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Inline Fluid Sensors v. Oil Analysis Lab: Which is Better?

Embedded fluid analysis sensors are essentially the miniaturization of bench-top instruments. These sensors emit dielectric strength readings revealing small differences that can be observed and correlated to oil properties. They were designed to supply some of the same data a lab can provide, but in real time. 

                Sensors detect such properties as density, viscosity, temperature and water content.

But most sensors can’t detect additive depletion, fuel, metals, nonmetallic contaminants, or a combination of these.  Even the biggest sensor proponents know they need a lab to supplement sensor observations.

                While sensors involve an upfront investment, they can be cost-justifiable for large remote installations such as shipping vessels and spacecraft and for applications in dangerous or unfavorable environments.   


Sensors collect and convey data. By itself, this data isn’t super helpful—in fact, it can be frustrating if it suggests some action needs to be taken and it doesn’t say what that action is. Imagine getting a notice from the IRS only saying that your tax return is wrong.

                Data only tells you what, not what’s wrong or how to fix it. For data to be valuable, it must be reviewed and interpreted by a human. An experienced CLS analyst will recommend action based on a supplemental understanding of the customer’s operating environment and priorities.  

                There are rigorous quality standards that sensors don’t meet.  Labs offer testing with accuracy levels down to multiple decimal places and distinguish between different wear metal particles down to single parts per million. While sensors can be a good frontline defense in some situations, they aren’t a substitute for the increasingly sophisticated testing an oil analysis lab with experienced analysts provides.  

                Look at it this way: The human peripheral nervous system is, in essence, a network of embedded sensors that send a signal (pain) in real time when something is wrong or about to go wrong.  The nervous system itself can’t do anything about it, though and even if it could, it wouldn’t know what to do.     

                As with the nervous system, fluid sensors are important frontline indicators that let you know the instant something is wrong.  The oil analysis lab will tell you exactly what’s wrong and the what and when of subsequent action.


In many applications, sensors and oil analysis labs complement each other perfectly.  While sensor technology isn’t able to replicate the fluid quality evaluation that comes with a slate of lab tests, it will alert users to rapidly-progressing failures in real time.  Linking this sensor data to lab results will allow data analysts to confirm those results and make recommendations for remediation before damage occurs.


As recognized experts in diagnosing oil-related issues in industrial equipment such as turbines, hydraulics, gearboxes, pumps, compressors and diesel generators for more than 30 years, TestOil provides invaluable insight along with a guarantee of same-day turnaround on all routine testing—allowing a quick follow up to sensor data. In addition to comprehensive lab testing

performed by experienced CLS analysts, TestOil offers oil sampling at the customer’s location; online program management, do-it-yourself sample kits and a team of experts that can help customers set up a new oil analysis program or polish up a program that is already in place.  Contact TestOil to answer any questions you have on how sensors and oil analysis labs work together: call 216-251-2510 or email

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