Lubricant Oil Analysis with MIR Spectral Sensing

By Yasser Sabry, PhD – Principal Engineer

In the oil sector, access to critical data about the quality of oil allows producers to track the quality of their output, and to take the necessary steps to ensure they can charge optimal pricing for their products. For all businesses that operate heavy machinery, real-time insights on the status of motor oil can reduce unplanned downtime and save operators massive amounts of money over the long term.

With NeoSpectra sensing solutions, these businesses now have a practical and affordable way to evaluate oil composition—and can use that information to attain greater profitability, efficiency and competitive success.

NeoSpectra Cuts the Cost of Oil Analysis

NeoSpectra sensors employ the same kind of mid infra-red (MIR) spectroscopy technology used by lab-based measurement systems to measure oil composition. The difference is that the NeoSpectra sensor combines all the functionality of a MIR analysis system in a single semiconductor package. This feat of integration enables the NeoSpectra sensor to capitalize on the economies of scale enabled by semiconductor manufacturing—bringing the cost of the device order of magnitude cheaper than bench-top devices.

NeoSpectra sensors are a type of microelectromechanical system (MEMS), a unique variety of semiconductor that blends electronic and mechanical capabilities onto a single chip. This hybrid capability allows the device to mix number-crunching processing resources with the optical elements required for MIR.

Beyond dramatically reducing the cost of MIR analysis compared to conventional systems employing discrete optical systems, the use of MEMS technology endows the NeoSpectra sensor with greater resistance to shock and vibration. This makes NeoSpectra sensors suitable for use in more demanding environments in-line.

To perform MIR analysis, the NeoSpectra sensor leverages the core Michelson interferometer that Si-Ware developed for products conducting near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). The MIR system shines light through oil and other materials to determine their constituents, finding the chemical evidence of microbes that cause biodegradation.

Analysis of samples is conducted using the proven technique of Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), which can provide a similar level of accuracy as lab-based systems.

Check the Oil, Please

The compact size, high integration and low cost of the NeoSpectra sensor make it suitable for the creation of highly compact modules designed for use in rugged environments in the field. Such small form factors are allowing the NeoSpectra sensor to expand its usefulness into new applications.

One major opportunity exists in heavy machinery, such as construction equipment, agricultural machines, diesel trucks and mining gear. The operation of such machinery hinges on its lubricant oil—with old oil spurring excess wear and corrosion in engines, leading to potential breakdowns.

These breakdowns can incur major expenses for businesses. A total of 82 percent of companies across all industries suffered unplanned downtime incidents over a three-year period, according to Aberdeen Research. The unplanned downtime can cost a company as much as $260,000 an hour

Predicting problems to reduce downtime

One effective way to reduce this unplanned downtime is though the use of predictive maintenance, monitoring the status of heavy equipment to determine when it will require upkeep. The NeoSpectra sensor can play a central role in such predictive-maintenance efforts, using MIR to check oil quality and identify problems before they affect the operation of the equipment.

MIR can examine the composition of motor oil simultaneously looking for degradation, contamination and additive depletion determining total acid number, total base number, soot particles, viscosity, nitration, oxidation and water. Neospectra solutions provide not only the miniaturized FTIR core engine but also preparatory machine leaning algorithms enabling accurate predictions of the parameters of interest.

Just as in the crude oil sector, current testing methods for lubrication oil require the shipment of samples to labs for lengthy and costly evaluations. The NeoSpectra sensor offers a dramatically cheaper alternative that works in real time, making widespread testing and predictive maintenance practical for construction fleets of all sizes.