July/August Lubrication Management & Technology Oil Analysis

Mining Success With World-Class Oil Analysis

EP Editorial Staff | August 8, 2013


Let the experiences of others help you find gold in your own program.

By Ray Thibault, CLS, OMA I, OMA II, MLT, MLT II, MLA II, MLA III, Contributing Editor

Today, most industrial enterprises, including mining operations, have a similar focus: maintaining their competiveness through productivity. Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) is a strategy employed by progressive organizations to help achieve that goal. RCM puts great emphasis on the adoption of a world-class lubrication program. (The March/April 2013 installment of this LMT case-study series discussed such a program at a large petrochemical facility.) Oil analysis—a condition-monitoring tool that reflects both predictive and proactive maintenance capabilities—is a crucial component of a world-class lube program. This article discusses implementation of that type of program within a major gold-mining operation.

The goals of an effective oil-analysis program are to… 

  • Improve asset reliability.
  • Identify and eliminate repetitive problems.
  • Reduce unscheduled maintenance.
  • Obtain maximum use of lubricants in service.
  • Reduce maintenance and lubrication costs.
  • Achieve fault-free component-life extension.
  • Utilize proactive maintenance flanked by predictive maintenance technology.
  • Achieve condition-based maintenance.

To build a world-class program, a site must… 

  • Select an oil-analysis lab that will help achieve the above objectives.
  • Develop criteria for equipment to be sampled and prepare an equipment list.
  • Develop a sampling strategy.
  • Select the appropriate oil-analysis tests based on equipment type.
  • Select and allocate personnel for the program along with an overall coordinator.
  • Work closely with the oil-analysis laboratory selected to continue to improve the program to meet objectives.
  • Provide proper training with the use of internal and external resources.
  • Track and document cost benefits.
  • Practice continuous improvements by adapting to changing conditions and requirements.

The mining company profiled in this article has successfully implemented each of these key steps.

Historical program development
An oil-analysis program was first developed in the early 1990s. There was no formalized program, and many different laboratories were tried. At one time, they were using three different laboratories. In 2001, a company specializing in oil-analysis data management was brought in to set up a database and train people in proper sampling collection techniques. Even though there were improvements, the program still had many problems. Equipment was incorrectly entered or had missing information in the database. There was a great deal of inconsistency in the development and utilization of condemning limits for equipment and fluids. One group made their decisions visually to determine whether to change the oil or not. Others utilized their laboratory data on oil condition as best they could to make their decisions. One comment made by a maintenance planner summed up the state of the oil-analysis program: “We monitor our components in the oil database right up to failure and when they fail we replace them.”

In 2006, the mining company contracted with an oil-analysis data-management organization. It also adopted a Web-based data-management system and formed a fluid-management team to improve its existing program. At that time, the company was using one laboratory (one of the larger oil-analysis providers in North America) for many sites. Implementation  included a number of activities  conducted over a desired timeline.

  • The oil-analysis data-management company provided the following training:
    • Sampling best practices for technicians.
    • Training on oil-condition monitoring program for maintenance-planning groups.
    • Training of technicians and planning groups on how to use new oil database program.
  • A new laboratory was selected. This was a major step. The mining company decided to go with a smaller laboratory that didn’t have the capabilities of the major lab they were currently using. They had antiquated equipment, but there was potential to establish a program designed specifically for the mining company. This effort was difficult at first, but the mining company elected to put strict key performance indicators (KPIs) on the laboratory. Quarterly meetings with the lab were conducted to discuss the progress on the KPIs. Guidelines included:
    • Timely sample turnaround times.
    • Resolution of sample transportation issues which were initially sent by bus to the laboratory. This was resolved by having the laboratory pick up the samples from the various mine sites.
    • Purchase of new equipment to meet mining company standards. Frequent meetings were conducted between the mining company and the laboratory to monitor the quality of the data generated.
    • Minimization of incorrect data from laboratory.
    • Obtaining ISO 17025 accreditation and maintaining compliance. This was achieved several years after program implementation.
    • Current program after six years is functioning very well with excellent results. All the KPIs are being met and continuous improvement is practiced.

Current state; the program as it is now

If equipment has oil in it and is operating, it is added to the database and sampled. The following equipment types are being sampled and analyzed by the laboratory:

  • All diesel engines except pickups and small forklifts.
  • Mobile equipment drive-train components.
  • All hydraulic systems both fixed and mobile.
  • All pumps that contain > 2 quarts of oil and all critical pumps regardless of sump volume.
  • All gearboxes and agitators.
  • All air compressors, both screw and reciprocating.
  • All crushers.
  • All mills.
  • All electric motors that have oil-lubricated bearings.

Currently, there are nearly 6500 oil-filled components registered in the equipment database.


Test slate…
Table I summarizes the oil-analysis tests run on the various equipment components. The mining company utilizes LaserNet Fines for particle counts and classification of particles >20 micron. This is a powerful tool allowing users to be both predictive and proactive. Utilized by very few labs in North America, it’s quite popular in Europe. Proper use of LNF results can be helpful on all equipment except engines.

An oil-analysis program is only as good as the integrity of the samples. Sampling is done by the same people at the mine sites to achieve consistency. Proper training also has been conducted—and is ongoing/reinforced though the use of visual aids such as laminated wall charts illustrating photos of the sample points and proper sampling techniques. These charts are constantly updated to reflect changing conditions. The mining company, its fluid-management group and the data-management consulting firm work together closely to continuously improve the sampling program.

When the current program started six years ago, 1000 samples/month were collected. Over time, the number of samples increased to 4000/month—and continues to increase in light of new equipment.

Sampling frequency for engines is every 250 hours. Transmissions, mobile hydraulics, differentials and final drives which were sampled every 500 hours are now sampled every 250 hours. Fixed equipment on most sites went from every 90 days to monthly. Again, the criteria for sampling: If it is loaded in the oil database and has oil, it will be sampled. One of the strengths of the program is highly trained people utilizing the latest techniques to collect representative samples.

Predictive/proactive condition-based maintenance…
Wear debris analysis (through the use of emission spectroscopy [ICP], ferrous density analysis [PQ]) and particle counts/shapes (through the use of LaserNet Fines [LNET]) identifies defects at an early stage. This facilitates the type of timely corrections that prevent equipment failures.

Oil analysis also allows the mining company to proactively maintain fluid integrity and make proper oil changes to prevent equipment damage.

Establishing warning limits is a critical part of an oil-analysis program from a predictive and proactive basis. Initially, alerts were set on the make and model of the equipment though years of knowledge. This system was refined five years ago by a joint team formed from the mining company and the data-management company.

Alerts are currently adjusted as new information is developed. It is anticipated that the information will be refined this year by using statistical analysis. Any alert changes are a joint decision between the mining company’s fluid-management group and its maintenance planners. 

Once an alert is established on the equipment by the data managements’ condition intelligence team, a recommendation is made and it goes to the maintenance-planning group responsible for that equipment. The decision is made to accept or reject that action and, if accepted, when to implement that action. 

Except for engines and air compressors, oil changes are now based primarily on the condition of an oil—that is, unless an alert occurs on the fluid. The decision to change the fluid is made by the maintenance planner to an alert being generated on the fluid. Condition-based oil changes are based on contamination from one or more of the following:

  • Water ingression
  • Fuel dilution
  • Coolant leaks
  • Process fluids
  • Oil deterioration
  • Dirt
  • Incorrect oil mixing

For equipment, an alert is set for each contaminant with condemning limits. Each is reviewed by the maintenance group and a course of action is determined. All actions don’t necessarily require an oil change, but could involve just a filter change.

Program results
The success of any program is predicated on the useful information made to increase equipment reliability. The following is a summary of some of the results obtained from the oil-analysis program:

  • Identified wrong filter sizes and housings from OEMs, based on particle-count results from LNF.
  • Identified air-integrity problems (high sulfur in rotary-screw compressors.
  • Identified OEM-related problems with engine components.
  • Identified wrong oil delivered to bulk tanks.
  • Identified product formulation changes from the lubricant supplier.
  • Identified the addition of wrong oil to equipment.
  • Basing oil changes on condition has resulted in lowered oil consumption from longer drain intervals.
  • Identifying component defects early through wear-debris analysis is preventing equipment failure.

The above list, reflecting both predictive and proactive maintenance practices, has resulted in extension of equipment life. A major budgeted cost for the mines is the cost/hour to run the equipment. The oil-analysis program has significantly extended equipment life, leading to a lowering of the cost/hour to run the equipment and extended oil-drain intervals.
There are also major savings from the prevention of catastrophic failures through early defect detection. These are difficult to identify, but they are there. Minimization of unplanned equipment downtime—a very costly  proposition in mining—has been especially important for this company. Work is continuing to better quantify cost prevention of equipment saves.

Future state; program plans
Ongoing planning with regard to the mining company’s oil-analysis program includes:

  • Practicing continuous improvement in sampling and test methods to obtain the best data possible.
  • Linking the oil-analysis database with a new SAP program allowing maintenance planners to have to work with only one database.
  • Developing a rigorous statistical analysis program to refine equipment/lubricant data alerts.
  • Continuing to quantify benefits of oil-analysis program.

I have observed many oil-analysis programs in my years in the lubricants industry. The mine in this article truly has a world-class oil-analysis program which is one of the finest I have ever encountered. It wasn’t quick or easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. The following are the factors resulting in the successful development of the oil-analysis program:

The program involves close work among five major groups: the company’s fluid-management group and maintenance-planning group, its data-management consultants, lubricant supplier and oil-analysis laboratory. There is frequent interaction among the groups. The final decision on the equipment is made by the maintenance planners with lots of input from the other groups. This arrangement has worked successfully for many years.

A two-day training program is conducted annually by the fluid-management group, with the help of outside consultants and oil-analysis lab personnel. A basic lubrication class is conducted by an outside consultant for new employees requiring lubrication and oil-analysis training and an advanced oil-analysis training class for experienced personnel involved in oil analysis. The class reviews new developments in oil analysis, but also involves hands-on training utilizing the data-management system to interpret data and make recommendations on actual oil-analysis data from the laboratory on mine-equipment components. All groups are involved in conducting this class.

The mining company’s fluid-management group:
This team is the glue that holds the program together. It is a small team of three people, including a manager, who are highly experienced in equipment and oil analysis. Two team members are both Certified Lubrication Specialists (CLS) and Certified Oil Monitoring Analysts (OMA).

The success of the program is due to developing a good plan, and having the patience to implement it effectively with the involvement of high-quality, dedicated mine personnel assisted, as needed, by experienced and knowledgeable outside consultants. LMT

Long-time Contributing Editor Ray Thibault is based in Cypress (Houston), TX. An STLE-Certified Lubrication Specialist and Oil Monitoring Analyst, he conducts extensive training for operations around the world.
Telephone: (281) 250-0279. Email: rlthibault@msn.com.






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