Kitsap Transit Public Transportation Agency Avoids Critical Engine Failure Using On-Site Oil Analysis

Kitsap Transit, a Washington-based company, is a public transportation agency that operates foot ferry services and routed bus services for disabled and elderly residents. It operates a fleet of 362 vehicles which include vans, cutaway small buses, transit buses and three passenger only ferries.

Due to the important nature of their work ensuring optimum maintenance schedules and preventing inevitable engine failures has always been a major concern for the agency.

In order to track the condition of the vehicles’ engines, the maintenance department of Kitsap Transit used to send oil samples to a third party laboratory. The lab would provide measurements regarding the contamination of radiator fluids and fuel, the heavy metal content and more.

However, this is a drawn out process that takes is both slow and expensive. The third party laboratory would charge $40 for every sample and the results took two to three weeks to be returned.

The number of samples that could be sent to the outside lab was limited by the cost and the extended lead time also meant that a failure may take place before the results were returned.

Kitsap Transit Agency Operates 43 Bus Routes

At present, Kitsap Transit operates 43 ferry services and bus routes from Bremerton to Port Orchard, Washington (Figure 1). For disabled and elderly passengers the agency provides curb-to-curb and door-to-door ACCESS service.

Kitsap Transit has approximately 150 buses in its fleet.

Figure 1. Kitsap Transit has approximately 150 buses in its fleet.

About 32 driver or worker commuter routes are also operated by the company to and from the Kitsap/Bremerton Naval Base and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where the drivers are employed as full-time workers.

The fleet consits of 42 MCI driver or worker coaches from the 1990s, 45 Gillig models from the 2000s, 17 2010 Arbocs, 9 2012 Arbocs, 2 2003 ElDorado 50 e-450s and e-350s, 124 vanlink vans and vanpools, 11 g-4500s in ACCESS service and a variety of trucks and cars.

OSA4 TruckCheck® Automated Oil Analysis System

Earlier in 2014, Spectro Scientific supplied an OSA4 TruckCheck® automated oil analysis system to Kitsap Transit.

With the aid of this system, the agency’s maintenance department is able to study all the oil samples, including the total base number (TBN) results on site. This process cost less than $1 for each sample and the results are obtained within 15 minutes (Figure 2).

Technicians obtain oil analysis results in less than 15 minutes.

Figure 2. Technicians obtain oil analysis results in less than 15 minutes.

Such a rapid analysis time was not possible before. Kitsap Transit’s maintenance supervisor, Dennis Griffey, explained that in house oil analysis makes it easy to track and monitor all the bus engines on a constant basis. The analyzer saved a significant amount of capital by detecting that a couple of engines that were about to fail in the near future.

In one case, the necessity for an out- of-frame rebuild was completely eliminated, and in another the reconstruction work performed by the dealer, as part of the warranty period, was also eliminated. This allowed the agency to save a total of $40,000.

Griffey added that the agency was well aware that oil analysis can reduce repair and replacement expenses and improve uptime, but it did not realize its immense benefits because frequent spot checks were not performed on the engine oil.

Oil analysis makes it easy to measure the quantity of metals present in the oil, making it possible to estimate the degree of internal wear. It also helps to determine the oil's condition by measuring the oil viscosity and by quantifying the solids that are formed by oxidation. Oil conditions should be monitored to reduce failure risk. This will also reduce the costs associated with the disposal and changing of oil in heavy equipment.

The agency works on a fixed fleet schedule, where an in-frame rebuild is performed for every 300,000 miles. In in-frame rebuild processes the block is reconstructed without taking it out of the frame. i.e. the rings, rods and pistons are replaced, and the spinning components are left untouched.

However, in out-of-frame rebuild process, the block is taken out of the frame and the crankshaft, camshaft, rings, rods, pistons and valve lifters are replaced.

The costs associated with an in-frame rebuild span from $13,000 to $25,000, whereas the costs involved in an out-of-frame rebuild are relatively higher. In the majority of situations an in-frame rebuild can be used, but an out-of-frame rebuild is needed when there is engine failure.

Technicians Trained to Use Oil Analyzer in Two Hours

Griffey informed that Kitsap Transit initially saw the OSA4 TruckCheck® automated oil analysis system at a trade event, and found that the device was competitively priced. The agency eventually figured out that investing in this system can prevent engine failures, which would reduce the required number of  out-of-frame rebuilds.

This was reported to the department director and approval was obtained to include the automated analyzer in the budget. In order to use the instrument and conduct oil analysis, the agency’s technicians undertook a two hour long course. This training was enough for optimum operation of the system.

The OSA4 TruckCheck® automated oil analysis system is a tandem spectrometer, which is equipped with an infrared module and an optical emission spectrometer (OES) . With the help of the OES, a portion of the used oil sample can be activated and the concentration of sub-microscopic metals present in the solution can be determined. These metals are formed as a result of normal and abnormal wear of parts.

The infrared module makes it possible to scan a part of the used oil sample so that the oil’s physical properties can be determined and any contaminants, if present, can be detected.

Both spectrometers are controlled using an onboard computer, which also records the results from each spectrometer including any data regarding the vehicle and oil as rendered by the operator. A report is created by the software that features the test results as well as a diagnostic statement. In case the results exceed the normal ranges, the diagnostic statement will alert the operators.

Technicians Obtain Oil Analysis Results in Less Than 15 Minutes

Whenever there is a need to change the oil of bus engines, technicians at Kitsap Transit use the OSA4 TruckCheck® analyzer.

This way oil analysis is performed on a regular basis. Kitsap Transit’s lead mechanic, Bill Rich, stated that the first thing the agency noticed was that the oil did not conform to V100 or V40 standards even when it is changed, which resulted in the loss of extra 10 points on the V40 specification over the lifespan of the oil. This would lead to engine wear because low-viscosity oil is not suitable for running the engines.

The company then contacted a different oil supplier, and is now able to track the condition of the oil whenever the oil is needed to be changed. This helps to meet the V40 specification. The V100 specification refers to a certain viscosity at 100°C temperature, and the V40 refers to a certain viscosity at 40°C temperature.

$15,000 Saved By Avoiding Out-of-Frame Overhaul

Rich further informed that he tested a mid-size Cummins diesel engine over a few weeks ago and found that it had an increased amount of heavy metals. However, this engine was not supposed to be rebuilt for 11 months. Hence, it was unlikely that this engine would fail before the estimated time.

In this situation, the spinning components would have been damaged, necessitating an out-of-frame overhaul and further increasing the cost. Thanks to the OSA4 TruckCheck analyzer, the issue was detected in a cost-effective manner.

In yet another situation, the oil was overfull in a 40 foot bus which had a Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine, and this bus was brought in for maintenance work. Rich added that in the earlier days, oil analysis would not have been carried out, but now they are routinely being performed on any type of engine.

In this situation, this overfill was due to oil infiltration caused by diesel fuel. This specified engine would have probably failed and it was also nearing its warranty period. This would have resulted in unnecessary out-of-frame overhaul, but Kitsap Transit technicians sent the results to the dealer, who solved the issue without any cost to the agency.

With the aid of the automated analyzer, heavy fuel dilution was also detected which suggested premature wear and tear on several engines integrated in small cutaway buses. At some point in time, these engines would have failed. Over this period of time they would have exceeded the warranty period, meaning the agency would have to perform an out-of-frame overhaul. Kitsap Transit is now resolving this problem with the bus dealer and it will be covered by the warranty.


According to Griffey, the purchase of the OSA4 TruckCheck analyzer was initially justified based on the agency’s bus engines, but this system can now be used for other applications. Recently, a bus was brought in which had a low power steering fluid. Upon analysis, it was found that the steering fluid had a high concentration of iron. This iron was traced to the pump, which was later replaced.

The OSA4 TruckCheck analyzer is also being used to check the status of the engine oil in three ferries.

Kitsap Transit’s fleet includes just three ships, which means even if one ship malfunctions, it would result in major problems. While such issues have not been encountered, Kitsap Transit’s technicians are confident about the ferry service because they would now be able to identify any problems before the ships go out of service.

The agency is also analyzing its fleet’s transmission fluid which will translate into more savings. At the outset, the OSA4 TruckCheck analyzer has given an excellent return on investment in just a matter of few months. The agency is exploring new applications where it can further enhance its fleet and thus save money in the long run.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by AMETEK Spectro Scientific.

For more information on this source, please visit AMETEK Spectro Scientific.


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