Universal Tractor Oils to the Rescue

VARANASI, India - Tractor operators in India may increasingly turn to universal tractor transmission oils to eliminate the need for multiple oils in one machine, according to an industry insider addressing a conference here recently.

In India, tractors are used for agriculture, transportation of materials and goods, power generation and other applications, leading to diversity in lubrication practices that confuses some operators, S.K. Haldar, an executive with Indian Oil Corp. Ltd.s marketing division, said Feb. 4 at the annual meeting of the India chapter of the United States-based National Lubricating Grease Institute.

Furthermore, Indias machines are exposed to varying levels of dust, dirt, mud and water, said Haldar. In addition, some tractors have air-conditioned cabins while others dont, a difference affecting lubrication requirements.

Haldar said that the field study, which analyzed 300 tractors of varying models in the state of Madhya Pradesh between 2012 and 2016, revealed that operators frequently mixed hydraulic oils, transmission oils and gear oils and had minimal awareness of UTTOs.

India, already the worlds largest tractor market, continues to add to its fleet, along with China and other countries that are experiencing increased buoyancy in their rural economies. The global tractor market witnessed sales of 2.1 million units in 2014-2015 - a jump of 25 percent from 1.7 million units in 2009-2010, he noted, citing data from Agrievolution. During the same period, Indias tractor sales grew approximately 28 percent to 592,942 units while China witnessed growth of about 25 percent, to 524,600 units.

Amid growth, the global tractor market is going through a period of great change, Haldar said. Trends include a move to power shift transmissions and wet brake systems; more robust designs for gears and bearings; increased adoption of electronic control devices; smaller oil sumps; greater need for protection from pitting during break-in periods; enhanced comfort for operators; and more stringent emission norms. All bring technological challenges to tractor lubrication.

Haldar emphasized the need for a dedicated farm tractor fluid. Operators in India primarily use a gear oil meeting APIs GL-4 category, along with a separate, ISO VG 46/68 hydraulic fluid and no brake oil, since many machines are running with dry brake setups, Haldar said.

GL-4 oils provide good wear protection for gears and bearings, but can be lacking when it comes to water tolerance. They also dont offer as balanced friction for wet brakes and transmissions, and can be weak in oxidation stability.

Although its a concept that has been more widely adopted in North America, Haldar noted that UTTOs have also been developed as a one-fluid solution in Indias tractor market for lubricating gears, transmissions, hydraulics and wet brakes. Unlike super tractor oil universal fluids, however, UTTOs cant be used as an engine oil. However, UTTOs are made from high-quality base stocks fortified with antiwear, antioxidant, antifoam and anticorrosion inhibitors along with viscosity index improvers for smooth and quiet operation of wet brakes and power take-off clutches.

But are all universal tractor fluids the same? No, Haldar noted that universal tractor transmission oils come in basic, mainline and niche formulations. Basic products use mid-tier tractor hydraulic additives, while ainline oils use premium tractor hydraulic additives. Niche formulations use premium hydraulic additives as well as technology designed to minimize brake noise. There are summer, winter and all-weather formulations.

In addition to simplifying fluid management, UTTOs are lower in viscosity than traditional tractor oils, providing increased flow rates in hydraulic systems, which makes them suited for use in more complex agricultural equipment with greater horsepower and torque. UTTOs also allow longer drain intervals for equipment with increasingly smaller oil sumps.

Use of UTTO also coincides with agriculture equipment and automobile original equipment manufacturers trend toward requiring low-viscosity oils for fuel economy, Haldar stated. [Low viscosity], multipurpose transmission oils like 10W-30 and 75W-80 are becoming popular in the global market.

He noted that the problem of noise -also called chatter or squawk - that occurs when braking and turning still persists and remains a subject of ongoing research.

Photo: Asian Development Bank / Flickr