Analysis for Optimal Operation

ALS Tribology

Friction, lubrication and wear can all have an effect on a company’s machinery. Tribology is the branch of materials science and mechanical engineering that deals with the interaction of moving surfaces. Studying the science of interacting surfaces can be essential to reducing costly repairs, limiting unplanned downtime and increasing the availability of equipment. ALS Tribology provides these services to help its clients save money and time.

Headquartered in Brisbane, Australia, ALS Tribology is a division of ALS Group – one of the world’s largest and most diversified testing services providers. With 350 locations and major hub facilities located in Australia, Asia, North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, ALS has sites located around the world to provide services in minerals – geochemistry, metallurgy, mine site and inspection industries; life sciences – environmental, food and pharmaceutical, animal health and electronics industries; and energy – coal and oil and gas.

We spoke with Director of Marketing and Business Development, Fran Christopher and ALS Americas Vice President, David Doyle, who told us a bit about ALS Tribology, its services and its future.

With the largest global laboratory network in the industry, the company has an international customer base that includes companies in the construction, manufacturing, mining, transportation, lubricant supplier, oil exploration and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) sectors. The company offers standard oil analysis testing and over 150 different specialized American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) tests covering any combination of conditions, fluids and applications.

The company’s services include analysis of oil, engine coolant, diesel fuel, metalworking fluids and wear debris, as well as provision of consulting and training for its clients. Laboratory operations on every continent provide routine oil analysis and select laboratories offer more in-depth and specialized testing for lubricants, coolants and fuels. In addition, the company offers bilingual service for its global clients.

“The one thing we have to avoid in this industry is to keep from having our service looked upon as a commodity solely based on pricing as opposed to services,” emphasizes Fran. “Technology is a driving force in our industry, so we have to figure out how we provide and present data so that the same test results have more value. The way our services work are based on the trending of machinery, its samples from oil changes and intervals. You can’t do that by getting a piece of paper with test results in the mail from a few years ago.”

Fran and David explain that data obtained through regular in-service fluids testing is important for maintenance planning. “An effective industrial testing program can help you detect machine failure symptoms and equipment faults prior to catastrophic incidents. ALS Tribology offers the testing, analysis, knowledge and experience customers need to keep equipment operating at peak performance.”

David credits the company’s values, and how those are applied to the daily operations, for its success. “Our values are coming from the top at our Australian corporate headquarters,” and include policies of honesty, integrity, exceeding client expectations, hard work, continuous improvement, treating safety as a priority and celebrating success.

“We also have independent certification compliance with ISO 17025 standards. We participate in round robin testing (repeated tests from independent laboratories) for performance of labs, test samples, processing. Whatever we have to do, we are committed to quality.”

ALS Tribology supplies its customers with the information they need to make knowledgeable decisions to maximize equipment reliability and reduce operating costs. Quality results are ensured by instruments that are checked and calibrated daily (often several times a day) and well-trained staff who conduct testing and analysis and whose skill levels are kept current with regard to the technology used.

External checks with outside organizations to ensure accurate and consistent test results as well as industry-recognized test methods and instrumentation are also employed. The company also undergoes proficiency testing round robins from ASTM, lubricant manufacturers and OEMs with test results and instrument calibration traceable to certified standard reference materials.

The company’s senior management actively participates in the quality process and coordinates global requirements with local laboratory management. Not only are laboratories ISO 17025 accredited, they are also either National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited, or follow accreditation guidelines as part of their quality management systems. All of the company’s labs conform to the same standards, regardless of formal certification.

Its trained diagnosticians work closely with OEMs, lubricant suppliers and end-users to provide relevant and current equipment limits for wear, contamination and product condemning limits. The company has STLE Certified Lubrication Specialist (CLS) and Oil Condition Monitoring Analyst (OMA) employee certifications at all levels, from senior management to local laboratory staff. That dedication to quality and service is shown through the projects and products ALS Tribology works on throughout the world.

Recent developments at the company include a tool for monitoring and reporting the percent remaining useful service life of in-service engine oils in heavy duty diesel engines. This reporting tool links key oil condition parameters into service algorithms that calculate the percent of remaining service life of diesel engine oils during the time of sampling and testing. This reporting tool can then be incorporated into overall fleet lubricant management to monitor optimal drain intervals.

The tool can be helpful in making fleet-wide lubricant management decisions. Product changes, either through new lubricants or consolidating inventory can be easily monitored and data can be correlated with certain product brands and types, equipment age, and make and model. In-service oil analysis reporting tools can help monitor goals for equipment management, lubrication management and maintenance management.

ALS Tribology has also introduced two test packages to monitor brake fluid and diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). These test packages provide a basic quality check of these products for fluid conditions and contaminants. Brake fluid requires monitoring in equipment to ensure the fluid has not outlived its service life. Excessive moisture and corrosion are the biggest concerns when monitoring brake fluid. Checking the pH and metals in the brake fluid is also important for monitoring corrosion. The test package that ALS provides is applicable to all glycol based formulations in brake fluid.

While diesel exhaust fluid does not require routine testing like brake fluid, it is important to periodically monitor for contamination and proper urea concentration. ALS has designed a test package to quickly provide a check on DEF for urea content, oil/fuel contamination, pH, and metals for contaminants and corrosion. The DEF test package provides a convenient screening analysis to ensure the fluid for vehicles using selective catalytic reduction exhaust systems can effectively convert nitrogen oxide pollutants into harmless nitrogen and water into the atmosphere.

Indeed, “We are constantly seeking continuous improvement to be more efficient and keeping our operations modern,” says David. Other recent accomplishments of ALS Tribology include the introduction of a mobile app to download data. “It’s useful in environments where our clients may not have access to an office to obtain data.” ALS customers can also print barcodes from the company’s Webtrieve™ online system, which are quickly scanned and processed. All samples received are processed within a twenty-four to forty-eight hour turnaround.

This commitment to customer service and convenience has helped ALS Tribology build strong relationships with its clients. “We have very solid high-level relationships with equipment manufacturers,” says Fran. “They can help us steer what’s relevant in the market these days, making us more proactive in our testing services as well as reporting data.” This industry relies heavily on relationships, which “have helped with our success and give us the ability to provide training opportunities at the end user level.”

These relationships, cultivated over the years, have helped ALS Tribology stand apart from its competitors. According to Fran and David, because Tribology is such a niche industry, “major companies know who we are and who our competitors are. We have relationships and programs where we private brand for oil companies and OEMs – distributed to companies to look like it’s their product. Our customer base is based on major oil companies’ efforts. There are so many different industries that we service, so our marketing strategies are different depending on what industry we’re targeting.”

To be sure, the company has many exciting plans for the future. “We will continue to invest in technology in our lab network,” shares David. “Most of our business planning has to do with our global perspective.” Clients are operating in a global fashion and need a service provider that can do the same.

Fran and David stress that ALS Tribology’s dedication to quality, service and efficient operation will serve the needs of its clients for years to come. “We’re a strong company with strong backing from our parent company / corporation. It allows us to continually invest in our lab network and our technology. We have systems in place for global standardization of our testing and reporting.

“Our basic philosophy is to partner with our clients and develop goals to our service that will result in return on investment for equipment reliability and productivity.”

November 18, 2017, 10:39 AM EST