MWF Industry Faces Changes


DETROIT – Myriad forces are buffeting the metalworking fluid industry, making it difficult to know how formulations will look in the future.

At the STLE conference earlier this month, John Burke of Houghton International, Valley Forge, Pa., reviewed the major drivers that will influence MWF formulation over the next 10 years and how fluids may look in the future.

One of the major changes coming in the future factory is the reuse and recycling of fluid. The customer wants payback and low cost, and were going to get that through recycling rather than waste treatment, said Burke.

Organized labor restrictions will also have an impact on fluid formulation, Burke said. For example, in the past, organized labor pushed for mineral oil mist limits of 0.5 milligrams per cubic meter of air, for more detailed safety data sheets and for full disclosure of any potential health issues.

These things should be common. We shouldnt be trying to fight them, he said. Besides, under the Globally Harmonized System and REACH, the full disclosure issue is almost going to be a non-event. And pressure from organized labor will force fluid suppliers to move faster in these areas.

The United Nations adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) in 2003. REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) is the European Unions chemical regulation law, which went into effect in June 2007.

Another issue is government targeted chemicals. We hear about boron, formaldehyde, and chlorinated paraffins, but a few others are sneaking in, such as tungsten cobalt carbide, siloxanes and certain phenols, Burke said. Now, the government is looking at restricting the industrial use of castor oils because of the possible exposure of farm workers to ricin.

Burke then turned to the debate between mineral oil and vegetable oil. Mineral oil has been regulated by the EPA for 40 years. The biggest issues are visible sheen on water and that mineral oil is very slow to biodegrade. However, he said, while mineral oil is not considered a renewable resource, there is an infrastructure to recycle used oil.

Vegetable oil is also regulated because it leaves a visible sheen and is not hydrocarbon neutral. It interferes with the food chain, Burke said, and it cannot be made into biodiesel as easily as once thought, especially when it is mixed with mineral oil, water, metals and other contaminants.

The big issue with vegetable is that there is no infrastructure to recycle it when it is mixed with mineral oil. In the sump and waste storage tank, these mixtures can turn into a thick, heavy grease-like sludge that is difficult to remove.

Burke explained that the esters in vegetable oils interfere with mineral oil rerefining, so rerefiners have set strict limits on the amount of vegetable oil they will accept in used oil. Therefore, in an industrial environment, the only ways to dispose of used vegetable oils are incineration or landfill.

Consequently, the future will see the continued use of mineral oil base stocks. It can be used over and over through recycling, Burke said. And with the drought of 2012, there has been a spike in the cost of certain vegetable oils.

The next issue is self-imposed end-user and formulator restrictions. Because of publicity, some users simply do not want to deal with certain chemicals. When we start putting the various target pictograms on our MSDSs, end users will say they dont want to take that risk, Burke noted, adding that the general public will likely react in the same way.

Formulators have a code of ethics interior to themselves, he continued, where they feel theres too much risk with a certain chemical and wont use it. Dozens of chemicals have faded from the market, not because they are regulated, but because formulators werent comfortable using them. This may be true for formaldehyde-donor biocides. They may disappear just because we dont want to use them.

In addition, chlorinated paraffins, fluids with high volatile organic compound emissions, solvent-cutback rust inhibitors, boron chemistries, biocides and vanishing oils could disappear, he said. And siloxanes are being targeted for their biopersistence.

Burke also expects a move to ultrahigh spindle speeds, high-pressure coolant and diamond tooling. Where does that take us? It takes us to foam control. We need a lot of work in foam control and advances in fluid chemistry, he said.

Burke said that in 10 years, congruent chemistries will become more common, where the coolant, cleaners and machine lubricants work together, not against one another. In addition, he sees the increased use of ultrastable fluids that are biostable, foam stable, oxidatively stable, hard water stable, residue stable and shear stable.

The final fate of the fluid is critical, Burke said. We dont want to have the fluid waste treated, we want to reuse it. Only ultra-stable fluids can do this.

Burke concluded by saying that third party fluid management will become the norm in the future. End users dont want to dedicate the personnel or resources to manage their fluids; therefore, suppliers will manage the fluids for them.