Manager: Dale Johnson

Title: Equipment manager

Fleet: Hamm Inc., a Summit Materials subsidiary, Perry, KS

Operation: Heavy construction fleet operating a mix of highway tractors, off-road trucks, and heavy equipment such as bulldozers and front-end loaders

Problem:Any equipment manager will tell you that oil functions as the lifeblood of just about any type of engine, be it one powering a highway tractor, bulldozer, or front-end loader. Yet changing engine oil poses costs to any fleet business, regardless of equipment type, as the additional costs associated with oil disposal fees, shop time, and unit downtime can add up to a pretty penny on the budget spreadsheet.

However, extending oil drain intervals can pose risks, too, especially if intervals get extended too far and lead to engine damage, costly repairs, and even longer stretches of unprofitable downtime—not inconsiderable impacts, explains Dale Johnson, equipment manager for Hamm.

“With heavy-duty equipment valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars, failure can result in huge production losses and enormous repair costs for us,” he says.

So Johnson needed to figure out how to extend oil drain intervals to the right mileage/hour point in order to reduce all oil change-related costs. At the same time, he needed to ensure that extended intervals didn’t pose any risks of premature wear and tear.

Solution: Regular oil analysis is the solution Hamm adopted about 25 years ago, settling on the Engine Guard oil sampling program offered by Universal Lubricants. Over 30,000 oil samples have been submitted through the program.

“Their lab team provides an extra set of eyes on our equipment and other assets, which has helped us in our overall maintenance practices,” Johnson explains. “As a result, we have lengthened oil change intervals in each asset category and that keeps our equipment running longer and more efficiently.”

Johnson adds that using oil analysis convinced him to change some of Hamm’s maintenance practices, too. Dust in the air cleaners is a perennial issue for Hamm. “In the early days, we used to blow the dust out of our air cleaners every other oil change,” Johnson points out. “But when we started conducting oil analysis, we found we were getting a high amount of silica in the oil—material that could potentially increase the wear and tear on our engines, if not damage them. As a result, we now just replace the air cleaner filters.”

Adopting an oil analysis program “no doubt helped us extend the useful life of our equipment and avoid unplanned downtime,” Johnson says. That has helped keep the company’s overall costs down and allows it to offer competitive rates in the markets it serves.

Mike Wyant, manager of technical services for Universal Lubricants, notes that Hamm’s use of oil analysis also helps the company get ahead of major engine and related component problems.

“That’s the real method to the madness, so to speak,” he explains. “When we’re analyzing oil on a regular basis and suddenly find engine coolant, or water, or other materials, we know immediately there’s a problem—and that forewarning can help prevent a catastrophic breakdown from occurring.”

Wyant stresses, though, that oil analysis cannot pinpoint the exact source of a problem; for example, if there is too much iron in the oil, then where is it coming from? “Rather, it acts as a general advance warning measure,” he explains. “Our lab generates reports within 24 hours of receiving samples and makes them available via a password-protected website. More importantly, we immediately notify customers if there are any abnormal or critical results.”

In many ways, Wyant says oil analysis in the fleet world can be compared to brushing one’s teeth: It’s a necessary ritual for maintaining good equipment hygiene. “You need to conduct oil analysis on a regular, consistent basis. You need to make it routine, just like you need to brush your teeth several times a day, every day,” he says. “It serves as an early indicator of problems that can be corrected before they cause sudden equipment failures or prolonged downtime.” —SEAN KILCARR