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Quality in Hand


Jim Newcombe vividly remembers the chaotic engine testing situation that reigned in the motor oil industry prior to 1992. In those days, oil or additive companies could test an engine oil formulation repeatedly, bouncing it until a passing grade was obtained. Work might be steered to a favored laboratory, or even a specific test stand which appeared to be running mild – while a lab or engine test stand that seemed to be calibrated more severely could be avoided.

An engine oil additive package could be tweaked and tinkered with endlessly during the actual testing process to get it to pass all the required parameters in subsequent tests. Tests could be terminated by the sponsor, at any time and with no notification to anyone, if it appeared that the results would not be favorable. Oil and additive companies tested their proprietary engine oil formulations using their own internal procedures.

Gaming the system could be widespread, because there were no industrywide procedures nor accountability. Engine oil testing was more like the lawlessness of the Wild West than a quality process, Newcombe recalls.

All this took a 180-degree turn in early 1992, when the Chemical Manufacturers Association (now the American Chemistry Council, or ACC) issued its Petroleum Additives Product Approval Protocol Code of Practice, known thereafter simply as The Code.

The Code rests on a strict test-registration system, along with a complete and independent record of engine testing for every candidate formulation. Specific and explicit rules are defined for modifying a formulation during testing. The Code details the processes which test sponsors and laboratories must follow when developing and testing engine lubricant formulations and for making data available to authorized people.

Enter the Code

Newcombe, who retired from Infineum close to four years ago, was centrally involved in developing the Code as part of ACCs Product Approval Protocol Task Group, which he also chaired from 1992 to 1995 when the Code became operational. The implementation of the Code was a sea change for the industry, he remarked recently to LubesnGreases, the biggest thing to happen within the chemical additives industry since ZDDP [zinc dialkyl dithiophosphate] was first used as an additive in the 1940s.

The Code was not embraced immediately or completely by all participants in the oil, additive and OEM industries, he went on. Some oil companies believed it wasnt needed or desired, while some OEMs believed that the Code didnt go far enough. However, shortly after adoption, ASTM adopted the engine test-stand calibration requirements, and the American Petroleum Institute made the Code a requirement for engine oil licensing. The Code quickly became a key part of the overall infrastructure of the engine oil testing, reporting and approval processes.

Mike McMillan of General Motors saw the chaos before 1992, and the stability since. Certainly the Code of Practice represented a quantum leap forward in terms of ensuring engine oil quality and performance, he said. It came at a time when confidence and trust were being questioned, and provided stability at a time when it was badly needed. However, since adherence to the Code is a requirement for licensing of oils under the Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System [EOLCS], there appears to me to be an implied responsibility for ACC to seek the input of API and its auto partners in the EOLCS on proposed changes to the Code, as well as improvements which could be made. If this were done, I believe the Code would be even more widely accepted and respected than it is.

Ahead of its Time?

Skepticism about test programs is nothing new, and is not exclusive to the lubricants industry. A June 1 report in the New York Times about the pharmaceutical industrys research and drug approvals process included these phrases: companies can hide negative trial results, cherry-picking and highlighting the most favorable data from studies they do publish, hiding study results, filed only vague descriptions of many studies, conducting several trials of a drug and then publishing the trials with positive results while hiding the negative ones.

Sound familiar? Those descriptions could have been used to characterize engine oil approvals 15 years ago. The additive industrys Code of Practice is an example of an industry recognizing its own deficiencies and taking the initiative to fix them.

Moreover, the ACCs Petroleum Additives Protocol Task Group keeps an eagle eye on the Code to ensure its viability. (To download a current copy of the Code, visit on the web, and search on Petroleum Additives.)

Joan Evans of Infineum, who now chairs the task group, notes, Our processes are continually evolving, to be more timely, more cost effective, and meet stake-holder needs more effectively. Other PAPTG members include Afton Chemical, BP Lubricants, Chevron Oronite, Ciba Specialty Chemicals, Crompton Corp., Lubrizol and RohMax.

Registration System Inc., a private firm in San Antonio, Texas, has been the Codes monitoring agency – its data integrity enforcer – since the Codes inception in 1992. Dan Ludwig, RSIs director, points out, We have never had a breach in security, our error rate is four in 10,000, and we have never lost a test registration. Data is available instantly 24/7 for authorized customers by means of our Electronic Data Transfer and Reports-on-Demand systems, both of which use RSIs web-based, encrypted data-interchange site. We focus on database architecture, information technology and employee practices that enforce multiple levels of control and security.

RSIs databases always remain separate, he explained, to safeguard the data. When working on a specific database, all other business elements are locked out. Business rules, stake-holder access rights, and validation systems are unique to each business element, and the system design prevents crossing over from one business unit to another.

Such procedures guarantee the complete opaqueness of the data, except where authorized, and the cleanliness of the system.

As part of the Codes compliance assessment, Infineums Evans notes, annually each test sponsor must have an independent third-party auditor conduct an assessment of its companys compliance with the Codes requirements. This assessment includes the test sponsor providing the test registration documentation provided by RSI.

Sponsors are defined as the individual, company or organization with financial and administrative responsibility for conducting a testing program. Currently 13 test sponsors actively register tests, and 21 sponsors have submitted a Letter of Intent to ACC. ACC member companies sponsor the overwhelming majority of engine sequence tests related to engine oil category programs.

A European Twist

In Europe, ACCs counterpart is the Brussels-based Technical Committee of Petroleum Additive Manufacturers (ATC). In 1995, ATC launched its own Code of Practice which closely mirrors the ACC Code. Its not surprising that the two Codes are very similar; the two groups have a significant number of members in common including all the major additive companies. However, there are some significant differences between Europe and the United States, and these are reflected in the Codes and their monitoring.

Test monitoring in Europe is managed by the European Registration Centre, a part of RSI. ERCs role is formally defined as providing conformity assessment services including engine test registration, data validation, and database management of engine test results for participants in the European Engine Lubricant Quality Management System.

Also, in North America RSI monitors only candidate engine oil tests. Management and monitoring of engine tests for reference test runs are handled by ASTMs Test Monitoring Center, located in Pittsburgh.

In Europe, however, laboratories run reference oil tests following Coordinating European Council (CEC) protocols, and each must be registered. So ERC/RSI monitors candidate oil tests and reference oil tests alike.

In North America, only ASTM-monitored engine tests are included in test specifications for both API Service Categories and the ILSAC GF series. In Europe, however, ACEA Oil Sequences include both CEC monitored tests as well as ASTM tests such as the Cummins M111 EGR and the Mack T10.

Looking Past Engine Tests

Derek Mackney of Lubrizol UK chairs the ATCs Quality Management Working Group. Several years ago the CEC Board, on which Mackney sits, concluded that the candidate and reference test system for engine tests was working well. And so we turned our attention to other CEC tests, he told LubesnGreases , particularly bench tests but also including rig and fuel tests, which are not normally monitored automatically.

Mackney explained, We knew that it wouldnt make sense to monitor candidate bench tests; monitoring the high number of NOACK candidate test runs, for example, is impractical. But we thought that industrywide bench reference test data would be valuable and aid test quality.

Currently, each CEC working group handles that data separately. So, with a small team and working through RSI, we established a pilot program for monitoring the reference results for four of our 18 CEC bench tests. Were looking toward completion of this program by the end of the year followed by a few months to evaluate the results and make a decision of whats next. So far, the monitoring effort has been contributed by RSI but if we decide to go forward with a full-scale, bench-test reference oil monitoring program, the respective industry organizations will need to agree on how the program will be financed.

This expanded monitoring relies on RSIs Electronic Data Transfer capabilities, since all data can instantly be retrieved by authorized working group members. Mackney noted, Theres no lag time and its all encrypted for security. Were very pleased with how that effort worked out.

The Global Imperative

Theres an excellent relationship between the U.S.s ACC and Europes ATC regarding managing the lubricant testing function, and both Mackney and Evans offer glimpses into issues faced on both sides of the Atlantic.

Emissions are a major driver of changes in engine technology, Mackney pointed out, and emissions legislation is tending toward convergence worldwide. This suggests that common lubricant specifications might be required around the world sometime around 2010. This tendency is particularly noticeable in heavy-duty engines, where many OEMs worldwide now sit on a panel looking at emissions for the next round.

Infineums Evans notes, Long term, PAPTGs vision is to consider the consolidation of various agencies that handle reference testing, candidate testing registration and perhaps even central parts distribution for test engines. Combining the currently separate function into one agency would provide enormous simplification and economy of scale. One large, well-managed global agency may be the right choice for the future.

Mackney added, Yes, there are a number of possible options but as these have not been analyzed within CEC it is too early to say which way we will go in the future.”

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