InnovOil takes a look inside ExxonMobil’s oil analysis laboratory in Pernis, where used oil is unlocking new advances in condition monitoring and predictive maintenance
Engine oils and lubricants may not always be the first destination when attempting to improve equipment efficiency. Yet these used materials can offer a vast array of useful information for the operator willing to take a closer look, helping to improve equipment efficiency and significant cost savings.
Used oils and lubricants may contain metal or element particulates, water or acids – all of which are valuable diagnostic tools for equipment health and efficiency. Determining what they contain – and how those substances got there – can enable operators to improve operations dramatically, often across hundreds or thousands of pieces of machinery. ExxonMobil has long held that using this strategy to approach both condition monitoring and predictive maintenance can help keep equipment running better, for longer and at a lower cost.
The company uses a neat analogy for how this works. ExxonMobil industrial marketing adviser for EMEA, Ayman Ali, explained: “If you want to extend the oil drain interval “If you want to extend the oil drain interval, the only medium you can check is oil. It’s very similar to a blood sample – as you take blood and look at it for signs of what’s going on in the body, the oil shows you what is going on in the equipment.”
Such was the beginning of ExxonMobil’s used oil analysis service. Having performed such tests for its customers for over 40 years, a dedicated lab and management system was created in 2006, later becoming the SignumSM Oil Analysis service in 2008. . Its main goal has been to help operators avoid unscheduled downtime and improve equipment reliability, as well as extending the intervals between oil drains. InnovOil visited ExxonMobil’s Pernis refinery, the site of one such oil analysis lab, to learn more.
Mobile results In the time since Signum’s creation, the service has been overhauled and expanded to improve access, turnaround and analysis. The new service, Mobil ServSM Lubricant Analysis (MSLA), was launched officially in early 2016 and has now been rolled out to well over half of the company’s customers. The MSLA service seeks to streamline and expedite the analysis and data management process. As with Signum, users send bottled samples of used oil to their nearest laboratory – there are five, located in Rotterdam, Bogota, Kansas City, Shanghai and Alexandria – for testing, before receiving a report within a few days. Samples are subject to different tiers of analysis depending on the depth of information required. Once received by the lab, samples are subject to up to 25 tests, including procedures for water ingress, viscosity, oxidation, particle count, total acid number (TAN) and an in-house ultra-centrifuge rating (UC) to identify fine particulates. Ali says that the company’s commitment is to test and give feedback on a sample within 48 hours of receipt, however, some tests take 48 hours in themselves, meaning some results can take longer. Improvements in a number of other stages of the process have multiple benefits. MSLA now employs a scan-and-go QR code system for sample recording. Rather than manually created labels – previously numbered and recorded by hand – QR codes eliminate additional paperwork and the time spent filling it out, a method which the company says is on average 66% faster. Even the sample bottles have been redesigned to a flatter shape, making them easier to post and stack.
Once processed, data and reports are accessible via email links, and through a new cloud application for desktop, mobile and tablet. This platform too has been expanded from the original Signum blueprint, now allowing users to manage their own equipment, add new assets or enable access to other partners, allowing for a much freer exchange of data.
Analytics tools within the platform enable years of results to be tracked and compared. Users can compare hundreds of pieces of machinery across multiple sites and regional operations, meaning any insight into performance trends and improvements (or indeed losses) can be identified and researched. For example, Ali noted, if an engine model using the same oils and lubricants performs better in one country than another, are local conditions, parts or maintenance regimes affecting productivity? A relatively simple change in maintenance regimes, for example, could enable millions of dollars of savings across the world. “We have single customers running tens of thousands of engines, so any saving or successful improvement makes a big difference for them,” he added. “Equipment builders and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can so prepare examples for a specific study of one turbine or engine model – everything is at your fingertips. Having access to detailed reports [of their equipment] is of great value to us and to our customers - they can identify issues and manage technical problems.”
Users with any pressing or particularly challenging results can even post queries to a larger ExxonMobil social media network, where other customers can share their perspectives and advice.
Sensing the future Ali is emphatic about the importance of technology partners in refining the MSLA offering, especially in the case of OEMs. “An OEM needs equipment that delivers the best output, works longer and stays in good shape so that productivity is at its highest. For the owner-operator reliable operation is key…and at ExxonMobil we want to stay ahead of the market and new trends so we can offer solutions before they become challenges,” he explained. In one case study, he said, better analysis allowed the user to increase their oil change interval from 250 hours to 1,000 hours per change. “We have plenty of examples like this,” Ali added, “It just requires you to invest some time with the customer, looking at their engines and maintenance routines and implementing an oil analysis program to help track data and extend oil drain intervals. That’s not only a great cost saving but it’s less waste and better for the environment because you have less oil infiltrating the soil or the sea.”
In another case, an Argentine oil and gas producer was able to make estimated savings of US$350,000 per year using a combination of new lubricants and the MSLA service for its fleet of over 300 pieces of equipment. Although the roll-out of MSLA is now well under way, future additions to the system are already in development. As data gathering becomes even more important for operators looking to optimise maintenance schedules and increase efficiency, sensors could now be the next big target for the programme. “MSLA was designed and developed to interface with sensors,” Ali told InnovOil. “They have always been on our radar, and we have dedicated people researching their development. We don’t have much to share at this point, but we are also working closely with some of the OEMS because they have great interest in this area too.” Long term, he is even more bullish. “It’s coming… Sensors are there already but in the future, builders will embed them in the design – and the future is not 20-30 years down the line, it’s happening now.”
Perhaps the next generation of sampling and analysis may even take place without any oil leaving the machinery at all?