Real-Time Oil Condition Monitoring
Transportation (e.g. ships), industrial machinery or electricity generation systems (e.g. wind turbines, gas or hydroelectric turbines) make use of large quantities of lubricating oils. With the oil degradation, chemical-physical changes such as oxidation, generation of wear particles, dust or water occur. These changes influence the performance of the oil [C.V. Ossia and H. Kong, Advances in Tribology, 2012] and the quality of the latter affects on machine operation and the correct replacement avoids rapid wear that produces structural damage to the machinery. However, an early replacement cause wasted money and a bigger environmental impact. The quality of the oil not only depends on the use but also on the correct operation of the machine, in fact any early failure is reflected in the oil characteristics [A.G. Mignani Meas. Sci. Technol. 2009]. In particular, metal debris provides information to prevent imminent machine failure. Therefore, the lubricant analysis also highlights the state of wear of the machinery indicating the maintenance need with the possible replacement of components. This can allow to avoid more serious failures with long downtimes and high repair costs.
Every year, in Italy, companies in the energy and transportation industries invest around 5 billion euros in failures diagnosis, repairs and downtime of their machinery. To limit these costs, they send oil samples to commercial labs for analysis. This process generally requires long times both due to the sample shipping and to the analyzes, increasing the probability of run into a machine failure in this time frame. In addition, the sample could get lost or it may be difficult/unsafe for the operator to take it from the machine (e.g. off-shore turbines or in conflict areas).
Hence the idea of developing a remotely manageable device based on Lab-on-Chip technology that integrates a series of operations, commonly performed in a laboratory, into a miniaturized chip. In this case, the operations consist of a series of specific measurements that allow to acquire the chemical-physical parameters of a lubricant in order to detect both the state of wear of the latter but also of the machinery in which it is used.
The product will be installed in-situ and will automatically take the sample during the activity of the machinery allowing an oil analysis in its working conditions. It is an innovative product, within the scope of Industry 4.0, as it involves an automation of the lubricant analysis process that takes place on site and in a real-time manner. In this way our lab-on-chip product will be able to improve the working conditions of the machinery on which it is installed and to increase productivity. This would allow customers to opt for predictive maintenance by minimizing machinery downtime due to unexpected failures or unnecessary maintenances.
It will be possible to manage the maintenance according to the real machinery needs by minimizing the lubricant wastes that have a high economic value and a significant environmental impact. Moreover, it would allow to warn in case of sudden failures by stopping the system before more serious damages. These advantages allow to minimize the maintenance costs of the machinery and make them work at their maximum capacity, maximizing the economic return for the owners. Furthermore, the presence of operators on site is not required as the results will be analyzed directly from the device and sent remotely to a central control system.