Last year, one of our rig operator customers was in a dilemma over how to decide the appropriate time to change the oil in the engine. The problem was twofold — they needed to cut down on the operational expenses (lube oil was a big-ticket) without risking the reliability of engine operation.

We went deeper in to analyze their current practices and saw a room for improvement. The core issue was the lack of reliable, real-time oil condition monitoring data. The traditional method of “oil sampling & lab testing” is of no practicality due to multiple-week response time of the report, after the sample is sent to the lab. Without data, the customer had to blindly follow the OEM recommendation for the oil change interval. This often meant prematurely throwing away good, usable oil and increasing the expenditure on new oil. 

But cutting-edge online oil condition monitoring sensors and technologies like IoT & cloud computing are now making real-time oil condition monitoring viable. In this blog, we compare the shortfall of traditional sample testing against the benefits of online oil condition monitoring solutions.

These revolutionary technology solutions lead to better oil quality management, resulting in up to 50% savings on new oil expenses. In addition to the direct savings, other key benefits include increased reliability of the engines, fewer maintenance needs, and reduced cost of storing and disposing the large quantity of used oil on the rig.

Traditional Methods: Periodic Off-line Oil Sampling and Analysis

Traditionally, oil is sampled offshore and analyzed onshore in independent laboratories. However, the logistics of this effort is not ideal for the situation for various reasons.

  • Off-line monitoring discrepancies: Original in-flow conditions are not being analyzed and discrepancies can occur during sampling, transport, or testing.
  • Sampling bottle: All bottles must be thoroughly cleaned before use, sealed when holding oil samples, and stored at appropriate temperatures. But such carefulness is not always practiced, and the concomitant discrepancies can render an oil sample useless to analysis.
  • Sampling point: Maintaining the consistency of the sampling process and using the same sampling point is critical. The slightest deviation can render an oil sample useless to analysis.
  • Human Error: In recording and maintaining data pertaining to oil grade, machine type, hours since the last overhaul, hours since oil change, etc.
  • Results & Reports: Off-line oil sample analysis often takes too much to process and return to its offshore source. Often, it can be weeks before the onboard engineers get an oil sample analysis report of a contamination problem, which defeats the purpose.

Modern Methods: Real-Time Oil Condition Monitoring

Unlike traditional off-line oil sample analysis, real-time oil condition monitoring constantly reminds you of changes in oil quality through Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices and other technologies. There are numerous benefits to this:

  • Versatile sensor technology: You do not need to waste time in sampling, transport, and testing. The reading from online oil condition monitoring sensor reflects the overall quality of oil in the real-time considering the holistic effect of various contaminant sources, including the wear debris, moisture, etc. The sensor output is easy to read and understand. The sensor also predicts the remaining useful life of the oil which helps in taking the crucial decision on when to change the oil.
  • Real-time data & remote monitoring: The sensor is mounted in line and is measuring the oil quality continuously. The sensor output is given to the local indicator for the engine operator, to the local control system for on-site analysis and connected via IoT to the cloud, to enable remote monitoring from anywhere with secured access.
  • Predictive Maintenance: By trending the oil quality index number along with the temperature, one can analyze how oil quality is changing over a time interval and can infer the underlying problems such as moisture ingress, fuel leakage, excessive friction, etc. This helps in predictive maintenance — detecting any emerging fault at an early stage. A timely corrective action then can save the engine from breakdown.

The major industry players in oil & gas and marine industries now have inculcated real-time oil condition monitoring programs to prevent and mitigate equipment failures. These hi-tech sensor technologies, once considered as expensive, are now affordable. The holistic Oil Quality Management Solution that relies on online oil condition monitoring and continuous oil cleaning has a short payback period, making it an essential building block of successful asset reliability management.