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Root Cause Analysis: How Does Oil Degrade?

Root Cause Analysis ("RCA") is a troubleshooting tool that is applied to many products and situations. In the lubrication industry, it can help pinpoint the cause of a failure, figure out why it happened, and determine a preventative course for future operations. The process requires a full understanding of lubricant chemistry, the factors that affect their service life, and the mechanical systems that use them.

How Does Oil Degrade?

Root Cause Analysis offers a structure by which a lubricant problem may be defined through oil analysis and categorized so that remedies can be applied. A thorough understanding of what makes an oil degrade is a good start.

  • Oxidation — Anything that can be done to reduce oxidation, especially at higher operating temperatures, will extend the oil's service life. Oxidation in engine oil can cause the formation of sludge and sediment, increase the oil's viscosity and slow its flow rate, form varnishes, accelerate additive depletion, plug filters, increase the oil's acid number and lead to rust and corrosion.
  • Thermal Instability — Engine oil temperature is always a concern, since its job is to reduce friction between components, and dissipate heat. An oil running too hot cannot dissipate heat effectively and its chemical components can burn off or vaporize. If this happens, the oil's viscosity increases and its performance additives can become ineffective. Additionally, the molecules of lubricants running extremely hot may break down into smaller molecules -- thermal cracking. This causes the formation of potentially harmful gaseous by-products.
  • Additive Depletion — Additives are meant to be depleted, but the rate at which this happens can be symptomatic of other problems that can be remedied before they result in failure or poor engine performance.
  • Microdieseling — If an air bubble in your lubricant system goes from an area of low pressure to one of high pressure, a phenomenon called adiabatic compression occurs. This can produce extremely high localized temperatures that accelerate the oil's degradation and the formation of sludge.
  • Electrostatic Spark Discharge — When oil flows rapidly through a narrow area, its molecules become subject to internal friction that can generate static electrical discharge and locally extreme temperatures. This phenomenon occurs often in mechanical filters.
  • Contamination — Any foreign substance in your engine oil is a bad thing, but the worse things are water and air, both of which accelerate lubricant oxidation. There are many substances that can enter your engine oil, so care is necessary to prevent these occurrences.

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Need More Information?
For more about Root Cause Analysis, or steps you can take to prevent oil degradation, talk to Acculube today. We help owner-operators and fleet managers throughout the tri-state troubleshoot problems and make better decisions.
Contact Us: 1.800.404.2570 or email us at sales@acculube.com

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