Oil Tribology – The most cost-effective way to prevent machine breakdown

What is Oil Tribology?

Oil tribology is the analysis of friction, wear, lubrication and contact mechanics, particularly in an engineering and a mechanical context.  Oil analysis looks at additive depletion, wear metals (microscopic metal particles produced when two metal surfaces rub against each other) and other contaminants (dust, water, fuel – even wrong oil grade) within the lubricant  which reveals any deteriorating internal components.

Oil analysis can pinpoint the source of wear metals (bearings, gears, clutch plates etc), trend the wear rate of the deteriorating internal component and advise when maintenance needs to be scheduled to prevent a breakdown in service.


Do Different Machines Need a Different Type of Oil Analysis?

Different industries requires different analysis based on the different machine components. Ensuring the right lubricant is used within a machine is vital to the ongoing condition and reliability of that machine. Oil analysis takes a look at the oil chemistry and advises you when your lubricants needs changing, to ensure the ongoing protection and maximum performance of your machinery.


  • Mobile equipment – earthmoving machinery, trucks, buses, light vehicles and generators


  • Gearboxes, hydraulics, compressors, pumps, bearings, circulatory systems, refrigeration and air conditioning


  • Engines, generators, hydraulics, gearboxes and other on board equipment


  • Piston and turbine engines, hydraulic systems and helicopter rotor gearboxes

Oil analysis should be done on a regular basis. We can provide customers with complete oil sampling kits, containing: sample bottles, plastic syringe & tubing and return pre-paid postage envelope.

Our oil analysis report, featuring colour-coded alarm-levels and clear comments for recommended maintenance action, enables customers to:

  • Maximise oil lifetime by only replacing lubricants when necessary
  • Prevent breakdowns by early identification of deteriorating machine components
  • Schedule planned downtime to maintain machines
  • Reduce lubrication and maintenance expense
  • Reduce environmental impact by reducing waste oils
  • Manage their machinery lubrication programmes effectively


What Needs to Be Checked and Why?

  1. Appearance and condition
    • First part of this process is it to check for colour, clarity, visual contaminants in the oil and general health of the oil.
  2. Water Content
    • Is there water in the oil and if so what quantity?
  3. FTIR Spectroscopy
    • This allows an infra-red spectrometer to check the degradation of the oil through light absorption, a number of parameters including can be tested including: Insoluble material, water absorption and oxidation and nitration.
  4. Oil viscosity
    • Looks for any viscosity changes against the initial specification of the oil.
  5. PQ (Particle Quantification) Index
    • A check for the presence and magnetic properties of ferrous metals in the oil.
  6. Total base number (TBN)
    • Important check for additive depletion based on the alkalinity of the oil.
  7. Total acid number (TAN)
    • Checks oil acidity levels as a measure of contamination and oxidation.
  8. Inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy
    • This test checks both the condition/degradation of the oil, as well as particle analysis (both ferrous and non-ferrous) of the equipment.



Oil condition monitoring should be an ongoing process and not a one off spot check. On-going monitoring as part of a proactive maintenance program enables trends to be looked at which provides an insight into the machines operating condition.

About Southern Lubricants

Southern Lubricants has been the leading lubricant supplier in the Southwest of England for more than 30 years.  Our expert and technical knowledge combined with our ability to source all major brands of lubricants, means that we can provide a solution to all your lubricant needs.  While our roots are firmly based in the Southwest, we have customers all over the UK who use us for our technical expertise, superior service and ability to be a single-source supplier.