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Introduction to a Portable, Multi-Purpose Fluid Analysis System

AZoM talks to Daniel P. Walsh, Director of Product Management, Spectro Scientific, as he gives an introduction to the Q5800 fluid analysis system and its application in the military, marine and mining sectors.

Could you give a brief introduction to the Q5800 Analysis system, and the three key components of this?

The Q5800 is an expeditionary fluid analysis system. This is a first for Spectro, and we believe the first of its type anywhere - a multi-purpose portable measurement tool that combines all the critical components necessary for condition monitoring oil analysis.

That includes abnormal wear analysis, particle count, viscosity, and fluid chemistry using infrared spectroscopy. It's solvent-free, touch-screen based and designed to be easy to use for a maintenance operator.

It is designed for somebody who can bring the technology to a critical asset in the field, be able to run a sample in a few minutes, and get meaningful information on which to base maintenance decisions that are time sensitive.

So, it is aimed at the expeditionary industries such as the military, marine and mining market segments in particular, because those sectors are in a very unique position. They have very high cost, critical equipment that is absolutely essential for their productivity, or for their mission capabilities.

These types of equipment have multiple compartments and lots of different fluids, and are currently required to do some sort of oil analysis as part of the condition-based maintenance programs. Traditional oil analysis, which draws a sample, sends it out to a lab, and waits for the result is really not working for them. They need to have information right there and then, and that's what this tool is designed to address and help to solve their problems.

The new Q5800 fluid analysis system from Spectro Scientific Image credit: Spectro Scientific

The new Q5800 fluid analysis system from Spectro Scientific Image credit: Spectro Scientific

Obviously an important feature is the portability of the machine – Could you explain in more detail why this is important in terms of rapid analysis and cost reduction?

Yes, portability is very important for these customers. In many cases, they are in an environment which is transient, or temporary. Examples include helicopter bases, mine sites and marine vessels.

If you have a situation where you are constantly moving, or you are moving in very short time intervals, this doesn't lend itself well to traditional lab equipment and lab logistics to operate in.

So, portability is very important for these situations because the device can essentially travel with the equipment. In addition, especially when there are multiple pieces of equipment or multiple sites involved, these industries may dedicate a specialist who can go to multiple pieces of equipment as part of the routine checks and be able to do their analysis there and then.

In these industries, they often have a very limited timeframe - a maintenance window, in which to conduct their routine checks for lubrication, temperature and oil levels. In some cases this is as little as two hours before the unit has to go back into service. During that very short window, the operator or the maintenance specialist has the opportunity to draw a sample and get an idea of the condition of the fluid.

It is important that the maintenance specialist has access to the tools and the resources to actually change the fluid, inspected, or change out a filter, or recommend the unit be taken out of service to identify some critical problems that are developing. What they don't want to do is to wait for those results to come back from a lab, or even from their central lab and then have to go back in and ask for another maintenance window just to do some service on the system.

With the Q5800 Analysis System, the work is being done as soon as possible and detected immediately. It results in greater productivity and a greater mission capability for the asset owner. Essentially it's root-cause analysis on the fly. The actual cost of doing that analysis is dramatically different compared to a traditional lab environment. In a traditional lab it is not uncommon for the lab to request a 2 ounce or 4 ounce, typically that's a 120 milliliter sample bottle for a battery of tests back at the lab. In the lab, the lab equipment is designed for high-speed through points so there’s a lot of electrical power, solvents and equipment required, meaning a significant fixed cost when you're running a lab.

The Q5800 Analysis System is solvent free and there are only a few consumables needed, such as a syringe, a pipette, a cleaning pad, and a filter patch. It's easier for the operators and it's lower-cost for them compared to lab work.

Q5800 in its portable case.

Q5800 in its portable case. Image credit: Spectro Scientific

I suppose there are safety benefits to this as well?

Yes, that is one of the inspirations for us in this area. In military applications, we're working with helicopter teams and one of the laments that they had was that they would draw their samples at the appointed intervals and then go out on their mission, and then come back and the sample still wasn't analyzed. Two days later the results would come back to indicate a problem, but in some situations if the problem was severe enough they would identify that in the cockpit while flying.

They were quite irate about that because if they had known that there was going to be that level of a problem before they went on their mission, they would have taken the steps to change out the offending part. It's all about getting the knowledge as quickly as possible, and at the same time getting the information that alerts you when you have an abnormality.

How does the system combines particle count data and elemental analysis information to detect the failures? And how does that compare to conventional techniques?

The system has a series of modules, which are essentially testing instruments, put into the system to affect the final result. We essentially have four major components - a measurement for fluid chemistry, a measurement for viscosity, a measurement for particle count, and of course a measurement for elemental analysis.

Using the fluid chemistry analysis, we are looking for lubricant conditions, molecular breakdown and liquid contamination. For this we use Spectro FluidScan® infrared technology, which is an optical reading spectrometer. With this we measure a total acid number, or total base number for engines, and also look at water content, oxidation, nitration and sulfation.

In certain turbine applications, they are looking at alien fluid contamination into synthetics, and looking at anti-wear compounds. It is also possible to identify if the fluid is the correct fluid or not, by looking at what is called a validate function.

Viscosity is of course the most important physical property of a fluid and we have a built-in a kinematic viscometer, which is based on the standalone SpectroVisc Q3000 system. This measures kinematic viscocity at 40 degree Celsius. It is solvent free, and only needs a couple of drops, around, 60 microliters, of fluid. Again, you don't need to have any other input such as temperature, specific gravity, or anything like that.

We've already had those technologies on the commercial market for several years and many companies and many organizations buy them as a combination kit we put together. When we were out in the field, we noticed a lot of people would ask about metal particulates, so the other two components that we have in the 5800 address those areas.

Firstly, we have a particle count system which looks at the quantity of particles greater than 4 microns per milliliter. This uses a pore blockage method, but we have designed it such that you do not have to have a built-in mesh screen to do this measurement. We take advantage of a uniquely designed filter patch for the system to be able to deposit the debris after counting it onto a patch of a known micron mesh size. The result is you get a true particle count.

Once you're finished with that, you can now analyze the sample using the xray fluorescence technology. We take 13 of the most traditional elements that we see in wear debris and contamination analysis (including iron, chromium, copper, tin, lead, titanium, silicon) and a series of other contaminant elements that are traditionally seen in used oil analysis. We focus on the area greater than 4 microns, looking at the particles that are most likely to cause the potential problem, and the result is given out in ppm.

All of those components are handled or controlled using a touchscreen computer that is also built into the system. It includes Ethernet and USB connections and also has an option for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability.

All the systems are controlled using software on the device and we also have accompanying fluid manager desktop software that can be synchronized and used for data analysis and reports.

It's a certainly very interesting piece of equipment because it's integrating so many different techniques. What level of sample preparation is required to use it in the field?

That's a great question. We had to think very carefully about the typical operator use in the field. Really, the goal is that there is no sample preparation involved. What typically happens is the operator can draw a sample and you do not need to have any further pre-prep.

Incidentally you do not need much sample, you only need less than 5ml for it to completely run. The fluid chemistry and viscosity modules only need a couple of drops in each case to pull onto the cell window, or onto the plates respectively. With particle count, all you need is about 3ml of the fluid in the syringe. There is a syringe drive, which essentially controls the syringe and makes sure that the oil is filtered through a patch at a controlled rate.

We chose pore blockage for particle counting precisely because it is the one technology that you do not need to prepare ahead of time. With traditional laser particle counters which are most common in the industry, they are susceptible to very high particle loading and are also susceptible if you have a lot of water present. You also have a situation where if there's a lot of air in the sample, you get a lot of air bubbles being counted in traditional laser light blocking particle counters. By going with pore blockage technology, your fluid condition, even if it is in multiple instances, doesn't matter.

It is completely independent because what you're doing is you're introducing the sample, and you're only focused on the solid particles. So, you’re essentially squeezing out all the particles onto a filter and you're counting them at the same time, which works perfectly for somebody in the field.

Finally with elemental analysis, you have a filter which has the debris preloaded. It's a solid sample at this point, so you could introduce that into the filter or into the x-ray fluorescence module and measure the result.

You can save that filter run for further analysis and look at it under a microscope, and look at the particle loading to confirm your suspicions about what the results have already shown you. You may send that filter out for further wear debris or failure analysis if you wanted more and more work to be performed. Or, you could save it as a record that you performed the analysis. So, if you wanted to keep a series of these filters to show a progression of failure affecting a critical piece of equipment, you can keep all of those in a little case that we supply.

The Q5800 can be transported easily in the field using a backpack.

The Q5800 can be transported easily in the field using a backpack. Image credit: Spectro Scientific

How well is the new Q5800 being received? Are there any case studies that you are particularly proud of?

We started to get the word out early this year about the Q5800 and it's been very well received in the marketplace. There's a lot of interest, particularly from the industries that we described earlier, who absolutely recognize that they need to have something right there at the equipment system to be able to make decisions as quickly as possible.

One unique example of the Q5800 in use was at an auction house which specializes in heavy equipment for mining applications. It is possible to take a quick sample before they put the system on the auction block, and the prospects were extremely happy with having the sample analysis before they made a decision to purchase the equipment.

The reason for that was it's impossible for them, during an auction, to actually evaluate the equipment and all of the compartments.

In one situation, a customer came up and said they were about to buy a large truck. There were about 50 of them lined up, all the same color, all the same year. They ran samples and immediately the 5800 picked out one that had severe silicon and iron wear, and it looked like there was probably a cracked head on the engine. That would require an extensive or expensive replacement if they had purchased. So, they went and tested the truck beside it, which was in very good shape and that is the one they purchased. So, they really appreciated the fact that they could get the information analysis straightaway!

I can imagine, especially when making a split second decision on such large sums of money!

Exactly, the group that was doing it there was just starting off, and they were charging $75 per sample right there and then. The customers said you should be charging $150 for something like this, because the value of all the information right there and then.

So, the nice thing about it is that they could actually pack up at the end of the day, close down the Pelican case, put it in a backpack, and travel straight to the next location. That level of portability combined with all the information that's provided, is the value case that we're presenting.

Lastly, where can people find more information about the Q5800?

You can find more general information if you can go to our website, www.spectroinc.com.

About Daniel Walsh

Daniel Walsh

Daniel P. Walsh is Spectro Scientific’s Director of Product Management responsible for driving the product pipeline and ultimately delivering instruments and tools that meet and exceed customers’ oil analysis needs. Prior to this role, Daniel held the position of Spectro Scientific’s U.S. Sales Manager.

For almost 15 years he worked at BTS, a division of Bently Nevada, as Technical Director and General Manager of the oil and fuel analysis laboratory. He began his career as a Metallurgical Test Engineer at Pratt & Whitney in Hartford Connecticut.

Daniel has presented several papers at industry conferences, including Lubmat, EPRI, Noria, STLE and Pittcon. He holds a BS in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Limerick, and an MSc in Engineering Management from Tufts University. He also is a STLE Certified Lubrication Specialist.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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