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Carrying the Torch for Bench Testing


IDLAND, Mich. – If, after considering the issues and points of view, you wont go to the wall for the things you believe in, Ted Selby forcefully stated to LubesnGreases recently, you are not going to be successful in this league.

By this league, the founder and director of research at Savant Inc. means the world of lubricant testing, a world he hopes to introduce to new ways of thinking.

Selby and the staff at his small testing laboratory and instrument company passionately believe that the bench test – an inexpensive laboratory operation – is a logical and increasingly needed substitute for engine testing, currently the foundation of the worlds engine oil quality assurance systems.

Warming to the argument, Selby went on, I have always believed that theres no repeatable response of the engine/lubricant relationship that cant be duplicated on the bench. None.

Few would deny that fired engine tests are enormously expensive, technically temperamental, and problematic when it comes to data replicability. These difficulties are becoming more acute, Selby suggested. Modern engines on which most current tests are run are technically of very high quality, and getting better all the time. So its hard to get them to fail a test protocol repeatably, and usually they must be run for considerably longer times to get valid information. For example, one of the proposed new heavy-duty engine tests has a three-week running time, and can cost well over $100,000 per test.

Rebecca Cox, Savants vice president of operations (and Selbys daughter), pointed to another function of bench tests. The industry needs relatively inexpensive ways to screen oils prior to the engine test, she said, and added, The screening bench test gets us away from repetitive engine tests, which are expensive, time-consuming and resource-depleting – and sometimes nearly obsolete by the time they are ready for application.

The Engine Speaks

There are plenty of people who believe that the engine test is the only way to go to ensure engine oil quality, Selby acknowledged. While I dont agree with that position, engine data are critical to establish the parameters for any meaningful bench test. No one is wise enough to predict what goes on inside the chemical factory of a new engine test. Moreover, a given bench test is usually developed to measure one parameter of an engine test while engine tests often have several measurables.

And, he conceded, well-designed field tests are also an excellent real-world way to establish parameters. But he returned to his core belief, saying, Once the engine has spoken, and if weve really listened, bench tests can be developed relatively inexpensively and with far less technical resource involvement, to measure the individual performance properties of interest.

Bench test development, however, is a lower industry priority than creating and sustaining engine sequence tests. Selby ascribes this to the tummy comfort of those who feel that a full-scale engine test is less likely to lead them astray.

After many years of relying on them, there are numerous constituencies for fired engine tests. For-hire engine test laboratories are one constituency, and additive companies with their own hardware are another. So are original equipment manufacturers, who create and sponsor the tests. So are the test monitoring centers and the suppliers of carefully banked engine parts and special fuels. But the settled, established ways of thinking about lubricants and engines are having trouble keeping up with the rapid changes in engine design.

Many who advocated engine tests in the past are beginning to see the benefit of a well-designed bench test focused on a certain important property or performance of the engine oil, according to Selby. Such a test can be relatively easily tweaked to work with the next generation of engines and ease the process of setting specifications.

Three Branches

Midland, Mich., is a pleasant, mid-size city about 200 miles north of Detroit, home to two Fortune 500 companies (Dow Chemical and Dow Corning), as well as the building that houses Savant and its sister companies, Institute of Materials (IOM) and Tannas. In August, LubesnGreases visited to hear about their modus operandi.

The Savant Group provides special and routine analyses, consulting and test method development services to the automotive and lubricants industry. It prides itself on a technical capability to conduct many ASTM-monitored lubricant industry bench tests, a corporate tilt toward curiosity, and the intellectual horsepower to advance new concepts.

IOM performs continuous independent monitoring of the physical, chemical and performance characteristics of engine oils purchased from the retail market throughout the world. It conducts 650 such audits a year, with roughly one-third of the samples drawn from the United States, 20 percent from Europe, 10 percent from Canada and the remainder from Asia. IOM has analyzed more than 7,000 engine oils since 1984, amassing an enormous compilation of results from over 30 tests run on each oil sample. Its database is by far the most extensive source of such information in the world, and is available on a subscription basis.

IOMs newest venture is its Center for Quality Assurance, which conducts monitoring programs for clients including DaimlerChrysler, Cox noted. We have recently been selected for launching and administering the new Chrysler ATF+4 trademark licensing program, she pointed out. We will interact with the different manufacturers, rebranders and marketers, handle all the paperwork, funds and financing, and take care of product quality concerns by monitoring the field.

The third branch, Tannas Co., is an independent laboratory and research center specializing in ASTM and custom tests on engine oils, transmission fluids and other lubricants. Tannas designs and markets laboratory instruments – often after basic research has taken place in the Savant labs – to measure critical properties of automotive and industrial lubricants and other materials. Tannas designed, developed and has patent rights to 10 bench tests, nine of which have an ASTM designation. The instruments are assembled in Midland and installed in customers labs around the world, supported by Tannas training in best practices and problem-solving.

Five Tannas tests are required for ILSAC GF-4, the latest gasoline engine oil quality level: the Tapered Bearing Simulator Viscometer (TBS), ASTM D4683; the Thermo-oxidation Engine Oil Simulation Test (TEOST), ASTM D7097; the Scanning Brookfield Technique Gelation Index (SBT), ASTM D5133; the Selby-Noack Volatility Test, ASTM D5800; and the Tannas Foam Air Bath, ASTM D892 and 6082.

Tannas TEOST 33C test (ASTM D6335), which simulates the formation of turbocharger deposits, was included in the last engine oil spec, GF-3, and will likely be in the next one, GF-5. And it epitomizes one of the underlying dilemmas in lubricant testing: Who reaps the rewards?

The TEOST 33C was a necessity for at least one OEM, recalled Selby, but unfortunately it cost the industry (primarily the chemical additives industry) hundreds of thousands of dollars in developing new ways of formulating oils to control such deposits, while still serving the other needs of the engine. However, at the same time, it has saved the automobile industry from heavy warranty costs in terms of failed turbochargers, and this benefit is likely to grow with the advent of GF-5 and the oncoming greater use of turbochargers in the automotive industry.

Collective Smarts

Listening to every side of an issue has always been one of Savants strategies. The payoff eventually may come in the form of an improved bench test, a laboratory service, a database or other intellectual property.

With input from clients and peers throughout the petroleum, additive and OEM companies, we are often able to anticipate problems that perhaps others dont see because of more demanding, narrower interests, Selby said. We try to have our ears to the ground and eyes on the horizon.

Our sister organization Tannas, which manufactures specialized bench test instruments, is also constantly following up with customers who identify areas of interest, concern or strong need, he continued. Together, we can draw a lot of information from the field to say, hmmmmm, this looks like an area of need. And then, with our in-house technical expertise, to follow up on bench-test considerations.

Cox, who heads IOM, and Selby emphasized the groups ability to tap into the flow of views and knowledge from many directions. We believe our role, our service to the industry, is to try to integrate and simplify the varied areas of information as much as possible, Selby said. If and when industry needs are sufficiently high, we believe that we should apply our understanding to develop bench tests that will measure the properties and responses of the oils comprising the dynamometer or field data.

We see ourselves as attentive and aware friends of the industry, Cox added. We want our clients to feel that our service lab is the lab just down the hall.

In closing, Selby shared his basic vision of the industry, and Savants place in it. Lubrication is, I believe, the unrecognized cornerstone of society and civilization itself, he said. Our ultimate responsibility here in the Savant Group is to be a contributor to society in our area of knowledge. We take that responsibility seriously. I once gave a talk as someone a thousand years in the future, telling the story of the relatively sudden end of civilization several hundred years earlier, because lubricants and lubrication were so taken for granted …

Well, weve got the internet, electricity, airplanes, air-conditioning, and – as General Motors Jim Spearot recently described it – our automobility. But in one form or another our civilization rests on lubrication, he mused. Unless we take our work and world seriously, in terms of making sure that adequate lubrication is maintained for whatever form of device with moving parts, we might as well close down the place. Because as a supposedly intelligent species, were done.

But I have confidence, he ended, that we have, individually and collectively, enough combined smarts and wisdom to see that this never happens.

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