EVs Also Threaten Industrial Lubes

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EVs Also Threaten Industrial Lubes
A Hummer EV being assembled at GM's plant Factory ZERO plant in Michigan. Photo courtesy of General Motors

Although the transition to electric vehicles will gradually cut the automotive industry’s need for industrial lubricants, metal forming fluids used to make car bodies should remain in demand, with some boost from their use in manufacturing battery casings, a consultant told the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers recently.

“Battery powered vehicles are much less complicated machines than internal combustion engine vehicles, which means they require fewer parts, fewer manufacturing steps and fewer procedures,” Neil Canter, Philadelphia-based consultant at Chemical Solutions, said on Nov. 4 in a presentation at STLE’s Tribology and Lubrication for E-Mobility Conference, held Nov. 3-5 at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

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“If that’s the case, and you need fewer machines to do things, you’re going to have a much lower demand for industrial lubricants.” He said that fluids that could decline in demand due to growth in EVs include metalworking fluids – specifically metal removal fluids – hydraulic fluids, gear oils, way lubricants, heat treat or quenching fluids and die cast fluids.

His presentation was titled, “Challenges and Opportunities for Industrial Lubricants as the Automotive Industry Moves to Electrical Vehicles.”

Industrial lubricants are used in the manufacturing of a wide range of components that go into automobiles. Many parts are produced on any of a number of types of machine tools – from drills to lathes to stamping machines – many of which require their own metalworking fluid at the contact point between the machine and the part being produced – as well lubes needed for machine operation. “We’re talking about things such as gear oils, hydraulic fluids and other specialty types like spindle oils and way lubricants,” he said.

EV powertrains are simpler than those in vehicles powered by internal combustion engines – more than 1,000 in the latter compared to around 200 in cars running solely on battery power.

Canter asserted the transition to electric vehicles will most affect auto part manufacturers – tiers 1, 2 and 3 – which are also major users of metalworking fluids and conduct a variety of metal removal and metal forming operations – the former including processes such a drilling and grinding, the latter being used to make body parts such as trunks or fenders. He said that while parts suppliers contribute 50%-55% of the value for ICEs, they only contribute about 35%-40% of the value for BEVs.

“In switching to electric vehicles, there’s going to be substantial changes and drops in demand for these types of fluids and in the associated machine lubricants used in the machinery used to make them,” he said.

The largest impact on industrial lubricants will likely be in the metal removal area, said Canter, small chip operations used extensively to make engines and engine blocks. Many parts go to an OEM in a rough state and are there refined through operations like grinding, lapping and honing.

Since BEVs contain no equivalent to the engine and engine block, “all these fluids are not going to be required.”

Other parts that stand to be eliminated include radiators, fuel tanks, exhaust pipes, crank shafts, fuel pumps, mufflers, camshafts, exhaust manifolds, front differentials and others.

The industry will still need lubricants and fluids used in forming operations used to shape and bend parts of auto bodies. “Here there is really no change because the body of an electric vehicle looks the same as an ICE-powered car,” Canter said. “That’s what OEMS have been doing. There may even be a slight increase.”

Industrial lubricants required for ICE-powered vehicles include metalworking fluids, die release fluids and machine lubricants. Metalworking fluids include those for removal, forming and treating, along with rust preventives. Machine lubricants include hydraulic fluids – of which there are three main categories: straight oil, ester and water glycol – gear oils, spindle oils and way lubricants. Aside from metal forming lubricants, he said, all would likely see their use and demand dropping in the shift to EVs.

“There could be as much as 90% fewer parts related to drive train components,” he said. “There could be less demand for machined parts, die cast parts and for heat-treated parts.

The simpler components in an EV include a battery pack, a direct current to alternating current  converter, powertrain, electric motor, on board battery charger and additional copper wiring. Canter noted some metal stamping is used to create battery casings for EV, “but there’s not a lot.”

The batteries that power EVs have much more copper wire than required for conventional vehicles, so there should be a significant increase in wire drawing. “It requires key specific types of metal drawing compounds, many of them solids like calcium stearate,” Canter said.

As Canter noted, the pace of any impact from EVs will depend on how fast they replace ICE-powered vehicles. For more coverage of electric vehicles and their impact on lubricants, subscribe to Lubes’n’Greases’ Electric Vehicles InSite.