Particle Counting – here’s why you need it!

Lubricant and engine oil supplies are scarce, and prices are high right now. To save money and product, you might be trying to stretch your supplies for as long as possible. However, this method can work if you are careful and consistently check your machinery for lubricant effectiveness and particle contamination. Particle continuation is the bane of every operator. Microscopic particles of dirt, broken down product, water, and other materials that infiltrate your engines and lubricant supplies can wear down the effectiveness of your lubricant and slowly destroy your engine. Getting your lubricant supplies tested is the best way to monitor for contamination.

Is Particle Count the best way to measure contamination?
Particle counting has evolved over the years. The smallest particle size containments are usually less than 2 microns and are typically silt, resin, or oxidation deposits. These types of particles are likely to do the most damage to a moving surface over time. Therefore, measuring the concentration level of particles in oil or lubricants gives us a good idea of potential contamination problems.

A particle count test measures the quantity and particle size of the particles in the lubricant sample. This count is then measured against the target ISO Cleanliness Code for the system. If the cleanliness target can’t be reached, it’s a sign of potentially deadly contamination. Particle counts are reported in various micron size ranges. Particle count testing assumes that the number of particles doubles or more for every increase in the ISO Cleanliness Code.

How does the ISO Cleanliness Code work?
The ISO Cleanliness code is determined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Basically, they wanted a way for everyone to have the same measurements for their particle count analysis, so they created a system of measurement and standards. Manufacturers, mechanics, and testing labs use the ISO Cleanliness Code to set specific cleanliness targets for their supplies and machinery. It acts as a sort of warning system. For example, if you find that your hydraulic system particle count passes the ISO code target you set, you know that it’s time for a system cleaning or to switch to a newer, cleaner lubricant to avoid engine damage.

When you send your samples to a lab for oil analysis, they will do a particle count using an automatic particle counter (APC). This technology counts the particles using laser or pore blockage methods. The results are then measured against the targeted ISO Cleanliness codes. For example, the reported standard for fluid cleanliness is ISO 4406:99. This excellent article from Machinery Lubrication can help you learn more about how ISO Codes apply to particle count analysis.

When is particle counting most beneficial?
Particle counting is one of the most common oil and lubricant analysis tests, but it’s not always the best test for figuring out what’s going on with your supplies because you don’t learn what the particles are. For example, suppose your lubricants are contaminated by silt, dust, or environmental containments. In that case, it may indicate a storage issue or a handling problem affecting your supplies’ cleanliness. The simple way to fix that issue would be to improve your storage and handling practices so your lubricants stay clean before putting them in the engine. But you can’t figure that out simply from a particle count analysis. So you might switch out your lubricant supplies, switch to new ones, or perform unnecessary machinery cleaning because you aren’t sure what particles are contaminating your lubricants.

What machinery benefits most from particle testing?
Particle counting is one only of the many valuable tests you can get from oil analysis. Of course, it would be best to have the full roster of testing to determine the best maintenance actions. But even though there are limits to what you can learn from particle testing, it’s still an essential measurement for lubricant cleanliness, especially for these types of machinery or engines:

  • Hydraulic systems
  • Compressors
  • Refrigeration Compressors
  • Turbines
  • Automatic Transmissions
  • Natural Gas Engines
  • Robotics
  • Injection Molding Machines
  • Filtered Bearing
  • Gear Systems

One of the reasons particle counting is so effective for these types of machinery or components is that it accurately measures what is flowing through the system. Particles flowing into a component or engine will cause problems down the line by scraping against moving parts, leading to machinery or engine problems like erosion, burnout, jamming, or slower responses. Particle counting is also a very effective measurement of filtration effectiveness. Simply by taking samples before the lubricant goes through a component filter and after, you can see how effective the filter is at catching particles and stopping them from flowing freely throughout the system. These measurements can help you determine when to switch out filters or switch to more effective ones.

What lubricant and fluids benefit most from particle testing?
Keeping your lubricant and machinery fluids clean is a hard job. Particle counting is a very effective for measuring lubricant cleanliness, especially for:

  • Diesel fuel
  • Solvents
  • Water-based fluids
  • Lubricants with viscosity levels less than ISO 220 or SAE 50

These fluids are particularly susceptible to particle continuation, but almost all lubricant supplies may benefit from particle testing. Even testing your new oil supplies before you use them may be helpful! A particle count test will tell you if your supplies are clean when they arrive and ready to use or if you need to perform additional filtering before use.

Join our Oil Analysis Program
We know that times are tough, and you’re trying to stretch your lubricant supplies as far as they will go. The safest way to do that is by regularly testing your supplies to ensure their cleanliness and effectiveness. We offer the Chevron LubeWatch Oil Analysis preventative maintenance program. Sign up today, and you can get testing on particle counts, viscosity, breakdown contamination, wear metals, coolants, and more. Using the results from your analysis, you will be able to set more specific cleanliness targets and adjust your maintenance schedule to the exact needs of your equipment. It’s a great way to prevent costly maintenance and equipment downtime and utilize your lubricant supplies. Call your Greg’s Petroleum Service representative today to get started.