proactive and predictive program identifies the root cause and allows you to correct issues at a planned and convenient point helping to avoid unnecessary downtime. 
 Condition based maintenance
The relative maintenance costs outlined in the table below demonstrate how oil sampling could help save you money.

It’s also important to consider that what is normal for one machine may be critical for another. Oil monitoring systems use trending on all lubrication oil samples to establish what is normal for the machinery and apply custom limits to each individual unit. 

Regular sampling of equipment allows you to establish trends and identify problems early on to prevent unnecessary downtime and wasting money on new components or oil that don’t yet need replacing. 
LubeAnalyst
Shell LubeAnalyst