Claiming the Quality High Ground
The relationship between Europes auto and lubricant industry trade bodies is forged in jointly drafted specifications for engine oil performance. But it is the lubricant side that assures quality.
Boris Kamchev checks out how the process works.
Strict industry standards govern the formulation, blending and marketing of European engine oils. If lubricant manufacturers comply, they can claim certain performance specifications for their products and thus gain the trust of end-users and approval of original equipment manufacturers.
The quality of European engine oil products is subject to the Technical Association of the European Lubricant Industrys compliance and monitoring procedures. The association, known as ATIEL, and the Technical Committee of Petroleum Additive Manufacturers of Europe, or ATC, are the regions main authoring organizations for engine oil standards, along with the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, the trade organization of the continents auto industry. Between them, they set out lubricant performance specifications known as oil sequences. They are the counterpart to the American Petroleum Institutes oil standardization and cover light- and heavy-duty vehicles and are regularly updated to address changes to emissions and fuel efficiency legislation, engine technology and fuel composition.
While the 2018 sequences have been delayed, the current sequences, ACEA 2016, were released in December 2016. After a two-year transition period, all engine oils that claim to meet ACEA performance specifications must conform to the 2016 sequence, while the previous sequence from 2012 and all other sequences became obsolete, explained Adri van de Ven, technical manager of ATIEL, at the CIS and Russia Base Oils and Lubricants conference in Moscow in May.
ATIEL advises that lubricant makers are liable for all aspects of product quality when making ACEA claims. ATIEL assumes no responsibility if a marketer fails to fulfill its obligations, but in order to improve credibility, the association conducts occasional independent quality tests of randomly selected on-shelf products, Boris Zhmud, head of research and development at German auto lube company Bizol, explained to LubesnGreases.
For marketers products to include claims for specific engine categories on their labeling, ACEA requires those lubricants be blended in accordance with the European Engine Lubricant Quality Management System, or EELQMS, administered by ATIEL, according to van de Ven. ACEA requires that companies submit an EELQMS letter of conformance to ATIEL if it wants to claim an ACEA performance category for its motor oil.
Basically, an LOC is a kind of self-certification that you understand and follow the EELQMS guidelines. This is a European analog of APIs Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System, Zhmud said.
EELQMS is a voluntary scheme for automotive engine lubricants developed by numerous industry stakeholders. Its aim is to promote the development of improved, fit-for-purpose engine lubricants that meet challenging performance requirements, van de Ven said, pointing out that, the quality management system assists lube marketers to assure the quality of their lubricants and performance claims made for them in the marketplace.
Lube suppliers marketing engine lubricants as complying with ACEAs oil are supposed to formulate, blend and market in accordance with the guidelines in ATIEL and ATCs code of practice.
The code includes incorporating EELQMS guidelines in a quality management system, such as ISO 9001 or ISO TS 16949; undergoing an independent audit of the lubricant formulation process; having code of practice checklists signed off by an authorized company representative; blending products in accordance with the requirements of ATIEL code of practice; and signing a marketers letter of conformance and submitting the letter and quality certificates to the EELQMS administrators.
ATIELs compliance policy is launched to support LOC signatory marketers who make valid ACEA performance claims to encourage greater compliance across the industry through continuous monitoring of the lube quality in the market and exchange of information and technical data that supports education of lubricant marketers, van de Ven said.
The policy also provides framework for supporting marketers in taking corrective action to address non-compliance issues and sets out procedures for ATIEL to give feedback and advice to marketers, or to take action against them, depending on the severity of non-compliance, according to ATIEL.
Execution of the aforementioned procedure is delegated to an independent company called Services to Associations and Industry in the Lubricants Sector, or Sail.
Sail administers LOC submissions and approves the company registrations. It also manages product surveys on behalf of ATIEL, interacts with all stakeholders and protects confidentiality of survey process. It also licenses EELQMS trademark logo and collects registrations fees, van de Ven said.
The feedback on the utility of the scheme from the industry is positive. The registration process is rather straightforward and for a modest fee you get the right to use the EELQMS logo on your product labels, Zhmud said. Is it useful? I think so, especially for high-volume products. Nowadays, many OEMs request submission to the scheme in order to get their approvals.
However, the scheme has limited international reach. If you sell your product in North America, you would perhaps prefer to use the API donut symbol. In Africa, Asia or the Middle East, neither matters. It is also not needed for small-volume, specialized, high-end products, such as racing oils, which are often optimized for a specific engine type, Zhmud said.
ATIEL registrants have the exclusive right to use the EELQMS logo on product documentation and labels. Sail also conducts a product survey program of all LOC signatories to check the quality of the products claiming compliance, for which companies have to pay an annual registration fee of 975.
ATIELs quality surveys enhance the overall robustness of the quality management and is one of the most effective ways to measure the levels of compliance with EELQMS. The surveys are a core part of the ATIELs Quality Management Committees initiative and are conducted and administered by independent bodies, van de Ven said.
He added that the quality survey is performed via rigorous testing methodology; the samples are sourced independently, coded and blind tested.
They are tested against most appropriate ACEA European oil sequences and parameters that include high- and low-temperature viscosity, Noack volatility, sulfated ash, phosphorus and sulfur [SAPS] and total base number, van de Ven said.
ATIEL said that an independent laboratory conducts testing and statistical analysis, while individual results are shared only with the respective marketer. ATIEL takes the appropriate follow-up actions and sanctions in the case of serious breaches of compliance.
Looking at the quality survey conducted in 2017, ATIEL accepted 184 samples from its membership and original equipment manufacturers from an array of countries, such as Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, Sweden, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, Spain, Portugal and Italy.
In that year, most of the failures were due to incompatible combined claims, or failure of SAPS and TBN [total base number] for one of the specifications. However, the number of the failing oils is small, and we saw a significant decrease of the failure numbers in 2018, van de Ven said.
The new engine oil specification in the latest, upcoming ACEA 2019 sequences is driven by emissions legislation. Automakers have been meeting carbon dioxide emissions caps mostly by reducing oil viscosity to improve fuel economy and by using oils with a higher viscosity index in order to reduce friction during cold starts. These developments are shifting formulations to API Group II and III base stocks, which complicates raw material management for blenders since there is less interchange and read-across flexibility for those grades than for Group I oils.
We observe an increase in the use of Group II and Group III base oils in light- and heavy-duty vehicles, with very limited base oil interchange guidelines between the groups. Current guidelines are focused around Group I base oils, van de Ven said.
ATIELs interchange guidelines help to manage increasing complexity, as regulators push emissions to ever-lower levels. The number of ACEA categories has increased from eight in 1996 to 14 in 2016. More engine tests have appeared in the ACEA sequences for which there are no interchange guidelines. At the same time, the number of viscosity grades is increasing, and more base oils have appeared on the market, van de Ven explained.
Base oil interchange and viscosity grade read-across guidelines could give lubricant blenders the flexibility to cope with this complexity and to reduce engine oil development costs by allowing limited substitution of base oils used in approved formulations.
But automakers want to know that such substitution will not compromise performance, so they insist on thorough testing to determine which base oils can be used for replacement and how much can be substituted. Each test must have its own guidelines.
Support and assistance of … lubricant companies with development programs that comply with EELQMS is ATIELs primary task. We monitor quality compliance in the market and take appropriate follow-up actions if necessary, van de Ven concluded.