November 2009

Case Study: Engine Saved from Catastrophic Failure
by Patrick Kilbane, CLS
Sales Manager, Cleveland, Ohio

The following case study is presented based on actual comments provided by an ALS Tribology customer.

We recently discovered a problem with a diesel engine. Our laboratory results indicated that a coolant leak was present, and immediate action was needed to save the equipment.

The spectrochemical analysis showed high concentrations of sodium and potassium, both prominent additives in engine coolants. The copper, tin, and lead levels were also elevated, indicating possible damage to engine components. Additional tests showed that glycol and water were present in the lubricant.

The customer was notified immediately upon completion of the testing. The unit was pulled from service, and the coolant leak was identified. Upon inspection, the mechanic found a thickened gelatinous material on the valve covers of this engine. Damage was observed to the connecting rod bearings and the cylinder linings. Coolant contamination can cause bearing problems, especially in copper-lead and bronze-lead bearings, as well as poor lubrication and increased corrosion.

Coolant contamination may also react and cause increased sludge and other degradation products.

Additional damage without detection would have cost an additional $3,500 at a minimum.

The corresponding analytical results show the high concentrations of sodium and potassium (coolant additives), as well as the excessive wear metal concentrations (lead, copper, and tin). This sample tested positive for coolant and had a large amount of free water in the sample. The water contamination prevented an accurate viscosity to be performed.

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