How to make your analysis programme succeed?

This article will help answer the following questions:

  • How do I reduce maintenance costs?

  • How much money can oil analysis save me?

  • How do I start an oil analysis programme?

  • How do I know if I have taken an lube oil analysis sample correctly

  • What should I do if I get a critical, monitor, caution or serious oil report.

When thinking about how to make your oil analysis programme a roaring success there is some effort required on your part to get past the initial inertia. This may be convincing colleagues to buy into a new reliability focussed culture or simply getting the spend approved for your first 100 samples.

Remember that the laboratory are just one part of the process of ultimately improving your machinery reliability, but so are you. You take the oil samples, so ensuring they are taken in a correct and consistent manner ensures the lab have the best chance of detecting a problem. Equally you are the one getting the sample reports and so if you are not acting on the report findings you equally won’t see any benefits.

Here are some useful tips to get you started on setting up a world class oil, grease and fluid analysis programme.

Have an oil analysis programme goal

If you confirm what you want the programme to achieve such as reduce downtime, extend drain intervals, reduce fuel consumption or confirm validity of warranty claims then it’s much easier to remind yourself why taking a sample on Friday afternoon is important.

If part of the goal is a financial one (as most are) then perform a cost saving calculation to justify the programme. You can find a calculator at the bottom of my lab’s FAQ.

If you have ever embarked in any new year’s resolution such as quitting smoking or losing weight then a big part of making sure you succeed is telling people. It motivates you and those around you to help you succeed. Start by writing down this goal in a couple short sentences and share with everyone involved – including your partner lab – so that everyone knows the target you are aiming for with the project. Agree with the laboratory a convenient regular meeting or conference call e.g. every 3, 6 or 12 months to monitor progress of the programme and adjust targets and objectives if required. Don’t be afraid to ask the lab to help in promoting the programme within your organisation at all levels.

Know what needs to be sampled.

Once you know what needs sampling, agree internally what is going to be sampled. Identify what is critical and determine the frequency of sampling. Start with a sampling program that is achievable – there is no point deciding to sample 250 assets a week when you know you only have the resources for taking 100 samples. Once you have agreed this asset list, let the lab know the list of assets before starting to sample and email them this list. The essential information required is:

  • Client information:
    • Your company (customer), address, depot & end client if a reseller of the service.
    • Main points of contact emails and telephone numbers.
    • Any portal usernames and email addresses to email reports to.
    • Your Asset ID / Serial
    • Compartment name / system descriptions
    • Make, Machine type/family (e.g. its function such as crusher or truck or injection moulding machine) & Model
    • Lubricant in use
    • Lubricant grade in use
    • Sump or tank capacity (so we understand the financial impact of a complete oil change recommendation).

If you have started with a smaller cross section of the fleet to sample first then at scheduled review meetings identify if this needs to change due to additional resources being made available or through new additions and decommissioning of various assets.

Give electronic oil sample submission systems a go.

This may be an age thing but I personally hate doing anything on paper and am very much in favour of doing everything electronically where possible. However I know others who would not dream of using anything but a pen and paper to submit sample information.

This is ok and most labs still accept paper submissions, but the most common source of error in any laboratory comes in transcribing information. This error rate is usually very low as the quality processes of the lab catch these issues before a report is issued, but they are still worthwhile trying to reduce to non-existent levels and reduce the chances of delays. Whether it be typing a digit of a sample number wrong or misreading a W as two Vs in a serial number on a submission form it can mess up the whole process and slow down you receiving your report. I have always been very proactive on addressing this type of issue to prevent mismatching, but when I started my own lab I went a step further. From the start I made all the processes electronic so that no lab data is manually transcribed and all bottles, forms and sample numbers are barcoded to reduce the risk of simple human errors. We also offer electronic submission too so the customer can use the barcode off the sample bottle/ submission form to fill in the information online on our portal so that when the samples come in they are scanned and no transcription errors can occur. We still offer paper submission options to our clients as we don’t want to alienate someone who still prefers paper, but we do encourage you to at least try the electronic system a couple times before totally ruling it out. In my experience customers talk very highly of the system and also find it saves them time too as some of the details are already pre-filled for them.

Electronic submission not only reduces lab transcriptions errors it actually helps reduce the much bigger issue of missing customer information, poor handwriting and other mistakes such as:

  • Missed information like oil brand or grade – which can hinder the diagnosis from identifying when wrong oil is in use.
  • Calling the asset something different e.g. Engine 1 and Generator 1, which can lead to duplicates of assets and lost history.
  • Bad hand writing or common letters and numbers errors such as 5 and S in asset IDs for instance.

Provide Reference oils

Oil formulations and additive technology used by the lubricant companies are constantly evolving and so providing regular baseline samples of new oils really helps the lab give you the most insightful diagnostic comments possible. Some lubricant manufacturers use additives metals such as Molybdenum or Titanium that are otherwise considered wear or contamination elements in other products. Providing baseline samples helps make identifying the source of each element easier for both you and the lab.


Training is a key part of any oil analysis programme. The diagnosticians at the lab will do a lot of the work for you in interpreting the data into simple and concise comments, actions and recommendations. However, it always helps to have a good grounding in the subject yourself. This allows you to maximise how you use the data not just on individual machines but at a fleet level too. If you have signed up to this site for free and registered for the newsletter you can see some online course material for free in the videos and books. You can also find out about our paid online only and combination classroom and online training courses here. A brief video on why online training helps is highlighted below.

Management support

As with promoting any programme within your organisation it helps to have management support as this can help drive awareness and also provide the initial investment to get the programme of the ground.

Machine operator and maintenance support.

There is no point having management on board if the team doing the sampling and reading reports don’t believe in the programme or use it. I recall a large mining machinery OEM where they did a global oil analysis role out, but one dealer’s maintenance teams were not on board. They took the samples at the right time, however, they never acted on the analysis reports. This resulted in two machine failures in the first 6 months with one of their key clients that could have been avoided. In fact the second report had 2 caution and 3 red action alarms on the reports – I.e. 5 consecutive warnings there was a problem before it finally failed catastrophically. The problem within the team was nobody was able to champion the benefits of oil analysis or saw the significance of reading the reports. Hence why training as outlined above is a great way to get some oil analysis experts within your organisation that can advocate the benefits and reasons for sampling.

It isn’t just about oil

I know the website addresses of Learn Oil Analysis and Oil Analysis Laboratories somewhat imply that it’s all about sampling oils. However there are other compartments you can sample too such as engine coolants, fuels, AdBlue / diesel exhaust fluid and greases that can all aid in the overall picture of the machinery health. Hence why it is worth asking your lab what they can offer on these sample types as the testing is not the same as lube oils. I personally believe it’s worthwhile sampling all of these and hence why we offer analysis on all of these sample types using the same sample kits so you don’t have to stock extra parts for each of the different sample types.

It is also worth considering sampling other compartments too such as the fluid filters to also help catch problems that may be being concentrated in your filters.

Contamination control in sampling

The most common source of analysis flags and alarms on a sample is actually down to poor sampling where contaminants such as dirt or water enter the bottle at sampling. This may not be debris in the system, meaning the sample is not representative. Good practice is to ensure a new length of tubing is used for each sample, the sample point area is cleaned prior to sampling and sufficient volume of oil is flushed through the sample point before filling the bottle, to ensure any dead legs pipes are flushed. A good idea is to look at the bottle a few minutes after sampling to see if any debris or water has settled to the bottom of the bottle. If this looks more than you believe should be in the system, then consider flushing more fluid through the sampling point & retake the sample.

img 3041 How to make your analysis programme succeed?

Speak to the lab before making any major component replacement on the back of oil analysis report.

Any reputable lab analysis service also includes free technical support and diagnostic advice, so you would be a fool not to use it. You have may have heard the phrase measure twice, cut once in DIY, well the same is true of oil analysis. Before undertaking any costly maintenance work on the basis of your oil analysis report, consult the lab to discuss the report to see if there are any confirmation tests, on site tests or further investigations that can be performed to confirm the fault before taking any costly remedial action.