Innovation Challenges for New Additive Components
Developing new additive components for lubricant applications isa challenging, risky and expensive process. These barriers todevelopment mean new component introductions are an exception,not the norm, argues Philip Reeve.
Demonstrating the performance of a new lubricant formulation is an expensive business, particularly for crankcase applications that require engine testing. A simple program of API passenger car motor oil tests can cost about U.S. $400,000. With the addition of several original equipment manufacturer standards, this can reach $1 million.
A complex program for a European heavy-duty diesel engine oil that includes specifications from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, as well as multiple OEMs, can top $2 million. If a new, unproven additive is incorporated into the formulation, the price tag can be even higher.
All this adds up to a European testing and verification process that makes the introduction of innovative molecules difficult for additive companies, which in most cases bear the evaluation costs.
The costs, coupled with engine test variability and poor correlation of less expensive bench testing, makes finding the right chemistry especially challenging, Craig Paterson, Lubrizols vice president of product management, told LubesnGreases.
Indeed, the ever-increasing scope of engine testing represents the single-largest contributor to the cost of getting new formulations to market.
The shift from [lubricant] industry specifications towards more OEM specifications increases the complexity and cost of doing business, said Paul Sutor, technical team leader of component and fundamental testing at Chevron Oronite.
These costs are felt keenly by single additive developers, such as United Kingdom-based specialty chemicals company Croda, which produces friction modifiers.
As an individual component developer, there are different and competing challenges on development budgets, compared to an additive package manufacturer. This hurdle is magnified when developing individual components rather than packages, because budgets tend to be lower, Martin Curran, Crodas lubricants application specialist, said.
Neal Milne, lubricants additives business technology manager at component supplier Lanxess, agreed, adding, Resources always have to be balanced against risk. If this resource and risk can and may be shared by collaboration or partnership with an [additive company] or oil marketer customers, then this would enable a greater number of new product candidates to be investigated, leading more new products being commercialized.
Given the high costs and commercial risks, it is unsurprising that formulation developers take a very cautious approach to incorporating new components into testing programs.
The number of tests involved in passing specifications can be daunting. An API claim requires five or six engine tests and about 15 physical and bench tests. An ACEA E6 program comprises five engine tests and 13 physical and bench tests. If requirements expand across OEM specifications and different applications, the number of tests to run increases dramatically.
There is a high probability that an industry or OEM test will respond badly to a new component. To manage that risk, additive companies conduct screening programs for new components before expensive engine testing begins.
Any new component that helps in some performance dimensions hurts in others. The more tests, the harder it is to find the right molecule that maximizes desired performance whilst minimizing undesired characteristics, said Ewan Dolbridge, Lubrizols global technology development manager of passenger car motor oils.
All components have performance plusses and minuses. For example, a developer finds a good friction modifier and runs a simple engine test program to look at anti-rust, antioxidancy and dispersancy that reveals no minuses. The developer then runs more tests to cover OEM requirements, which now include corrosion, water compatibility, long-term storage stability, extended drain capability, filtration and particle count. As the number of tests grows, the greater the probability a problem is uncovered.
Therefore, testing every new additive under every conceivable condition is virtually impossible, and so optimizing the number of time-consuming, no-harm tests requires good judgment, Sutor said.
Bruce Royan, the lubricants business manager at U.K.-based additive company Infineum, said that any new effective component would likely be highly active in some way, which would require extra resources to increase the scope of testing.
Before initiating engine or field testing, very significant harms testing is needed, often related to OEM bench testing, seals and more cosmetic issues like lubricant turbidity. Hence there is a very high cost to screen any new additive and a very great challenge to demonstrate zero harms everywhere, he said.
If a test fail occurs, a new component will be scrutinised since there is limited historical data to support its satisfactory performance. Any investigation will involve further time and expense, even though this new component may not be responsible.
The sheer number of tests is not an issue which prevents the development of components. However, it can prevent or delay their introduction into a formulation. The potential to find a test which responds badly to the component is high, Curran said.
The global nature of the lubricant industry requires chemical components be appropriately registered around the world. For new components, industry experts say the testing and approval process for different regions and countries can cost more than $1 million. In territories such as China and Japan, it can take up to five years to complete.
Registration is costly and time consuming, but it is a necessity to create commercial products and is always supported, said Curran.
The challenge to innovation of new components is also clear. Global registration requirements are probably the most impactful in terms of the ability to respond fast enough to constantly evolving market needs, Sutor said.
Dave Duncan, Lubrizols director of global technology, agreed. Ever more extensive toxicological testing is now required for new chemistries. Additionally, greater government regulation of chemicals impedes the commercialization process of new chemistries with highly sensitive multi-year, multi-generational toxicological testing being mandated.
As decisions around initiating global registrations are taken very early in the development or evaluation process, the potential value and financial return on investment are very speculative and the risk is high.
As well as time, a further concern is the high risk of failure occurring late in an expensive process. Registration timelines force additive companies to commit very early in the design process on new components or formulations which may not reach the end. Unforeseen problems in either lubricant performance tests or chemical registration tests create very high-risk investments, Royan noted.
Cost of Components
Additive package manufacturers and lubricant blenders have operational pressure to manage both the number of individual materials held on site and the amount of inventory. Adding a new component to the portfolio requires extra tankage or drums.
Increased costs due to new processing equipment and tankage for new chemistries contribute to overall development costs and can potentially limit introduction of new chemistries, Sutor commented.
Royan agreed that, a key barrier to new component or package innovation in a plant is working capital. It is driving expense into [additive company] supply chains, and oil marketers simply cannot afford to meet all OEMs different needs with individual products despite individual OEM needs driving technology that way.
Ideally, a new component would replace an existing component. However, this is not straightforward.
Management of change is incredibly costly and time consuming and often requires extensive back-to-back testing coupled with OEM negotiations to approve the change, Duncan noted. Hence, even if new components progress well through the technical evaluation stage, operational hurdles still exist.
Finding the Formula
While the target for a new component is to show improvements over existing ones, demonstrating no harms is equally important. The obstacles outlined above make additive companies cautious about introducing new molecules, since investments are initially speculative, cost millions of dollars and the return is long term.
Royan believed that in general the industry will tend to work first with what is currently available, feels that it understands and can be readily commercially available, even though there might be significant benefits for the early adoption for more innovative componentry.
As a result of these barriers, new chemistry development starts as much as five years before the engine test is available for product development. Molecular discovery occurs using proxy tests. For example, new GF-6 additives [were] invented with GF-5 tests, which have different appetites, Dolbridge explained.
As the finished lubricant is viewed and treated as a commodity, additive companies and oil marketers struggle to support investments in new technologies. Were more value attainable in the lubricant space, more step-out technology investments could be justified, he said.
Milne also recognised the commercial challenges. If the value of current lubrication components is not reflected in the financial returns received by the component manufacturers, then this will restrict the financial resources available for investment in R&D of new components, he said.
Third-party component suppliers look for a collaborative approach with customers to surmount these challenges. We rely on customer cooperation to source additive packages and viscosity modifiers in order to test the effectiveness of our friction modifiers. Without access, we are limited in how much up-front data we can generate to introduce the products to the market, Curran said.
More collaboration between key stakeholders – including OEMs, lubricant marketers and additive companies – can help create win-win situations, Sutor advised.
The hurdles present opportunities to stimulate research and innovation and develop new additives faster and more economically. If not managed well, these challenges slow the market release of innovative components, he said.
Current hurdles to the introduction of new components are significant, expensive and time consuming. To minimize investment risk, additive companies tend to either find new formulation options with existing components or incrementally improve them. Looking forward, greater stakeholder collaboration, harmonization of regulations, smarter research and better returns on new component investment could create a future climate more conducive to innovation.