Why construction, mining, agriculture & forestry industries use oil analysis?

Oil analysis has been used in plant machinery (diggers, tractors etc) in the construction, mining, agriculture and forestry industries for almost half a century now. Pretty much every construction OEM has its own analysis programme and both myself, and my father before me were responsible for helping many of the OEMs (Original Equipment manufacturers) setup these programmes.

The problems of being too successful

The problem in recent years is oil analysis has been so successful in helping keep machinery running for longer that many who can remember how unreliable the machinery was without lab condition monitoring was introduced have long since retired.

As the younger generation have come through oil analysis seemed an old fashioned word, as connected equipment has become the new big thing and oil analysis seems to have become forgotten. This is disappointing, as even though I’m a millennial and nobody is more of a technology lover than myself, the principles of getting to the root cause of a problem are still essential. I think it’s marvelous the amount of data you can obtain from the machine where you can track the tonnage lifted live from each machine, fuel consumption rates, filter back pressures etc. These all are part of a holistic view of machinery health and performance and if this data was fed to the oil analysis lab when a problem was highlighted this would really compliment getting a fuller and richer diagnosis to the maintenance teams in the field.

The main drawback in connected assets is that the way the systems are implemented rather than the data they produce. Unfortunately, the implementation has a risk of becoming more focussed on replacing parts well before they need changing than the whole premise of condition based maintenance. As a reminder, condition based maintenance means to change parts based on actual condition and fix root causes before they lead to unplanned downtime. Whereas replace before failure principles work more on very early replacement of parts to avoid unplanned downtime, but does not necessarily tackle the root cause. A practical example would be, monitoring filter pressures is great to identify when they need replacing, but it doesn’t highlight the cause of them blocking in the first place and can just mask the problem of why they are blocking. Take this next example to explain why you need both technologies.

It is often joked that the average smartphone is more powerful than the original supercomputers that put a man on the moon. This is true, so surely supercomputers are now defunct and there is no need for supercomputers, right? Wrong, as both technologies have moved on tremendously and today’s supercomputing power is actually what makes your smartphone able to perform many of its functions such as a google search or even saying ‘Hey Siri’. The Moto here is rather than just using one technology or another, you really should be using both. Lab analysis by nature can never be as realtime as a live instrument feed, but equally connected assets will never replace the functionality and crucial data you can obtain from millions of pounds in lab equipment. Even with improved technology in the connected asset market, there are equally leaps forward in the lab instrument markets too. Hence anyone who tells you one single field test or device can replace all the data from a lab or indeed any other maintenance inspections perhaps has not grasped the point that the true value comes from looking at the machine from multiple different ways.

The problem with false perceptions

First let me explain that in many markets most of the profits on sales for construction equipment come not on new equipment, but on the replacement parts themselves or the service and repair work. This can lead some in the sales of parts or equipment rebuilds to have a negative perception of oil analysis, as they see it as pinching their sales. This can sometimes spread into new equipment sales teams where oil analysis is feared to prevent equipment ever failing and so they wonder how can they ever sell new machines.

I have actually had some sales teams for quite large OEMs I was training think that oil analysis prevents part sales, and hence be against the whole concept. This is a very niaeve view because, true, oil analysis can save customers money on repairs from catastrophic failures, but oil analysis doesn’t stop a machine wearing out normally. In fact nothing can stop that, and the person who invented such a technology would be a noble prize winner overnight. Any condition monitoring practice just helps reduce the impact should it start to fail early resulting in a more reliable product and a customer being more likely to buy again. Oil analysis when used right can boost your part sales in that when a problem is highlighted you can help the customer solve the problem and prevent it happening again with your genuine parts. The customer ultimately wants a reliable machine and if you can help them solve any problems they are having using fluid analysis then they are more likely to buy from you and trust you when you recommend parts or service work. Take a scenario of the blocked filter again over 3 months*.

Salesman 1 sells 5 fuel filters at £100 each using connected assets to identify blockage early.

Salesman 2 sells 1 fuel filter at £100 to client, but also takes a fuel sample from the fuel tank and the bulk storage tank for a total of £50. The report identifies the reason for the blocked filters is actually a high level of water in the fuel which is warping the paper and promoting fuel bugs. The bulk storage tank is also shown to have water too, which a site inspection by the lab confirms the source is a cracked breather.

*The values of the parts are arbitrary placeholders but the scenarios are real life ones and I and others in the OCM industry have seen large boosts to sales using fluid analysis to support it.

In financial terms you may believe that Salesman 1 has won, which in the immediate short term you would be right as Salesman 1 sells more than salesman 2 in the first 3 months. However, this leaves a bitter taste for the client in too many replacement parts and their perception is the filters must be poor quality and switches filter suppliers to a non-OEM genuine brand in future across the fleet.

Salesman 2 sells less filters in the first 3 months, but solves a customers problem with fluid analysis. The customer is more likely to continue buying the genuine OEM filter and also when it comes to buying new machines will have a positive impression of the OEM.

The problem with using technologies that only highlight to replace parts rather than getting to root causes is it assumes the customer is not equally aware of their increasing parts costs, so too regular parts replacements especially when unnecessary just leads to a disatisfied customers from the increased cost and hassle of replacing the parts.

So remind me again why do the construction industry need oil analysis?

There are green implications such as reduced fuel usage, oil waste generation etc, which are important when trying to improve your carbon footprint. However, the green of money is probably a larger incentive for most. Thankfully oil analysis is both healthier for the environnement and your wallet. So how does oil analysis save you money?

“40% of your machinery costs are related to overcoming friction. Oil analysis helps keep this to a minimum.”

To start with 40% of your overall machine costs are related to overcoming friction. Lube and fuel analysis can help these be reduced by ensuring the lubricant is in a good and serviceable condition.

“Most people only consider the cost of failure as replacement parts, but this can more than double when you include the total loss of production. Oil analysis helps prevent this.

Replacement parts are generally around 25% of overall machinery costs with approximately the same on general maintenance costs. When added up to include lost production too around 3/4 of your total machine costs are related to the condition of the machine.

“Fuel analysis can help identify contaminated fuel and reduce your fuel costs by up to 12%”

Fuel is generally the number one cost of any machinery fleet operator, yet fuel analysis is often forgotten or only considered when a machine has failed. However, regular fuel monitoring can help identify poor quality and contaminated fuel which if not addressed increases fuel costs by up to 12%.

Equally fuel leaks are early to be identified by engine oil analysis and so help reduce overall fuel consumption too. A low level fuel leak can use 2-5% extra fuel than usual. Imagine if you could cut 5% on your overall fuel bills.

If you would be interested in calculating how much your business could save with oil analysis why not use the free cost saving calculator (below the FAQ on the Oil Analysis Laboratories about oil analysis page). Click the link below to find out how.

Calculate your cost savings here.