oil-refinery-2The Importance of a Correctly Implemented Lube Analysis Program

The question most asked by plant superintendents and project engineers is “what can Gibraltar Lubricating Services do to help them?”   To answer that, we would say we specialize in services that normally cannot be found elsewhere. Our main activity is specialized reciprocating compressor lubrication for once-through lubrication of the compressor crankcase, cylinder, and packing in sour, corrosive, wet, and/or high-pressure gas streams. In conjunction with this activity goes our expertise in solving difficult and baffling compressor operational problems.

Quite often the operators do not know the reason for their troubles, and we then have to look at the whole system. If it is a lubrication problem and our oil formulation will eliminate the difficulties, we will say so. If the problem is other than lubrication, we will tell the operator what options he has for eliminating the complaints.

Why Analyze Used Oil?
• To measure oil contamination
• To monitor oil degradation
• To monitor abrasive and corrosive wear
• To make sure the right oil is being used
• To check that the equipment is clean and in good shape
• To insure that maintenance practices are effective
• To spot trouble before a major unscheduled breakdown occurs
• To optimize oil drain and service intervals

Proper Oil-Sampling Procedures:

• Make sure the sample bottle is clean, having been stored with the lid on to prevent contamination.
• Take a sample from a consistent location. Avoid taking a sample that is not representative of what is in circulation.
• Flush the sampling valve and extension or piping before taking a sample.
• Take the sample while the unit is running.
• Make sure the sample bottle is clean, having been stored with the lid on.
• Fill sample bottle to the neck only for air expansion.

Lubricant Testing:

• Viscosity @ 40*C
• Viscosity @ 100*C
– Wear metals
– Additive metals
• Water contamination

Used Oil Condemning Limits:

• Viscosity: 10% increase or 10% decrease
• TAN: 2 mg KOH/gram above new oil
• Carl Fisher Water Test: Any amount above 0.1% (1000 ppm) by volume


• A significant increase in any wear metal is an early warning
• What is a significant increase?
• Depends on:
– Element such as a wear metal
– Quantity
– Equipment
– Time between samples
– Viscosity, water, dirt, etc.

*** Spectrographic and Infra-Red analyses are typically used for investigative work.

Laboratory Report Data Interpretation:

• Use more than one wear metal to identify component wear.
• Consider maintenance history.
• Consider equipment type, model, and application.
• Consider the environment in addition to load, temperature, speed, and type of operation of the unit.
• Gibraltar Lubricating Services would help monitor the laboratory reports if the customer considered it necessary.

Paul Goldman of MRT Laboratories discussed with us the implementation of a “World-Class” Lubrication Program. He stated that such a program involves many other issues besides just the lubricants used and a lube oil analysis program, i.e.:

• Proper storage, handling, and inventory management, including lubricant consolidation
• Proper machine re-lubrication practices
• Proper machine lubricant maintenance (effective filtration, cooling, reconditioning, etc.)
• Proper lubricant usage (right lubricant for right job)
• Establishing an effective used lube oil analysis program including test specifications, sampling intervals, and sampling procedures
• Record keeping, establishing benchmarks, and program adjustments
• Minimizing and managing waste lubricants
• Establishing effective procurement practices

A truly world-class lubrication program would include, for example, greases and grease-lubricated equipment such as motors, pumps, and fin-fans.

The first necessary step, however, would be a complete lube survey/audit which would gather such information as a list of all lubricated equipment, current lubrication practices, historical reliability, and OEM recommendations and specifications.  It would also gather very detailed information on critical pieces of equipment such as reciprocating compressors, etc.

The Survey Audit results  would be contained in a report detailing current practices, recommended practices, steps required to establish a world-class lubrication program, a recommended implementation schedule, and a cost vs. return analysis for each step. The report would also provide a record of the gathered information in spreadsheet format.

The report would answer the other questions regarding the type of sample testing required for the facility. Each sample testing would be broken down for each piece of lubricated equipment according to equipment type and application. The report would also list the best and most efficient lubrication practices for the facility and how to establish them.

The survey/audit would also identify troublesome equipment problems, and, if found to be lubricant related or lubricant solvable, would provide solutions for solving them. Usually, this portion provides the customer with almost instant payback of the cost of the survey/audit.

 MRT Laboratories always recommends that appropriate in-field training be included at the same time as the survey/audit report presentation. The training is determined by the customer’s needs as established by the survey/audit and covers such things as proper sampling, proper filtration techniques, proper storage and handling techniques, etc. The training could last up to two full days, depending upon the customer’s needs.

The cost of a complete survey/audit is between $8,000 and $15,000, depending on the size of the plant and readily available plant operating information.   The survey/audit would take two to four weeks to complete.  Again, solving a single lubricant-related problem the customer currently has during the course of conducting the survey/audit will usually more than pay for it.

 If the customer isn’t ready for this step, it is recommended that MRT conduct a Sample Point Survey of the customer’s critical equipment. This would at least provide enough information to establish proper sample point locations and proper test packages for each piece of critical equipment and provide  an understanding of proper sampling techniques.   MRT usually restricts this to new customers that have gone through at least three sample cycles. However, an MRT representative could meet a Gibraltar representative at the site and at least get this done. This would be a small step in the right direction to establishing a world-class lubrication program for the customer. Of course, MRT would like the opportunity to supply any lube oil analysis needs required by the customer.

If you have any questions concerning the forgoing information, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

Best Regards,

Jim Bass