Let’s say you’re part of the reliability department at the local refinery. You oversee the operations of well over a hundred pumps and motors, and maybe a dozen or so turbines and blowers. Your supervisor just walked into your office in the morning telling you to go check on the assets today and make sure everything is in good condition. After you agree to his request, you print out an asset list and you head out to make your runs. You’re at the first few pumps and motors and you begin looking at them, they seem to be operating still, the Trico oilers show sufficient oil, so you check it off your list and head to the next one on the list. You proceed with this process throughout your entire inspection route; head back to the office, submit your checked-off asset list and head off for lunch.
Now with this type of asset inspection, do you feel confident your inspections were thorough? Maybe you do, maybe that’s the way you were taught and things have always been done. In reality it is common for this type of asset check to occur. Sometimes even with less effort, just a simple “yeah that asset still exists” check is all that happens. Well this needs to change. What is described below is a few simple ways you can monitor lubricant conditions within your pumps, motors, turbines, blowers, etc. And to take it a step further, a few simple ways to perform a quasi-oil-analysis to help give you clues to the lubricants health.
When making inspection routes through a plant you have to be able to first work off of what your senses can tell you; touch, taste, sound, smell, and sight. For health reasons we’ll leave out the
First thing your senses might pick up are sounds and smells. Assuming you (still hypothetically being a reliability operative, if you’re not already in real life) recognize the typical sounds of the pumps and motors around you then you will be able to know quickly if something doesn’t sounds right. It’s easy to pick up on an atypical clicking, clanking, high pitch, low pitch; they all mean something. Low pitch could mean misalignment and high pitch could mean overloading. If you hear a distinct click, clack, or rattle, it’s very likely something is starting to interfere with the internal components and the asset could fail very soon.
Some people have good sense of smell and some have bad sense of smell. So often other people would walk into the building with me and they could immediately smell something burning while I could swear there was no smell at all. If you’re blessed (or sometimes cursed) with the strong ability to sense unusual smells, then use that nose wisely. Clearly a burning smell could be a stark indicator that your asset is undergoing thermal instability. Furthermore, your sense of smell will be in most use if a small lubricant sample can be extracted. Lubricant oxidation has been characterized to have a sour and pungent odor or even resemble the smell of rotten eggs. Other unique odors from the lubricant might be easy to pick up on may be fuel dilution or refrigerant. Don’t underestimate your sense of smell to pick up on these scents because they could likely be linked to an undesired contamination.
The sense of touch can come in handy when analyzing severe vibrations or thermal characteristics. Machine exterior surfaces can increase to extreme temperatures with unexpected internal conditions; although I am not recommending touching expected hot surfaces. Unusual vibrations can also be a sign of misalignment or other internal issues. Again if a lubricant sample is taken, you can test the feel of it between two fingers to observe such things like hard particles, pasty and sticky textures. If the lubricant feels hard, pasty, and/or sticky this could be a sign of sludge formation. Where touch might be your most impractical sense (after taste) in monitoring lubricant conditions, the next sense, sight, will be your most useful.
Fourth and foremost, sight; it might be the most important sense you can utilize during your asset routes as it comes natural and is fairly effortless. It is very important that visual leak checks are conducted. Although sometime leaks are expected, others could not be, and knowing what to expect is half the job here. Sight glasses and level gauges should be the next visual check as they are one of the easiest to observe. Any change in oil level, sight glass foaming, darkening, hazing, or vanishing on that glass are all unwanted signs and indicators that there is a serious concern. Bottom Sediment and Water bowls (BS&W) needs to also be checked for free water, hazy oil appearance, sludge accumulations, or large wear debris. Depending on your asset type you might be visually seeing some other unusual characteristics like exhaust, gas smoke, fumes or vapors from unexpected areas
When lubricant samples are taken, doing a quick visual check is very important. Sometimes lubricant samples can takes weeks to get results back and some critical answers can be given by simply knowing what to look for in a visual check. A hazy look or even a thick buttermilk look can be a sight of emulsions. Color changes, why they might be a simple photo catalytic reaction, it could also be a sign of something more serious like incompatible lubricant mixing, soot, chemical contamination, or oxidation degradation. An obvious, but important, check is any signs of sediments. Heavy contamination sediments need to be of immediate concern. Even suspensions such as decompressed entrained air or fish eyes and steamers appearing on the surfaces are causes for concern.
Other Common Quick and Easy Ways to Monitor Lubricant Conditions
There are several products and methods out there to analyze lubricants quick and easy. Below is a table that lists these along with their testing purposes. Tests such as blotter tests and patch tests are among the most popular. It can go a long way if a few of these simple tests are conducted when a small lubricant sample is taken. The best procedure would be to first conduct the checks based on your senses explained above, then when you have indicted something is not right, whether it oxidation, contamination, viscosity change, etc., you can proceed to use one of these methods as an immediate double check to validate your concern. You can learn more about these tests by taking a Noria training or from items in the Noria bookstore online.
Making Common Sense a Practice
Our senses are our primary tools, without them we could not accomplish anything. It is imperative to know how to use them to our advantage when making asset routes or lubricant sample analysis. And it is best when they are mastered in simple and easy methods. Just like a doctor does during a visit, he first makes visual inspections before proceeding to instrumental tests. He looks at your nose, ears, and mouth, he feels your neck and torso for anything unusual, and he may listen through a stethoscope for any unusual sounds in your lungs. Your doctor has been taught to know what to look, feel, and hear for. Likewise, a reliability engineer should know how to use their senses to pick up on the obvious indicators to a critical issue. Using this common sense can be your cheapest and most effective way to preventing the most serious of issues.
This article was previously published in the Reliable Plant 2013 Conference Proceedings.
By Bennett Fitch, Noria Corporation
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