Oil Analysis—A Powerful Maintenance and Environmental Tool

by Matthew P. Caputo and Major Bonnie Morrow

Although designed and used as a maintenance diagnostic tool, the Army Oil Analysis Program (AOAP) for ground systems has become an environmental success story with far-reaching, but unheralded, impacts.

In the 1970's, Army maintainers began looking for ways to increase the reliability and readiness of ground combat systems. They needed a system that would detect potential failures, lower support costs, curtail excessive component wear, and reduce resource usage. Thus began the ground combat systems Army Oil Analysis Program (AOAP).

The AOAP, administered by the Army Materiel Command Logistics Support Activity (LOGSA) at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is part of a Department of Defense-wide effort to detect imminent component failures and determine the condition of used oils by periodically collecting and evaluating samples. Early detection of problems allows maintenance to be performed before more severe damage to the equipment occurs. Since its inception in 1975, the AOAP has prevented consumption of millions of barrels of oil, eliminated disposal of used oil and filters, and saved resources that would have been required to pump, refine, transport, and package new oil. Savings from the program have increased as more tactical wheeled vehicles and construction and support equipment have been enrolled in the program.

These benefits directly correlate with the "U.S. Army Environmental Strategy Into the 21st Century," a comprehensive document signed in 1992 by Secretary of the Army Michael P.W. Stone and Army Chief of Staff General Gordon R. Sullivan. This strategy charges each individual in the chain of command with environmental stewardship of every facet of the Army's mission. It further recognizes that environmental factors weigh heavily in protecting our Nation and commits Army leaders to eliminating unnecessary adverse impacts on the environment. From that strategy came this environmental vision: "The Army will be a national leader in environmental and natural resource stewardship for present and future generations as an integral part of our mission."

The Army environmental program is described in terms of four "pillars": compliance, restoration, prevention, and conservation. By preventing needless use of oil and filters and conserving resources, the AOAP is a major participant in the prevention and conservation pillars of the environmental program. In essence, the AOAP has been a silent hero that has helped to conserve the Nation's resources and has met environmental challenges since 1975—long before the environmental program came of age. (The March-April 1993 issue of Army Logistician contains a summary of the Army's 21st century environmental strategy.)

How the AOAP Works

Currently, the Army has enrolled 1,751 individual ground system components in the AOAP. Oil and filters in these components are changed only when recommended by an AOAP laboratory. Oil samples are evaluated in one of the AOAP's 5 laboratories located outside of the continental United States (OCONUS) or in one of its 19 CONUS labs. Oil analysis diagnoses the physical condition of the lubricant, such as its viscosity, fuel dilution, or water content, and the condition of the engine, transmission, and hydraulic systems from which the sample is taken. The analysis can determine problems such as contamination, faulty air-induction systems, leaking cooling systems, loose fuel-return lines, and abnormal wear rates of moving metal parts.

The labs use spectroscopy to determine the kind and quantity of contaminants in the oil, such as metal particles, fuel, coolant, or water. (Spectroscopy is the science that studies the way light interacts with matter, which can indicate what the matter is made of and how much of each component is present.) Ferrography (wear particle analysis) detects metals that cannot be identified by spectrometric analysis and also determines the kind of wear, such as spalling (fragmentation), cutting, and rubbing. Repeatedly, AOAP has proven its ability to detect potential failures before they have become catastrophic.


The magnitude of the AOAP's environmental impact is illustrated in a study by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics (DCSLOG) at Headquarters, U.S. Army, Europe (USAREUR). For the study, USAREUR analysts selected 25 ground systems and calculated the costs of changing oil by lubrication orders and of performing routine AOAP sampling for a 2-year period. (See sample cost calculations below and on page 38.) A 2-year period was chosen because several systems require lube order changes every other year. USAREUR researched engine and transmission capacities, oil costs, filter requirements and prices, labor costs based on maintenance allocation charts, oil and filter disposal costs, AOAP lab processing fees, and sampling supply costs.

The study compared changing oil and filters based on standard lube orders to oil changes directed by AOAP labs for nearly 15,000 of USAREUR's combat and tactical vehicles. During the 2-year period, USAREUR saved more than 1.4 million quarts of engine and transmission oil by performing AOAP-directed changes on these vehicles. That amount of oil in 55-gallon barrels stacked on top of one another would extend nearly 4 miles. During the same period, USAREUR avoided replacement of 69,000 oil filters. Prevention of this consumption thus eliminated the need to dispose of the same amount of oil and filters.

The USAREUR study also showed that AOAP lab-directed oil changes saved money. These oil changes proved to be 58 percent less expensive, excluding labor costs, than changing oil according to lube orders, or $3.55 million to change oil by lube orders compared to $1.55 million for AOAP sampling and lab-directed oil changes. With labor costs included, AOAP lab-directed oil changes were 52 percent less expensive. Lube order oil changes cost $4.8 million compared to $2.24 million for AOAP lab-directed changes.

Army-wide studies demonstrate even greater savings. LOGSA estimated that the Army realized an 86-percent saving in fiscal year (FY) 1999 by following AOAP guidance rather than following lube orders for changing the oil in M1A1 Abrams tanks; M1075 palletized load systems; M1037 high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicles (HMMWV's); 120T diesel-electric locomotives; MEP-005A generators; and PU798 power units. Specifically, analysts computed AOAP-directed costs at $500,000 for those vehicles, compared to $3.6 million if the lube order changes were made. In the same fiscal year, the AOAP program director at LOGSA estimated that, overall, the Army avoided the disposal of 47.1 million pounds of various fluids by using the AOAP, for a saving of $7.8 million.

Calculating Cost of Annual Engine Oil AOAP Sampling

1. System. Enter system name.

2. Annual Usage. Enter actual miles or operating tempo.

3. AOAP Engine Oil Sampling Interval. Enter the AOAP sampling interval as found in DA-Pamphlet 738-750.

4. Annual Number of Engine Oil Samples. Enter the number of annual samples required based on system usage and sampling interval.

5. AOAP Supply Costs Per Sample. Enter the estimated cost of miscellaneous AOAP supplies; e.g., bottles, tubing, sacks, etc.

6. AOAP Lab Processing Cost Per Sample. Obtained from the lab that analyzes oil.

7. Total AOAP Cost Per Sample. Calculated automatically by the spreadsheet by adding AOAP supply costs and the lab processing cost per sample.

8. Annual Engine AOAP Sampling Costs Per System. Calculated automatically by the spreadsheet multiplying the annual number of samples required by the AOAP cost per sample.

9. Equipment Density. Enter the quantity of the system in unit.

10. Annual Total Fleet Cost. Calculated automatically by the spreadsheet by multiplying equipment density by the annual engine AOAP sampling costs.


Calculating Cost of Annual Engine Oil AOAP Sampling


Early prevention of maintenance problems avoids more costly repairs later. USAREUR labs claim a cost avoidance when a maintenance problem identified on a Department of the Army (DA) Form 3254-R (Oil Analysis Recommendation and Feedback) is solved at the organizational or direct support level. Because general support maintenance is avoided, the lab uses an average general support repair cost of $15,905 for tracked vehicles and $7,173 for wheeled vehicles to compute cost avoidance. The labs do not capture cost avoidance for a system repaired at the general support level.

During FY 1998, estimated cost avoidance in USAREUR for ground systems maintenance totaled $2.37 million. This figure is estimated, because actual repairs avoided cannot be determined precisely. Cost and maintenance avoidance can be confirmed only when the AOAP laboratory receives a completed report from the unit after maintenance action is taken in response to a DA Form 3254-R. These forms frequently are not returned to the lab, and AOAP fails to capture critical information. However, if even a fraction of these costs is avoided, the program more than pays for itself.

USAREUR's AOAP Structure

USAREUR provides an excellent example of why OCONUS laboratories should remain in operation. USAREUR operates three fixed and one mobile laboratory, which are located near their primary customers to provide timely and responsive support. The Coleman Barracks lab is near Mannheim, Germany, and primarily supports the 1st Armored Division there, the Southern European Task Force in Italy, and Task Force Able Sentry in Macedonia. The Coleman Barracks lab also provides support to Belgium, Kuwait, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Sinai, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

The Bamberg lab, which is about 200 miles from Coleman Barracks in Germany, supports the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized) and the 7th Army Training Center.

A mobile, semitrailer-mounted lab has been on site in Bosnia supporting Task Force Eagle. Recently, that mobile lab was converted to a fixed facility lab and the semitrailer and equipment were returned to CONUS. Similarly, a mobile semitrailer-mounted lab that supports air and ground systems in Kosovo soon will be converted to a fixed-facility operation and the semitrailer will be returned to CONUS.

These four "hub" labs have a robust AOAP mission and support more than 20,000 aircraft and ground systems. On average, they process more than 40,000 samples annually. These strategically located hub labs are key to a responsive USAREUR AOAP and significantly improve its ability to comply with sampling requirements.

Changing Sampling Intervals

Although the AOAP has proven highly effective in determining maintenance requirements, the number of directed maintenance actions is low. When an oil analysis indicates a problem, a lab, using a DA Form 3254-R, recommends a maintenance action. During FY's 1996 to 1998, the percentage of DA Form 3254-R's issued was less than one percent of the number of samples analyzed. This indicates that Army equipment is performing reliably. In addition, from FY 1996 to 1998, oil labs in USAREUR recommended only 9 percent of the oil changes that would have been required if lube orders had been followed. This means oil is remaining in the vehicles much longer than when following lube orders.

Calculating Costs of Annual Engine Oil and Filter Changes by Lubrication Order

1. System. Enter system name.

2. Annual Usage. Enter actual miles or operating tempo.

3. Engine and Oil Change Interval. Enter the engine oil and filter change interval as specified in the lube order.

4. Annual Number of Engine Oil and Filter Changes. Calculate annual number of engine oil and filter changes based on the system's annual usage and the oil change interval.

5. Engine Capacity/Quarts. Enter the oil capacity of the engine crankcase as specified in the system's technical manuals.

6. Cost of Oil Per Quart. Enter the cost per quart of oil.

7. Cost of Oil Per Change. Calculated automatically by the spreadsheet by multiplying the cost of oil per quart by the engine capacity.

8. Total Annual Oil Costs. Calculated automatically by the spreadsheet by multiplying cost of oil per change by the number of annual changes.

9. Filter(s) Cost Per Change. Determine price of required filters.

10. Total Annual Filter Costs. Calculated automatically by the spreadsheet by multiplying filter(s) cost per change by the annual number of oil and filter changes.

11. Total Cost of Annual Engine Oil and Filter Changes. Calculated automatically by the spreadsheet by adding the total annual oil and filter costs.

12. Equipment Density. Enter the quantity of the system in the unit.

13. Total Fleet Cost. Calculated automatically by the spreadsheet by multiplying density by the total cost for annual engine oil and filter changes.


Calculating Costs of Annual Engine Oil and Filter Changes by Lubrication Order Sample

Both of these figures suggest that sampling intervals probably could be extended significantly without adversely affecting maintenance readiness or reliability. An easy solution would be to conduct sampling on the same schedule as the lube orders. For instance, if a lube order directs oil changes twice a year or every 1,500 miles, an oil sample would be drawn then instead of changing the oil. If the manufacturer predicted the equipment would operate effectively for 6 months or 1,500 miles without changing the oil, a similar sampling interval seems adequate. Additional studies are needed to quantify the average length of time oil remains in vehicles to determine effective, efficient sampling intervals.

Currently, oil is sampled every 60 days or 25 operating hours for combat vehicles, every 90 days or 100 operating hours for tactical wheeled vehicles, and every 180 days or 100 operating hours for HMMWV's, which creates substantial administrative work for units. Sampling delinquency rates are monitored closely and receive command attention. A lengthier sampling interval would help ease this burden as well as save AOAP costs.

Recognizing Compliance

Other actions that could help with Army-wide compliance and support of AOAP are positive recognition and education. In USAREUR, units that achieve a 2-percent or less delinquency rate for 12 consecutive months receive a Certificate of Appreciation signed by the DCSLOG. In a recent 12-month period, the DCSLOG awarded 104 certificates to units and activities in USAREUR.

The two most frequent causes of delinquent sampling are untrained personnel and failure to post data properly in maintenance records. The USAREUR AOAP director administers a unique AOAP monitor training and certification program that offers 16 hours of classroom training and a tour of an oil laboratory. Students learn first hand how the laboratory processes oil samples and observe how the instruments detect dirt, viscosity, and metal particles. Personnel successfully completing the course receive a DA training certificate and a wallet-sized certificate. Certification is valid for 2 years.

Industry Use of AOAP

Industry uses oil analysis extensively. For instance, Alumax Extrusions, a line-haul trucking company, used extensive oil analysis as the basis for extending their oil drain interval to 20,000 miles and continues to do random oil testing as part of their ongoing maintenance. Alumax Extrusions analyzes the oil in all of its vehicles and tracks the analysis for each vehicle.

Trucking companies extend oil change intervals through the use of heavy-duty oil, synthetic oil, and special filter systems. For example, Mack Trucks, Inc., has announced new oil change intervals of 40,000 miles or 800 hours running time, which is advertised as the longest recommended drain interval standard in the industry. To use increased oil change intervals effectively, vehicles must operate in a sustained high-mileage line-haul operation exceeding 100,000 miles per year. The majority of Army vehicles do not meet this requirement.

The lesson that Army maintainers can apply is that industry maintenance directors believe in the merits of oil analysis and have used it extensively to make logical and scientific maintenance changes that save money but do not detract from equipment reliability. Likewise, the Army has the power and potential to improve maintenance practices based on its extensive oil analysis data base. Army planners continually are encouraged to study industry practices and apply those that may be useful in military operations.

Any changes to the AOAP should retain the enormous environmental benefits the program now reaps and not detract from its effectiveness as a maintenance tool that improves readiness. The benefits of the AOAP should continue to outweigh the effort and cost required to comply with the program.

Responsiveness to the Army's readiness needs and ease of use for the unit and soldier should be the foremost factors in designing the AOAP. In addition, oil analysis data should be used to draw smart conclusions and determine logical guidelines for sampling intervals or maintenance actions that will strengthen readiness and streamline the AOAP.  ALOG

Major Bonnie Morrow is an individual mobilization augmentee assigned to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, U.S. Army, Europe. She served on active duty as an Air Defense Artillery officer for 5½ years. Major Morrow has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Montana.

Matthew P. Caputo is chief of the Maintenance Policy and Programs Branch in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, U.S. Army, Europe. He is a retired maintenance chief warrant officer (W-4) with over 33 years of active-duty service. He has extensive readiness, maintenance, supply cataloging, and safety experience and is a member of the Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame. He has a bachelor's degree in management studies from the University of Maryland.