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16-18 January, 2006, Kolkata, India

The Mining Geological and Metallurgical Institute of India (MGMI), Centenary


S. G. Sajay Kumar*

A lubricant is the heart of the machine. There is innumerable number of moving parts in a machine.
The gaps between these rotating parts are very often no more than a few thousandths of an inch. It is
this lubricating oil that maintains these gaps safely in order to prevent severe wear between these
mating parts. The author has discussed the service category and performance characteristics of engine
different oils and their development, besides scheduled oil sampling, contamination control, storage
and handling of fresh oil and root cause of failure analysis of a machine break down. In the conclusion
it has been observed that to achieve significant financial as well as quality gain one has to implement
an aggressive proactive maintenance techniques along with effective contamination control programme.

A “good oil” lubricates various components in a
machine and strengthens the life of the machinery.

A “bad oil” acts as a honing material instead of a


Before going into the details of a” good oil” and a

“bad oil” let us first understand oil certification process, 15W40
symbols, performance standards and many other
techniques and concepts.


Performance requirements, test methods and limits
are cooperatively established by vehicle and/or engine
Symbols displayed in the oil container and a series
manufacturers (AAMA, EMA) and International
of letters, numbers etc.
Lubrication Standardization & Approval committee
(ILSAC) and technical committees like American Society · Consumers can understand the service category
for Testing and Materials (ASTM), Society of Automotive and performance characteristics of an engine oil.
Engineers (SAE) and American Petroleum Institute (API).
Now, let us see what these symbols mean:
The API Engine Oil Licensing and Certification
System is an oil labeling program that provides a basis The top describes the oil’s performance level
for selecting and recommending an engine oil for both
The center describes the oil’s viscosity
gasoline and diesel engines.
* GMMCO Ltd. Chennai
642 Various Aspects of Oil and its Analysis

The letter “C” followed by another letter and/or Designed to meet 1998 exhaust emission
number refers to oil suitable for one or more types of diesel standards
engines Specifically compounded for use with diesel
content upto 0.5%
“C” stands for commercial or compression-ignition
Specifically designed to sustain engine
The second letter is generally assigned alphabetically durability under adverse applications that
in order of development may stress
Wear control, high temp. stability, soot
HISTORY OF DIESEL ENGINE OIL handling capacity, non ferrous corrosion,
CA – Obsolete – for light duty engines (1940’s & oxidative thickening, viscosity loss due to
1950’s) high shear

CB – Obsolete – for moderate duty engines (1949 OEM BRANDED OIL

to 1960) All of us are aware that a lubricant is the heart of the
CC – Obsolete – For engines introduced in 1961 machine. There is innumerable number of moving parts
in a machine. The gaps between these rotating parts are
CD – Obsolete – Introduced in 1955. For certain
very often no more than a few thousandths of an inch. It
naturally aspirated and certain turbocharged
is this lubricating oil that maintains these gaps safely
( Repalced by CF oils) separated in order to prevent severe wear between these
mating parts.
CD II – Obsolete - Introduced in 1987. For two
stroke cycle engines ( replaced by CF-2 oils) Nothing affects the performance and durability of a
machine more than the lubricating oil. Right type of
CE – Obsolete – Introduced in 1990. For high
lubricant, proper grade of lubricant, change of lubricant
speed, four stroke, naturally aspirated and
and filter at recommended intervals are of utmost
turbocharged engines (replaced by CF-4
oils) importance for better reliability and performance of a
machine. A machine’s lubricating oil requirement can be
CF – 4 oil best recommended by the original equipment
CF – 4 oils are suitable for high performance, manufacturer(OEM). Nobody other than the OEM knows
four-stroke naturally aspirated and the compatibility between the machine parts and its
turbocharged diesel engines lubricating oil. OEM branded oils or OEM recommended
Intended to supercede CE engine oils oils must always be used in order to achieve optimum
performance as well as component lives.
CG – 4 oil
There are plenty of examples where it was found that
Suitable for use in high speed, four stroke
wrong oil or cheaper oil or improper grade of oil is the
diesel engines
High way & off-highway main culprit for catastrophic failure of machines.
Intended to supercede CD, CE & CF-4 oil Consequently, the owner has to incur huge losses. The
Specifically compounded for use with diesel owner tried to achieve savings by using cheap oil and
content less than 0.5% ultimately, landed up with immense loss, productivity loss,
consequential damages, higher repair cost etc. Hence,
CH – 4 oil
the owner must not compromise with the life of the
Effective Dec 1, 1998 machine using cheap oil. This may be explained with the
For severe duty diesel engine service following example:
S. G. Sajay Kumar 643

Commer Commer CAT depletion and breakdown of base oil are the first two
Performance Test cial cial DEO primary steps for oil degradation. These parameters must
requirements CG-4 CH-4 CH-4
be monitored carefully before any decision on oil change
CAT 3406E CAT Special interval is taken. Let us examine these effects in detail:
Endurance Test

CAT C-12 CAT Special Additive depletion: Antiwear additives, antioxidants,

Endurance Test rust inhibitors, viscosity index improvers, detergents &
CAT 3500 CAT Special dispersants will be exhausted quickly
Series Test
Base oil: Once the additives are lost, the base oil
Piston deposits 1P
and oil control cannot sustain long under such a condition. It will
breakdown, lubricity will be lost and wear & tear will
Ring and T-9
liner wear increase at a significant rate.
Aeration control EOAT The metal surface is not so smooth as we see with
Valve train wear, M-11HST naked eyes. Picture below shows the highly polished
sludge, oil filter
surface of a metal seen under a scanning electron
microscope with 150 times magnification. This signifies
Viscosity increase T-8, T-8E
from soot
the importance of lubrication and oil change period:

Piston deposits 1N, 1K

and oil control

Cam roller follower RFWT

pin wear

Oxidation Seq. 3E

Copper, lead, CBT

tin corrosion

Foaming control ASTM Foam

Bearing corrosion L-38

Viscosity Bosch Inj.

shear loss

From the above example, it may be concluded that Surface of a metal seen under a scanning electron microscope 150X
Caterpillar oil always exceeds the commercial
performance level given any particular grade. So, it is SCHEDULED OIL SAMPLING
always advisable to use OEM branded lubricants.
In any wear process, wear particles are generated.
OIL CHANGE INTERVAL These particles are suspended in the lubricant and can
be analysed quantitatively if proper methods are followed.
Once the oil is inside the machine, it will break down.
This is known as scheduled oil sampling analysis (SOS)
But how fast? That depends on many parameters:
wear particles analysis or wear debris analysis (WDA).
operating practices, environment at the site, temperature,
These oil samples are analysed at seheduled interval of
humidity and above all, chemistry of the oil. Hence, the
time, eg., 250 hours sampling interval for engine or
oil cannot last for ever. It needs to be changed at specific
crankcase oil and 500 hours interval for hydraulic,
intervals recommended by the OEM. Oil drain period
transmission, differential oil.
cannot be extended without any basis. Inside the machine,
the oil is exposed to temperature, air, humidity & pressure There are three distinct stages of wear for any
– ideal condition for breakdown of the oil. Additive equipment:
644 Various Aspects of Oil and its Analysis

• Break - in wear occurs during the start-up stages of TREND ANALYSIS

a new machine. At this stage the wear rate is relatively Interpretation of SOS results must always be done
high. Mating components adjust with each other. after trending the results. Trend analysis is a most effective
Friction is high under this condition. means for meaningful explanation of the happenings
• Normal wear starts when the equipment has been inside the machine. Principally, all parameters discussed
stabilised. At this stage wear rate gradually reduces can be trended through regular oil analysis. For this one
from the break - in wear and maintains more or less needs to know details of the machine: make, model, make/
a constant level. grade of oil, HMR/SMU (hour meter reading / standard
metering unit), hours the oil in service, application of the
• Abnormal wear occurs as a result of: no oil or wrong machine, environment (temperature, humidity, dirty/clean)
oil, impaired functioning of the components and etc. Effective diagnosis can be made only when one
maintenance problem. Wear rate becomes faster at carries out the trend analysis. For example, main and rod
this stage. bearing wear can be indicated by increase in lead followed
• All these three conditions can be pictorially presented by decrease in lead and consequent increase in copper
in the following diagram popularly known as bath- and tin. This is highly rationale because initially the soft
tub curve below: lead overlay is worn out and then copper material is
exposed. Without this trend through regular oil analysis,
it is virtually impossible to explain the high copper content
Break-in Useful life Wear out
in the oil. Copper might originate from thrust washer,
bearing, bushing and oil cooler, all of which contains
Wear rate


• A skilled analyst can assess many things comparing
the colours of the oil samples. Interesting examples
Time in service
investigated at our SOS Lab. are shown below:
Various techniques are used for WDA: Atomic
Absorption Spectroscopy (AAS), Analytical Ferrography,
Inductively coupled plasma (ICP) spectroscopy, particle
counting. Each method has its own merits and demerits.
For example, AAS, although a very popular technique
since early 1940, cannot detect metal particles above 8
microns in size. It cannot detect nonmetallic particles.
Particle counting, on the other hand, is a catchall test. It
detects all types of particles upto 200 microns. However,
it cannot distinguish metallic and nonmetallic particles.
Appendix 1 shows various substances with approximate
sizes. Fresh engine oil at left, Profuse dirt ingression at RH,
high abrasion, high friction,
These wear metals, naturally, are generated from the was heavily oxidised after high temperature resulting in
various components inside the machine. Knowing the dark colour & oil

metallurgy of the components it is possible to pinpoint 150 hours only and the breakdown. Note the Al: Si:: 1:3.3,
colour became classic example of
the origin of the metal particles. An example will give a
dark as shown in the dirt entry.
clearer picture:
right container.
S. G. Sajay Kumar 645

CONTAMINATION CONTROL types (metallic or nonmetallic) and compositions of

Let us start this topic by asking a question, “How do particles.
you know whether your lubricating oil is good or bad?” or For any industrial oil (except engine oil), cleanliness
in a slightly modified way, “How do you know whether must be quantified in terms of particle counts conforming
your lubricating oil is clean or dirty?” to ISO codes. Next step, which logically follows is to
Most of the time it is not possible visually to assess exclude the contaminants through filtration. Filtration
the cleanliness of a fluid. If the oil is dirty, then it is said to system is an integral part of effective contamination control
be contaminated. A contaminant is something, which does program. It is often said that cost of removing a gram of
not belong to the system. For example, if water is detected dirt is only about 10 percent of what it will cost once it is
in the oil then we say that oil is contaminated with water. allowed to enter in the oil. It is worthwhile to mention here
Water does not belong to the system. There are two types the efficiency of a filter, which is very critical yet, is less
of contaminants: understood.

• Particulate (or mechanical) contaminants, which STORAGE AND HANDLING OF FRESH OIL
include dirt, weld spatter, metal particles, rag fibres, • Contamination control program must start from the
paint etc. fresh oil. The most commonly used container for
storage of lubricants is the steel drum. A new steel
• Nonparticulate or chemical contaminants tend to
drum if not stored in a climate controlled area can
react chemically with the lubricant, thus, reducng its
allow significant amount of dirt and water ingression
lubrication performance. These include moisture, air,
as it breathes with change in ambient temperature.
water, heat and other chemicals in the oil.
Properly designed and sealed containers offer
Consequently, the oil breaks down leading to overall significant ingression prevention capabilities as
impaired performance. opposed to drums. Use of hand pumps should be
In today’s stringent operating environments, minimized, as these are difficult to store clean and
prevention of contaminant ingression is of immense can cause cross-contamination unless a dedicated
pump is used for each individual product. These
importance to extend the life of a component. Amount of
drums and bulk containers should be fitted with
contaminants can be quantified by an instrument, which
desiccant breathers that filter out dirt & moisture as
is known as a Particle Counter. A particle counter can
the container breathes over the course of time. New
count the number of particles per mililitre of the oil and
as well as used oil barrels must be kept in a vertical
these are expressed in terms of two - factor ISO codes. position with a barrel cover at the top as shown in
The first factor indicates the number of particles larger the following picture.
than 5 microns size. The second factor represents the
number of particles larger than 15 micron size. Most
harmful particles are in the range of 5 to 15 micron size.
Every step in the ISO code indicates the fluid is twice as
dirty (or clean) as the next code. If the number of
particles greater than 5 microns is 1000 and that
greater than 15 micron is 100, then fluid cleanliness
in terms of ISO code will be ISO 17/14.
One must not assume that fresh oil by default has
Optical particle counters work either on the principle
achieved target cleanliness level. When this does not
of light blockage or light scattering by the contaminants
happen one must deploy an off-line filtration system along
in the oil. Used engine oil is obviously excluded. The
with a particle counter to monitor the cleanliness level
particle counter can track all ranges of contaminant
until it conforms to ISO code. This procedure may be
particles present in the oil. However, it cannot distinguish
applied for any type of oil.
646 Various Aspects of Oil and its Analysis

Effect of dirt ingression along with fluid cleanliness campaign. Significant results,
in a nutshell, are:
• The following graph shows how dirt ingression affects
the wear rate: • 50% reduction in bearing purchase

• 90%reduction in pump overhauls

• 83% reduction in oil consumption

• 90% reduction in tribological failures

Oil analysis is both proactive and predictive in nature.

Whereas, predictive maintenance aims at monitoring oil
condition, wear debris etc, proactive maintenance aims
at monitoring these parameters as well as eliminating the
root causes of failure. Proactive maintenance saves
money by reducing the number of failure events per year.
Data generated in SOS Lab, TIL
Predictive maintenance reduces the impact of each event.
There is almost a direct variation of iron with silicon About a couple of year ago, a Canadian oil refinery
after performing several analyses of an engine oil. After conducted a research on maintenance costs. The results
each oil change, the concentrations are diluted which are shown in the following figure were based on the time
displayed in the graph. This means that contaminant duration when the maintenance practices were entirely
ingression (dirt in this case) into the system could not be reactive and finally followed by proactive.
prevented and consequently, the components could not
be protected from wearing out.

With continuation of this scenario, components’ life

must be dramatically reduced. Without a suitably designed
contamination control system in place, life of a machine
cannot be enhanced and the primary objective of
contamination control program will be completely


CONTAMINATION CONTROL The costs were shown within these types of
Avoiding sudden failure of any machinery should be maintenance program. The costs reflected were
the prime objective of any maintenance professional. expressed in dollars/horse power/year. The figure shows
Proactive maintenance aims at recognizing the symptoms that the cost incurred by adopting proactive maintenance
of impending machine failures much earlier. This allows strategy is lowest than that involved in any other
the maintenance personnel to make proper plan for maintenance techniques. Any maintenance team can
shutdown (as opposed to sudden breakdown). Other detect the failure signatures through oil analysis and other
consequential damages inside the machine can be conditions.
prevented. This has significant impact on the maintenance
Three basic steps must be closely followed for proper
implementation of proactive maintenance strategy:
Nippon steel, in early 1980, had conducted a pilot
• Target: A target must be set for any subassembly.
program on more than 150 hydraulic systems. The
For example, a machine has been picked up and a
program included upgradation of existing filtration systems
S. G. Sajay Kumar 647

target has been set so that its hydraulic oil must not logic tree can be successfully developed and the chain of
contain more than 200 ppm water. events can be identified. Let us put forward a simple
example as shown in the following figure:
• Exclusion: Next step is to identify all potential
sources of water ingression into the oil. These However, the story is not yet complete. The logic tree
sources (seals, breathers, vents, reservoir does not end here. Let us put a little more thought to the
condensation, leaky water cooler etc, must be last portion of the above analysis. Why did people decide
modified or redesigned to minimise entry of water. to store the oil in that way? What about the systems in
which people work? What about the systems, which
• Detection: Finally, water content in the hydraulic oil
allowed the people to follow the procedures which are
must be monitored frequently to check whether it has
unscientific? The answers which address all these basic
crossed the target.
questions are referred to as organizational system roots
This technique can be extended to any other or the latent roots.
parameters, e.g., silicon content or particle count etc. To
achieve this, contamination control program must be The bearing failed

aggressively implemented inside the plant. If water and Inadequate lubrication

dirt ingression can be arrested, component life will be The oil broke down

significantly enhanced. This is shown in the following

The oil was heavily contaminated
graph: with dust and water

Fresh oil was stored

in dusty, humid
conditions with the
bungs open

Inadequate storage No maintenance No condition

No condition monitoring
practice strategy was followed technique
technique was adopted
was adopted

For any RCFA, the last step must be a documented

RCFA report containing detailed analytical results, in-depth
discussion of results, conclusions and definite corrective
actions recommendations.

Now, going back to the first paragraph of this article,
a good oil may be defined as clean, dry and fit for use,
whereas, a bad oil lacks lubricity, is full of contaminants.
Oil analysis or any other condition based monitoring
To achieve 100% rated life of a bearing, water content
technique cannot do miracle. The analytical results must
in the lubricant as low as 100 ppm may be allowed. When
be effectively integrated with maintenance activities. It is
the water content exceeds 100 ppm, rated life is
maintenance people who will decide how much dirt (or
remarkably reduced as displayed in the figure. When the
water) can be tolerated by a specific machine. Frequent
water content is brought down below 100 ppm, rated life
oil change or filter change can never ever be able to
may be significantly increased. An exponential equation
enhance the life of a component. Oil analysis (or any
has been developed by means of which the rated life of a
condition monitoring technique) is designed for continuous
bearing can be estimated if the water content can be
improvement. These techniques must be deployed
experimentally determined.
regularly and religiously.
ROOT CAUSE FAILURE ANALYSIS Cleanliness targets must be quantitative, achievable
One has to ask “Why” as many times as possible and must have a high signal - to - noise ratio. Oil sampling
until he or she gets the underlying causes. Only then a procedures must be as perfect as possible. Oil sampling
648 Various Aspects of Oil and its Analysis

frequency must be right. Inadequate sampling frequency size of the debris generated. Both techniques are required
can never be able to detect a potential failure. Aggressive to determine effectively the root cause of failure. Above
proactive maintenance techniques along with effective all, condition monitoring and failure assessment is a game
contamination control program must be in place to make of guess. Through the use of multiple technologies,
significant financial as well as quality gain at minimum therefore, an effective diagnosis of failure conditions and
cost or risk to existing operations. more confident recommendations can be put forward.

Testing of lubricant will help assess the condition of Without proper condition monitoring techniques, a
the machine as well as the condition of the oil. Condition high-value machine is like a lion cub: defenseless and
of the oil is also of primary importance because a degraded vulnerable. In this situation, all a maintenance professional
oil can never be able to produce adequate film thickness can do is to keep on changing oil and filters. Severity of
required to prevent metal-to-metal contact. wear problems, severity of contaminants ingression,
criticality of the situation, pending failures, root cause of
The ideal situation is to integrate oil analysis with
failure can never be conducted and identical failures will
vibration analysis. Recently, Australian researchers
be repeated frequently. All these have awesome effect
noticed that vibration analysis very effectively identifies
on the bottom line of the organization.
the presence of fractured gear tooth. Oil analysis or
particle counting simply doesn’t work because of the large