Selby, Lubricant Testing Giant, Dies

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Selby, Lubricant Testing Giant, Dies
Photo courtesy of Savant Group

Ted Selby, founder of the Savant Group and a giant in the field of lubricant testing, died Monday at the age of 93.

Over a career of more than six decades, Selby developed a number of groundbreaking lubricant testing concepts, methods and devices that have become fundamental to gauging the performance of automotive engine oils. For his contributions he received several of the industry’s highest awards.

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Selby’s family said he died peacefully.

His inventions include:

  • the Tapered Bearing Simulator, the world’s first commercial, very high-shear-rate engine oil viscometer, which is a centerpiece of two ASTM methods, as well as SAE J300, the global engine oil viscosity classification standard;
  • the Thermo-oxidation Engine Oil Simulation Test, developed by Selby and Dennis Florkowski of Chrysler, which measures high-temperature deposits for turbocharger and engine lubrication;
  • the Scanning Brookfield viscometer technique, used to determine the low-temperature pumpability and gelation tendencies of engine oils, as well as to analyze automatic transmission fluid and gear oils at low temperatures;
  • the Phophorus Emissions Index and the Selby-Noack oil volatility apparatus. Together they assure that stable phosphorus antiwear agents are used in engine oils, instead of volatile ones that poison catalytic converters and increase tailpipe transmissions. In March 2018, his Noack S2 volatility tester, a successor to the Selby-Noack device, was accepted as an ASTM standard.

Selby’s career began in the 1950s when General Motors hired him as a research scientist in lubricant department while he pursued his doctorate degree in physical chemistry from the University of Detroit in the 1950. While at GM he received the Russell S. Springer and Henry Ford Memorial Awards from the Society of Automotive Engineers, the first time these two awards were presented to the same person.

In 1963, Selby moved to The Dow Chemical Co. in Midland to assist with expansion of its automotive lubrication capabilities. In 1969 he left Dow to launch the Savant firm, consulting in the field of lubrication. In 1981, he formed Tannas Co., a manufacturer of advanced laboratory testing instruments used by companies for analyzing fluids’ properties.

Two years later the group formed the Institute of Materials to serve as an independent source of technical information for the lubricant industry. King Refrigeration was purchased in 1996 to expand Tannas’ line of laboratory instruments. Recently, two precision machining shops were purchased – Excell Manufacturing in 2019 and BGT Aerospace in 2021, to support instrument development and manufacturing. In 2018 Selby received the highest award from the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers – its International Award – in recognition of his contributions to those fields. He continued working and received his 58th patent within the past year.

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