News & Articles
Intelligent Machine Health:
More than Just Oil Monitoring
January 12, 2015 – Benjamin Franklin is known to
have said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a
pound of cure.” Today, preventative maintenance
for the machines that run our lives – from the cars
we drive to the elevators that ride skyscrapers – is
believed to be the most effective and efficient way
to keep businesses, society, and machines of all kinds running smoothly.
What if in the future, technology could advance to the point of being able to detect imminent failures in technology, providing enough time to take measures to avoid mechanical catastrophe? When combined with preventative maintenance, advance knowledge of pending disasters would save industries millions, if not billions of dollars on a regular basis.
Welcome to the future.
SmartOil™ from LogiLube™ is a retrofittable, field-installed engine and compressor machine condition monitoring system for the natural gas industry. This patented hardware/software-combined system monitors key machine health attributes such as oil temperature, oil pressure, oil density, oil viscosity, water-in-oil content, etc.; SmartOil provides real-time data based on predictive analytics that is accessible online from anywhere around the globe (including smartphones and tablets). Simply put, SmartOil delivers intelligent data regarding the health of your equipment, so you can act before a costly calamity strikes.
A case in point happened recently in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, much to the benefit of one SmartOil installation on a natural gas compressor system. While monitoring the engine oil temperature measured by a SmartOil unit installed on a 5,000 hp natural gas fired engine, a LogiLube engineer observed abnormal oil temperature behavior (Ref. 1). Within SmartOil’s monitoring software, normal engine oil temperature is typically seen as a relatively smooth graph line when plotted over time. As long as the overall behavior of the graph line is consistent and well below temperature thresholds, machine health is considered acceptable, or NORMAL. However, what was observed in this situation was a jagged plot line over the course of a few dozen hours that was irregular when compared to the norm. Upon further review, the abnormal plot line was observed to consistently vary by six (6) to eight (8) degrees (F) every 12 to 15 minutes. When contrasted to the normal temperature behavior, it was quite clear the engine was not functioning properly.
While the temperature did not reach WARNING (yellow) or DANGER (red) threshold levels, which would have triggered traditional sensing methods, the irregular sawtooth-like plot caught the attention of LogiLube engineers who then contacted an operation manager at the client’s facility. Soon after, a mechanic was dispatched to the compressor site to investigate (Ref. 2).
The mechanic discovered that a circuit breaker had been tripped, which cut power to one of the two electric motors powering the engine cooling fans (Ref. 4). The compromised cooling system capacity resulted in the engine automatically throttling back the RPM, reducing its gas compression throughput in order to maintain a correct operating temperature. Hence, the sawtooth-like engine oil temperature plot. While the engine was able to maintain a correct oil temperature, the lowered gas throughput reduced the amount of natural gas that the system was able to process. The equipment operators were unaware that the problem with the abnormal temperature profile existed, as their sensors only alarm on thresholds, i.e. Minimum Temperature, Maximum Temperature, etc. The problem was also missed by operators during routine visual inspections of the equipment on routine ‘walk throughs’, as can easily happen when an abnormal problem occurs. Only SmartOil was able to measure and observe the problem.
Any cooling system malfunction would result in a similar oil temperature pattern. Malfunctioning coolant pumps, coolant leaks, clogged radiators and numerous other failure modes would result in a similar temperature “fingerprint” that is detectible by SmartOil before costly or irreversible damage occurs. SmartOil predictive alarms empower customers to ‘proactively’ respond instead of ‘reactively’, when it comes to machine health.
The reduction in gas production caused by this engine system failure event can be thought of as gas product that was not sold to the market, that otherwise could have been sold. Based on previous cases where SmartOil has observed similar oil temperature behavior, as much as an 18% reduction in daily gas product throughput was recorded. On a gas compressor package of this size, the lost throughput is roughly equivalent to 5.4 MCF/day (Million Cubic Feet /day) reduction in gas product flow. Tens of thousands of dollars would have been lost each and every day that the crippled engine/compressor system if it remained operating at this reduced throughput. More importantly, had the machine been forced to continue to operate under such undue stress, further repairs could have eventually cost the client millions of dollars in operational downtime and associated parts and labor costs. Thanks to the granular monitoring ability (30-second data reporting interval) and predictive nature of SmartOil, the warning signs of an impending cooling system failure were recognized. The net results were minor repairs and adjustments to the cooling system, several hours of mechanic time, and a relatively minimal amount of gas product throughput loss.
List of Chronological Events:
Abnormal Oil Temperature profile observed
Mechanic dispatched to compressor unit. Circuit breaker to cooling system radiator fan motor reset. Cooling system function restored.
Normal Oil Temperature behavior observed
Compressor unit shutdown by mechanics for repairs and maintenance.
Engine restarted, compressor unit back on line.
Normal Oil Temperature behavior observed
Routine physical oil sample is taken. Sample bottle sent to 3rd-party lab for oil detailed oil analysis.
SmartOil by LogiLube delivers real-time data and actionable information that equals increased equipment uptime and revenue for your fleet and company.
Welcome to the future. Welcome to SmartOil.
Image 1 – SmartOil dashboard displaying real-time and historical data.
Image 2 – SmartOil unit, physical oil sample retrieval.
Image 3 – Radiator cooling fan drive motor.
Image 4 – SmartOil unit installed on 5000 hp compressor engine.