Condition-Based Maintenance and Increasing Engine Life While Reducing Costs
The maintenance of a car/pickup, truck, or heavy equipment is the single most important component of extending the life of an engine. But, exactly how to maintain a vehicle — the strategy by which to do so — is a source of debate. At the center of the debate is when. When exactly the best time to conduct maintenance is the center of the debate.
Is it best to perform maintenance on a car/pickup, truck, or heavy equipment regularly, or is there a better method?
Until the last decade, conventional wisdom said in order to properly maintain a car/pickup, truck, or piece of heavy equipment, maintenance should occur at regular intervals. After a certain number of miles or hours, owners and/or operators should change the oil. After a given number of gallons burned, conventional wisdom said to replace fuel injectors. The same principle applied to coolant, hydraulic fluids, differential fluids, filters, and the addition of fuel conditioners, treatments, and detergents.
But, contemporary wisdom begs to differ. Scheduled maintenance — also known as preventative or time-based maintenance — may not be ideal with respect to cars/pickups, trucks, or heavy equipment. At the very least, time-based maintenance isn’t cost effective.
A growing number of contemporary studies are showing that time-based maintenance is neither optimally efficient nor monetarily effective. Explained by, MachineryLubrication.com, “A common misunderstanding is that oil needs to be changed after a fixed time, miles or hours in operation. The wiser strategy is condition-based maintenance (CBM), which means only changing the oil when an oil analysis says that you need to.”
“For decades, conventional wisdom suggested that the best way to optimize the performance of physical assets was to overhaul or replace them at a fixed interval (PM). This was based on the premise that there is a direct relationship between the amount of time (or a number of cycles) equipment spends in service and the likelihood that it will fail,” explains a study published by Scrip.org titled Condition-Based Diagnostic Approach for Predicting the Maintenance Requirements of Machinery.
J. M. Moubray — who wrote Maintenance management: A new paradigm, strategic technologies — is also of the ilk who believes regularly scheduled maintenance is ineffective, “this relationship between running time (age) and failure is true for some failure modes, but that it is no longer very productive as equipment is now much more complex than it was even fifteen years ago.”
But in addition to being ineffective, Moubray also believes preventative maintenance can be harmful, “fixed interval overhaul ignores the fact that overhauls are extraordinarily invasive undertakings that massively upset stable systems. As such, they are likely to cause the very failure which they seek to prevent.”
As the virtues of condition-based maintenance continue to emerge, one thing is becoming abundantly clear. Condition-based maintenance is something owners and operators should — at the very least — familiarize themselves with as the benefits may include both extending the life of an engine and, and at the same time, dramatically reducing maintenance costs.
Condition Based Maintenance Definition
Condition-based maintenance is the use of diagnostic data and information to determine when — or when not — to perform maintenance on a passenger vehicle, truck, or piece of machinery. Condition-based maintenance is the use of technology to examine an engine so as to determine whether or not specific types of maintenance are necessary at a given time.
In addition to providing a positive or negative diagnosis — yes, the machine requires a particular type of maintenance or, no, it does not — diagnostic analysis also has the capacity to determine when a particular maintenance may be necessary.
As such, diagnostic analysis and condition-based maintenance may also be thought of as predictive maintenance.
Renyan Jiang and Xinping Yan — who wrote Condition Monitoring of Diesel Engines — explains, “The CBM decision is based on the information collected through condition monitoring (CM) and hence it is particularly applicable to the situations where maintenance and failure are very costly.”
Condition Based Maintenance vs Preventative Maintenance
Time-based maintenance — preventative maintenance — is maintenance based on an assumption, the assumption that after a certain amount of time used or distance traveled, an engine requires new oil, filters, fluids, injectors, an overhaul, etc. “Traditional maintenance policies are run-to-failure and time-based maintenance (TBM). TBM is usually carried out at regular and fixed intervals that are determined based on experience or the recommendations of manufacturers.”
Preventative maintenance, to a certain extent, is also time-based. However, the time-based component of predictive maintenance is regularly scheduled diagnostics tests. There are a number of tests that can quickly determine what issues an engine has. The same tests can be used to determine if it is — and equally important — or if it is not the time to change fluids.
For example, there is an assumption that dirty oil is old oil. That is not the case. Often times the lubricity of the oil in an engine is adequate and new filters are more than sufficient to reduce the viscosity of an oil created by contaminants. The changing of oil should be done because the oil is vicious or suffering from thermal breakdown, “not [because of] contamination, because you can easily get the dust, wear particles, water and oil oxidation (varnish) under control by fitting a good-quality offline/kidney-loop filter.” explains MachineryLubrication.com.
Obviously, simply changing filters — instead of performing an entire oil change — results in dramatic cost savings. Changing the oil in a truck can run upwards of $400. Changing the fluid in the transmission and the front and back differentials can cost even more. Changing all the fluids at once can cost upwards of $1,000.
But, if condition-based maintenance diagnostics determine a truck only needs a few filters, you could spend less than $50.
Condition Based Maintenance Techniques, Instruments, & Tools
There are dozens of valuable techniques, instruments, and tools used for condition-based maintenance diagnostics, but the most common — those that are the foundation of condition-based maintenance — are spectrometers and opacity meters.
Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR)
The most efficient means of understanding what occurs in an engine is an analysis of the emissions in the motor’s exhaust. Analysis of engine emissions provides details with respect to combustion efficiency and combustion efficiency is the measure by which engine efficiency is determined.
By analyzing the oil in an engine, similar information is acquirable.
Engine oil analysis can prove indicators regarding the state of the internal components of an engine. For example, if there are high levels of metal in the oil; that would be an indication of friction and engine wear. If there are high levels of hydroperoxides and carboxylic acids, that would be an indication of poor combustion efficiency and thermally cured or free-floating hydrocarbons and particulate matter.
A spectrometer — in the case of engine analysis, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) is the method used — is an instrument used to determine the molecular components of a sample. With respect to condition based diagnostics, the “samples” can be emissions, oil, or fluids. Though highly complex instruments, the basic premise of an infrared spectrometer is not.
Different chemical compounds, both gases, and solids refract or absorb radiation differently. By measuring refraction and absorption rates, a spectrometer indicates what solids and gases are present in engine emissions.
“FTIR is most useful for identifying chemicals that are either organic or inorganic. It can be utilized to quantitate some components of an unknown mixture and for the analysis of solids, liquids, and gases. The term Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) refers to a development in the manner in which the data is collected and converted from an interference pattern to a spectrum. It is a powerful tool for identifying types of chemical bonds in a molecule by producing an infrared absorption spectrum that is like a molecular “fingerprint”. The wavelength of light absorbed is characteristic of the chemical bond as can be seen in this annotated spectrum.”
Gas Chromatography (GC)
Gas chromatography is an even more precise means of determining the content of emissions, oil, and fluids. The sample is injected into columns, “with a thin layer of support material such as diatomaceous earth,” to which different chemical compounds in the sample stick. The length of time the chemical compound sticks to the support material indicates what type of chemical compound is present.
A third instrument commonly used for the purpose of condition-based maintenance is an opacity meter. Opacity meters are used to determine the number of visible emissions a motor forces out the exhaust. State and federal emissions-oversight institutions commonly use opacity meters to test the emissions of diesel engines to make certain a vehicle are within regulatory guidelines.
Opacity meters are most useful for detecting the emissions of particulate matter and black smoke, both indications of incomplete combustion. One of the least expensive conditions-based maintenance instruments, opacity meters quickly provide a rough idea of just how efficiently an engine runs.
Condition-Based Maintenance Instrumentation Diagnostics also Shows Big Picture
In addition to the specifics of an engine’s combustion, the condition-based analysis also provides an illustration of the lifecycle of a vehicle, truck, or piece of heavy equipment when performed regularly. All engines go through three stages. The first is the break-in stage. In optimal conditions, an engine will show increasing wear through the first stage of its life cycle. During the second stage, engine wear will plateau. In the final stage of an engine’s life cycle, wear will again begin to increase.
As explained in the book Condition Monitoring of Diesel Engines:
“Generally, an engine goes through three phases – (i) running-in phase with an increasing wear rate, (ii) normal operational phase with a roughly constant wear rate and, (iii) wear-out phase with a quickly increasing wear rate. The wear state can be effectively monitored by a number of techniques. The most popular technique is lubrication oil testing and analysis. Other techniques such as vibration and acoustical emission analyses also provide evidences of the wear state. A more effective way may be an integrated use of various monitoring techniques.”
The condition based monitoring methodology provides indicator pertaining to the performance-determined age of an engine. Preventative time-based maintenance provides no such information.
Incomplete Combustion Prevention
An understanding of condition-based maintenance makes one thing clear, particulate matter, black smoke, and emissions sums outside the expected norms are an indication of poor engine efficiency. A major factor in poor engine efficiency is poor combustion efficiency. Thermally cured and/or free-floating hydrocarbons and particulate matter built up on and moving around the internal components of an engine are the results of poor combustion efficiency.
There are a limited number of options with respect to increasing the combustion efficiency.
Catalytic converters reduce the number of emissions that escape into the atmosphere, but they are post-combustion devices mounted on the exhaust, so catalytic converters do nothing to prevent thermally cured and/or free-floating hydrocarbons and particulate matter from building up on the engine.
Diesel fuel additives, treatments, and detergents are designed to remove debris from an engine’s internal components and oil, but they do not prevent build up and viscosity.
The most effective means of preventative fuel treatment is an inline, pre-combustion fuel catalyst.
How the Rentar Fuel Catalyst Increases Combustion Efficiency
The purpose of a pre-combustion fuel catalyst is to homogenize fuel. Naturally, fossil fuels are an uneven, heterogenous mixture of different chemical compounds. The higher the fuel density — meaning the greater the potency of the fuel on a volume scale — the less even the fuel. Instead of an even distribution of fuel molecules throughout the mixture, high-density fuels like diesel, fuel oil, and kerosene are comprised of fuel clusters.
Incomplete combustion occurs, in part, because the molecules inside the fuel clusters that constitute the heterogenous mixture of a high-density fuel are not exposed to oxygen. All combustion requires oxygen. Non-oxygenated fuel molecules produce toxic emissions and greenhouse gases.
For example, unburned carbon produces black smoke as well as carbon monoxide. Unburned hydrogen and carbon in combination produce the thermally cured hydrocarbon buildup and free-floating debris that sticks to an engine’s internal components and contaminates the oil.
The Rentar Fuel Catalyst is a pre-combustion device, a cylinder the interior of which is comprised of noble metals, aka, true catalysts. These catalysts — many of which are the same noble metals used in catalytic converters — depolarize the charge that attracts fuel molecules into clusters. The catalyst does not breakup fuel clusters, it neutralizes the molecular charge that creates fuel clusters and creates a homogeneous mixture. A homogeneous mixture means the fuel molecules — carbon and hydrogen — can oxygenize, hence, combust.
While noble metals are universally recognized as a means of reducing emissions after combustion, they are equally effective at creating increasing the combustion efficiency of a fuel prior to it entering an engine’s combustion chambers.
The Rentar Fuel Catalyst reduces particulate matter as well as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by 19.2 percent. Reduction of black smoke emissions — unburned carbon — from the implementation of the Rentar is 44 percent. With the Rentar, elemental and organic carbons fall 35 percent. A long list of volatile organic emissions — emissions that cause cancer — fall by between 16 and 58.7 percent. Cancer-causing volatile organic emissions include benzene, acetone, xylenes, and 1, 2, 3, trimethylbenzene.
Regardless of whether or not condition based maintenance is a route you take with your vehicle, truck, or equipment, protecting the internal components by inducing clean combustion is a must.