Inspectioneering Journal

More Than Meets the Eye: Manage Particle Contamination and Prevent Equipment Failures

By Troy Goldman, Integrity Manager at Sun Coast Resources, Inc. This article appears in the March/April 2019 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.

Editor’s Note: This article applies mainly to rotating equipment but entrained particulates in some systems can cause damaging erosive wear on vessel walls and attachments. Whether static or rotating it is good for the Inspectioneer to keep an eye out for metal loss due to particle entrainment. It is also a good idea for inspectors to report unusually high levels of particulates to operations in case it signifies a potential issue and/or may confirm existing concerns.


Particle contamination in lubricants is the number one cause of lubricant-related equipment failure, according to industry experts at Noria Corporation. A typical 300-gallon tote of lubricant can contain up to eight grams of particle contamination. Most particles are too tiny for the naked eye to see, yet are the perfect size to cause abrasive wear and disrupt operations.

Conventional sources of particle contamination include:

  • Built-in contamination
  • Ingressed contamination
  • Internally generated contamination. Welding slag, residues from gaskets or seals, and machine debris can cause built-in contamination

Airborne particles entering through breather vents can cause ingressed contamination, while internally generated contaminants are caused by the collision of rotating components.  These particulates circulate in the system and cause more damage until removed by filtration. All types of contamination lead to wear, which in turn leads to more wear, potentially leading to an unplanned service event.

Fortunately, there are steps operators can take to reduce contamination and potentially increase the service life of their equipment. 

Fluid Assessment for Preventative Maintenance

A machine’s fluids are a great predictor of the health of the machine. A thorough fluid analysis will establish a baseline, identify areas of contamination, and allow reliability engineers to inspect the health of the machine without taking the entire system apart. Fluid samples of critical equipment analyzed by a qualified laboratory can tell you the health of the equipment, the health of the fluid, and what steps should be taken to improve reliability.

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