Three Potential Causes of Abnormal Particle Counts

15 July 2022

AUTHORED BY: Reliability360

A key aspect of implementing a successful oil analysis program is consistent oil sample testing; cataloging and trending the results of these tests allows for lubrication goals to be tracked and will alert technicians to any problems that arise. But sometimes the results of oil analysis don’t make sense. For example, an oil analysis result may show more particles in the oil after it passes through an in-line filter than before. If we can assume that the testing instrumentation is operating correctly, then there must be another culprit.

Technician Error

It is common for new technicians or technicians who have not received the proper training to pull samples incorrectly, leading to inaccurate test results. If new or untrained technicians took the samples in question, there are some things to check:

  • Was the sample pulled from the correct location?
  • Were the correct sample bottles used?
  • Were the sample bottles cleaned prior to use?
  • Was more than one technician responsible for taking samples?

When taking samples, there are many opportunities for contamination to ingress into the oil, skewing results. To ensure an oil analysis program is effective, it is pivotal that those taking the samples know what they are doing.

Beyond providing personnel with the proper training, technician error can be limited by maintaining an organized lubrication program and clearly defining lubrication tasks. Technicians should be given clear goals, like maintaining a certain ISO cleanliness code targets.

It is also important to give technicians the tools they need to do the job right. Installing sight glasses allows personnel to quickly and efficiently monitor oil conditions, and providing them with particle sensors allows for constant, in-depth lubricant monitoring.

Filtration Error

A completely broken filter is an easy-to-spot failure when it comes to investigating abnormal particle counts. But even if the filter does not appear to be damaged, it still may be responsible; abnormal particle counts can sometimes be the result of a faulty filter or a different filter being used.

Check that the filter is the same type that was being used when previous oil samples were taken; you might find that the filter was inadvertently replaced with the wrong style of filter. It is also possible that the correct filter was being used, but the original manufacturer made a design change (and failed to inform the end-user).

Equipment Error

The state of the unit or stage of operation that the unit is currently in can alter the results of oil analysis. Ensure that the oil is flowing in the right direction and that sample ports are in the right locations. Samples retrieved from turbulent areas, like bends in lubricant piping, provide more accurate results than those taken from low-turbulence areas like the sump.

Ensure that sampling equipment is properly labeled and clean. It is important to store equipment in a well-organized and clean lube storeroom. Using dirty sampling equipment and containers is one of the easiest ways for contamination to ingress into an oil sample.

Lubricant Monitoring

Many facilities have seen the benefits of implementing real-time digital lubrication monitoring. Precision sensors combined with management software allow for consistent equipment monitoring that can scale to meet the needs of any operation.

Beyond providing a particle count, lubricant monitor sensors can identify particles, indicating potential sources of wear or component failure. This ultimately decreases machine downtime by preventing failure and extending component lifespans.