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Is your sterntube oil clean? Monitoring cleanliness levels in sterntubes using particle counting


Nishidh Vora, SeaTec UK Limited


An evaluation of the sterntube lubricant samples tested by Sea-Tec in 2016 shows that over 25% of vessels experienced wear exceeding the limit specified by classification societies.


With the increasing number of samples having wear above these limits (Table:1); additional investigation analysis performed has revealed that particle counting can be helpful in detecting and prioritizing sterntube oil samples where severe wear is occurring. Particle counting is often not included in the routine test suite for sterntube oil samples as it is not a requirement for many classification societies. Solely relying on routine elemental analysis would lead to a false sense of security and at times important wear modes can be missed due to the fact that routine elemental analysis (by ICP) cannot detect particles greater than >5 microns.


Table 1: Wear limits (Source: IACS)


in use, this needs further SEM (Scanning Electron Microscopy) investigation to confirm bearing wear. The majority of the time lead (Pb) particles detected were very small in size (<10 microns) as per SEM analysis. There have been cases of this happening in lead-free bearings and in those cases it is suspected that the lead is from other sources; for eg: lead based paints/coatings used in the tanks. When EAL’s are used it is important to note that some of these lubricants cannot tolerate a large amount of water and lead to the formation of acidic compounds and in-turn becomes corrosive. If that is the case then the wear would often be accompanied by a high acid number. When such lubricants (e.g.: non-emulsifying synthetic ester EAL’s) are used it is suggested to maintain the water at minimal levels (<1000 ppm) to maximize the fluid life.


Table 2: EAL data


Sea-Tec’s data analysis (Table:2) has also revealed that the cases related to the presence of lead (Pb) above the limits are also very common when EAL’s (Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants) are


Continued on page 32


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