Regular oil analysis is an essential task needed to monitor the health of your hydraulic equipment and to keep it in peak operating condition. To achieve that, you may want to partner with an external hydraulic oil testing laboratory. The question is:

How do you pick the right hydraulic oil testing laboratory for your needs?

Many of you will respond to that question with the word “price.” While the cost of testing is definitely an important factor to consider when selecting an oil testing laboratory, there are many other factors you should consider. Namely: turnaround time, the laboratory’s familiarity with your specific industry, the number and kind of tests available, the way they interpret the results of the tests, and the readability of their reports.

How you choose the right hydraulic oil testing lab for your oil analysis is a really big deal, so let’s look at the individual factors to consider when selecting one.

Hydraulic Oil Testing Lab Factor #1:
Turnaround Time

It goes without saying that how quickly a laboratory delivers the tests results is crucial. After all, whatever decisions you make regarding your hydraulic units will be based on these test results, and every second counts. The longer you wait for these results to come in, the fewer choices you have to address whatever issues may exist.

Ideally, turnaround time for a simple oil analysis should take no more than 48 hours after the lab has received your oil sample. Any longer than that is unacceptable unless more complex tests are required.

In the case of more complex testing, you’ll need to allot more waiting time for the results. It’s highly suggested that you send the sample to the lab within 24 hours of extracting it for best results.

In the event that the lab finds something irregular with the sample you submitted, the lab should have the facility to alert you by sending a notification via email, text, fax or phone call. The alert notification will allow you to act fast if trouble is found with your hydraulic oil sample(s).

Hydraulic Oil Testing Lab Factor #2:
Industry Familiarity

The basic act of taking oil samples at the proper frequency can make the difference between a diagnosis to filter/change your oil, and a failed piece of equipment. Recommend oil sample frequency can range widely from as few as 150 hours to over 500 hours in service.

The laboratory’s familiarity with your specific industry plays a huge role in how your sample will be tested; how the test results will be interpreted; and how those test results will be communicated to you.

Why? As the end user of the test, you should be able to interpret your own results. After all, you should be more familiar with the environment from which the oil sample was extracted. The lab’s job is to simply conduct the analysis and deliver results to you. Right?

Not so much. More likely than not, you won’t have the time to closely interpret the numbers. That’s why you’ll need the lab to provide you with a good, trustworthy interpretation of the figures specific to your industry and operating conditions, so you can see in an instant what’s going on with your hydraulic equipment. Of course, you’ll need to be able to read the figures as well, so you can come up with an appropriate plan of action.

Hydraulic Oil Testing Lab Factor #3:
Tests Available

The oil analysis laboratory you choose must have a wide range of tests, repeatable test methods, and flexible test schedules.

Range of Tests

Some of the tests the lab will conduct on your samples are routine, designed to address general concerns. But if you have a specific concern, the laboratory you partnered with should be able to handle this concern with a more specialized test. The lab should also be able to determine which tests are relevant to your concern. For instance, there are many ways to analyze the amount of moisture an oil sample contains. The lab should know which way is best to address your particular needs.

Repeatable Test Methods

Tests that some labs conduct on used hydraulic oil are adapted from tests used for other applications while some labs design their own tests from scratch. As such, oil analysis tests may not be as accurate as required from test-to-test.

While accuracy in important, repeatability is critical. If you can repeat the lab’s test onsite using control samples identical to the samples you sent to the lab, you should be able to obtain the same results. In fact, you need to be able to integrate the results your lab sent you with the results you have come up with on site using commercial or in-house software.

Flexible Test Schedules

Again, most commercial laboratories have testing packages for different applications that are sufficient for general needs. However, if your needs are more specific, the lab must be able to modify their standard tests to cater to your needs. This may cost you more, but it should not be excessive.

Hydraulic Oil Testing Lab Factor #4:
Depth of Interpretation

When your partner hydraulic oil testing lab interprets their oil analysis results, their interpretation should incorporate the following (at a minimum):

  • Environmental information
  • Fluid condition and properties
  • Fluid contamination parameters
  • Machine wear conditions

You should relay to them any information that may be relevant to the analysis, so the lab can interpret the results correctly. After all, it’s not highly likely that the diagnostician running the analysis has been to your plant to see firsthand how your hydraulic pump or motor is working.

Once the lab has taken these parameters into consideration they should supply the fluid analysis as well as recommendations on what actions are needed to correct any problems detected. The focus of the lab’s interpretation should be on what they recommend you do based on the test results.

What use would it be for you to know that the iron and chromium content in your used oil has increased since the last testing if no action is necessary based on this information? After all, didn’t you have your hydraulics oil tested so you’d know whether you should check the seals, or simply filter the oil? In other words, the results should be your guide in fixing issues with your unit, and the testing lab should review those actions with you.

Hydraulic Oil Testing Lab Factor #5:
Report Readability and Thoroughness

The lab you partnered with may be good at interpreting their test results and laying down their recommendations on what you need to do to solve your hydraulics problems. But you won’t really know that if the report they sent you is unreadable.

How do you know if the oil analysis report is readable?

The report is readable if:

  • You can clearly see a summarized statement of the condition, like “critical action needed” or “warning” or “no action necessary,” right at the top of the report. Color coding red, yellow, and green can help to quickly identify information.
  • You can easily find the name of the machine and component they are talking about in the report, without you needing to browse through the report just to identify them.
  • You can understand in a glance the lab’s diagnosis of the problem and what they recommend that you do about it.
  • The quality of the lab’s report doesn’t stop at readability, though. The report must also be thorough enough to point out what information you need to know and when you need to know it.

An ideal oil analysis report should contain:

  • Baselines for new oil. Your decision process actually becomes easier if you know how your oil sample compares with the baselines for new oil. So, if you’re sending the lab a sample of your used oil, you should try to send them a sample of new oil as well for comparison.
  • Limits. The analysis should identify its limits and parameters for testing the oil. Doing so allows you to check for non-conforming data.
  • Graphs. Tables of numbers present a more complete picture of non-conforming data. However, graphs make these numbers easier to understand and to compare. They should be included in the report to complement the tables.
  • Microscopy images. A picture is worth a thousand words, as an old adage goes. Including images and photos of microscopy results would help grab the reader’s attention and make them understand more quickly the severity of the matter at hand.

Hydraulic Oil Testing Lab Factor #6:
Price and Geographic Location

As mentioned earlier, while price is indeed an important factor in choosing a hydraulics oil testing lab, it’s not necessarily the most important one. After all, quality trumps price any day, and one extensive oil analysis can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life of your equipment.

While cost constraints may keep you from choosing the best quality service available, you should choose a lab that gives you quality service and more bang for your buck.

Lab proximity usually translates to faster results. So, if it’s possible, consider first the oil testing labs near your site.

Regular oil analysis is a task you simply can’t avoid. It’s a proactive way to keep your hydraulic units in good health, and to prevent any potential issues.

While price is always important, you should never sacrifice quality for price when it comes to hydraulic oil testing. Given how important it is to save money by keeping your units in excellent working order, it’s just as important that you choose the right hydraulic oil testing laboratory to help you do so.