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Prior to the United States Coast Guard (USCG) taking possession of a large number of fleet members, including 22 Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) with 36 more on order, and six new National Security Cutters (NSCs) with an additional two yet to be delivered, it was informed that shipboard oil testing was now required by the engine manufacturer.

Given the Coast Guard’s diverse missions, oil analysis was now playing a critical role in mission readiness.

When the new fleet was ordered, the USCG expected that traditional single-use kits based on chemicals and reagents would be used, and the results of those tests would be sent out for analysis.

Before 2012, the USCG had no centralized oil laboratory testing and analysis program. Oil samples were sent to the Navy Oil Analysis Program (NOAP) or Joint Oil Analysis Program (JOAP) labs, engine manufacturer labs or other local commercial labs. The downside of this practice was that results often took weeks, eliminating the opportunity for rapid corrective action, and standardized testing requirements for different components did not exist. Test results were kept at the test-performing laboratories, preventing a more in-depth analysis, or were sometimes fact-based only, devoid of recommendations. Cutters therefore performed engine oil changes based on time schedules ranging from 500 to 1,000 hours on main engines and 250 to 500 hours on ship service diesel generators (SSDGs), whether the changes were needed or not.

Oil Analysis Requirements—the Criteria

Figure 1: The first Sentinel Class Cutter, CGC Bernard C. Webber, was delivered to the U.S. Coast Guard in February 2012. Source: U.S. Coast Guard, photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Sabrina Elgammal.Figure 1: The first Sentinel Class Cutter, CGC Bernard C. Webber, was delivered to the U.S. Coast Guard in February 2012. Source: U.S. Coast Guard, photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Sabrina Elgammal.Delivery of the FRCs and NSCs fortunately coincided with the recent arrival of Edgardo Guevara, USCG Lubrication Program Manager. The new requirements of the engine manufacturers matched Guevara’s concern regarding the time required to perform the tests and the likelihood of inaccuracy, since the tests were dependent upon using specific amounts of oil and chemicals, as well as the condition of the test kit.

Guevara recommended trials of Spectro Scientific’s Q1000 FluidScan handheld monitor and Q3000 portable viscometer to address the new requirements. According to Guevara, “The new onboard analyzers are used to detect oil quality issues and prevent potential damage to equipment, avoid unnecessary oil changes and perform oil changes based on actual condition. An abnormal condition detected by the onboard analyzer alerts the engineers to perform corrective action and submit the oil sample to our contracted oil lab for complete oil and wear analysis.”

The FluidScan Q1000 Infrared Spectrometer

The FluidScan Q1000, a rugged, handheld infrared spectrometer measures key oil condition parameters, including on-site detection of lubrication degradation, contamination and cross-contamination. It also determines FAME, glycerin, soot, glycol, water, incorrect lubricant, additive depletion, sulfation, nitration, oxidation, TBN and TAN in biodiesels.

The Q1000 measurements covering the full range of oil condition parameters, including viscosity, take approximately 15 minutes, which is half the time previously required by test kits. This direct infrared approach requires no sample preparation, no reagents and no solvents. Only 0.03 mL of lubricant is required to perform the analysis, and clean up requires only a shop rag or towel. The Q1000 provides for substantial cost savings through reduced labor, materials and elimination of hazardous waste.

The primary benefits of real-time, on-site analysis include:

  • Extended oil change intervals
  • No delays waiting for laboratory results
  • Reduced operational and maintenance costs
  • Reduction of unscheduled maintenance outages
  • Prevention of catastrophic failures

The Q3000 Portable Viscometer

The Spectro Q3000 easy-to-use portable, battery-operated device can determine kinematic viscosity without the use of pre-test measurements, solvents, density checks or a thermometer, yet with an accuracy of +/- 3 percent standard deviation to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) viscosity standards.

Previously, viscosity measurement relied on the use of capillary, cone and plate, and concentric cylinder viscometers found in a laboratory setting. While the capillary viscometer suffers from difficult and lengthy procedures for calibration, cleaning and temperature control, the rotational viscometer is delicate and has rotating parts subject to replacement.

SpectroTrack IMS

Guevara recognized the benefitsof having full control with oil analysis. After substantial research, he selected the SpectroTrack information management system (IMS) software as the database to archive data. Engineers view test results on a browser and make decisions such as when to perform oil changes and other activities based on the actual condition of oil and equipment versus scheduled maintenance.

Figure 2: The Coast Guard Cutter Chandeleur. Source: Michael Anderson / Wikimedia CommonsFigure 2: The Coast Guard Cutter Chandeleur. Source: Michael Anderson / Wikimedia CommonsThe software also provides trending, imaging, numerical and textual asset data in one secure location. A comprehensive, historical view of fluid condition for an engine, department or an entire fleet is available to the user.

The SpectroTrack database holds approximately 13,000 sample test results and is growing. The database is currently pending USCG CROP approval.

Results to Date

Predictive maintenance depends on actual equipment conditions rather than on average or expected life statistics.

“Through the centralized oil testing program and use of onboard analyzers, USCG now has complete ownership and visibility of all test data for the first time,” Guevara said. “We have full confidence in our data which makes it possible to make decisions that improve our mission readiness and save money on unnecessary oil changes and maintenance. In several cases, onboard analyzers have identified potential problems so they could be corrected before equipment was damaged, which would have required expensive repairs and potentially put the cutters out of action. Using the Q1000 and Q3000 combo units, engineers onboard the NSCs can closely monitor increasing soot content in the engine oil as it moves towards the limit where an oil change is required. The Q1000 FluidScan is also
used as a troubleshooting device to monitor water ingression in the reduction gears.”

Modern predictive maintenance uses the real-time data and immediate feedback provided by the portable units and the IMS. Engineers can make maintenance decisions on the spot.

It is very powerful to have the analytical capability of an oil analysis lab so that reliability service professionals can carry it around to critical equipment for just-in-time oil analysis.

Guevara indicated that cost savings to date are substantial. “We found that by monitoring the condition of the oil on the NSC main engines, we were able to increase the oil change interval from 500 hours to 1,000 hours based on actual oil conditions, eliminating two oil changes per engine per year, which will save each cutter about $10,000 per year in oil change and disposal costs and also reduce downtime. We are now reviewing our oil change policy on the FRC Ship Service Diesel Generators (SSDG) to extend the interval from 250 hours to 500 hours or as oil analysis results dictates.”


While in-place oil analysis is mandatory for the new fleet members, engineers also mustbe alerted to potential problems and failures that can damage equipment so that they can deploy maintenance routinely and rapidly in the case of real issues.

The results of on-board testing versus sending samples to a lab:

  • higher equipment availability and productivity
  • lower maintenance costs
  • lower total cost of ownership (TCO)
  • fewer outages
  • optimal equipment performance

With the portable solution, the USCG was able to achieve enterprise-level support with a single point of contact. The results of testing the entire fleet are visible so that critical oil analysis information is easily shared by all.

For more information, visit www.spectrosci.com.