Ken Hope, global polyalphaolefins technical services manager for Chevron Phillips Chemical in The Woodlands, Texas, assumed the role of the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers’ 2021-2022 president for a one-year term on May 18. In his new role, Hope serves as the principal executive officer of the society and as chairman of its board of directors. Hope served on the STLE board of directors from 2006 to 2017 and in 2018 became a member of STLE’s Executive Committee, serving one-year terms as treasurer, secretary and vice president.
Lube Report interviewed Hope about his goals as STLE president, how he became involved with the organization and issues of importance to STLE members.
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What is your college education background? Did it help lead you to your current role as manager of PAO technical services with Chevron Phillips Chemical?
Ken Hope: I received a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and did a postdoc there as well before joining the chemistry department at the University of Houston. That is what brought me to Texas. Interestingly, my Ph.D. enabled me to learn a good deal of spectroscopic techniques, like nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), which were very useful in landing a position with Chevron Chemical in 1991 before the formation of Chevron Phillips Chemical in 2000. It also led to my involvement with catalyst investigations for polyalphaolefin (PAO) synthesis. PAO is a synthetic base oil, and that is where STLE comes in. It was a roundabout way to become involved with STLE, but it was fun and interesting!
How did you first become actively involved in STLE activities, such as in committees and other STLE groups?
Hope: There was a colleague that led the PAO group, and he suggested I attend a local STLE meeting in Houston. There I met a lot of interesting industry professionals and found great value in the organization’s keynote sessions and technical talks. Soon I was giving presentations at the local and national meetings, and before long I was hooked.
Do you have any key goals you’d like to accomplish during your term as STLE president?
Hope: My goals as STLE president include producing our Tribology and Lubrication for E-Mobility conference in November and fully developing the organization’s scholarship plan through our new Scholarship Committee. Additionally, I will be focusing on promoting our online certification programs and expanding STLE’s technical education program using the new Lubrication Foundations course, in both live and virtual formats.
How has learning more about tribology been helpful in your role with Chevron Phillips Chemical, and how is it important to the company in terms of its work and products?
Hope: I found that the engineers and formulators using our products spoke in a different technical language than I was used to. STLE offered a good way to learn what they were talking about. Ray Thibault’s course on preparing for the CLS test was just what I needed to learn the language. Ray was a former high-school chemistry teacher that became a world-renowned instructor providing lubrication-training opportunities for industry professionals and end users. I took his course to learn more about which aspects of lubrication and tribology would be beneficial for me to relate to our customers’ issues and concerns. After the course was completed, Ray suggested I take the Certified Lubrication Specialist (CLS) test. So, my goal wasn’t to earn the CLS but to learn more about lubrication and tribology, passing the test was just a bonus. Continuous learning is always a good goal to strive for, and no one knew that better than Ray! In fact, his instruction was so noteworthy that STLE created an award bearing his name. The Raymond L. Thibault Excellence in Education Award is given to an STLE member who has demonstrated dedication to passionate and influential work as an educator in practical aspects of tribology and lubrication engineering, which benefits the STLE community.
Are there any new STLE programs or efforts this year that you are especially interested in or excited about?
Hope: One of the fallouts from the pandemic is the development of virtual aspects of learning and meeting with others. As a result, STLE had to pivot its certification model to develop a new way to take the CLS test virtually. Today this new test format, along with STLE’s other virtual course offerings, is giving members greater access to developing the knowledge and skillsets needed for their jobs. This virtual transition also touches on another aspect that many are concerned with… knowledge sharing. This is especially needed as many companies continue to see a binomial distribution of employees. We want to ensure that near retirement age employees are passing on their know-how to others so that knowledge is not lost. This is very much the case in lubrication since many aspects are obtained by practical, hands-on experience.
Much of Lubes’n’Greases‘ news coverage over the last year or so has been about the far-ranging impacts of the pandemic on many aspects of the lubricants industry. Has STLE heard from industry members perhaps on what types of education and guidance from STLE could be helpful to them in weathering the pandemic’s impacts on industry and business, as well as in the recovery process?
Hope: A critical aspect of recovery is speed. Perhaps it is easier to turn things off and not so easy to reinitiate and turn things back on. There are many stepwise systems that are dependent upon reliable supplies of goods and services and not everything can be simply turned on as easily. This again is an area where STLE can help by re-engaging members with conferences, virtual learning opportunities and an upcoming electric vehicle (EV) symposium — Tribology and Lubrication for E-Mobility, to be held Nov. 3-5, 2021, at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio.
Many aspects of our industry have hit a pause with the pandemic. But some have never stopped and that seems to be the case with electric vehicle developments, which is why STLE is offering this symposium. Rapidly changing electric vehicle (EV) technologies bring new opportunities for the tribology and lubrication community. Familiar challenges of transmission, gear and bearing lubrication are coupled with new requirements, such as for lubricant thermal and electrical properties, new operating conditions and changes in parts manufacture. During the event, expert speakers will discuss the state-of-the-art developments in EV technology and lubrication, covering different EV platforms, such as battery-electric vehicle (BEV) and hybrid technologies. The event will also include an optional one-day training course introducing electric vehicle technology, presentations and panel discussions from technical experts, and networking opportunities. An optional tour of the SwRI facility will be offered once the conference concludes.