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A Drive Through History


In a fast-changing world it is a rarity indeed when anything endures for nearly a century. In the world of lubricants that distinction is held by what arguably is the industry;s technical centerpiece: SAE Standard J300, the Engine Oil Viscosity Classification system. Now in it;s tenth decade, J300 is still going strong – an elder statesman of a classification, in the words of Chris May of Imperial Oil.

It’s first paragraph lays out J300’s purpose: This is the core document to be used by engine manufacturers in determining the engine oil viscosity grades to be used in their engines, and by oil marketers in formulating, manufacturing, and labeling their products.

Table 1 of the standard, which sets out the actual viscosity limits for each classification, is the source of those letters and numbers that appear on every container of motor oil sold worldwide – SAE 30, SAE 5W-20, SAE 10W-40, SAE 15W-20 and so on. Whether it’s a monograde diesel engine oil, a winter weight passenger car oil, or a multigrade product promising to provide both low-temperature flow and high-temperature protection, the viscosity is spelled out in J300.

J300 is an evolving document, and in it’s 95 years has built up an accretion of detailed requirements, reflecting the industry’s changing needs. Today, its future is under sharp discussion in an interindustry Engine Oil Viscosity Classification Task Force chaired buy ExxonMobil’s Andy Jackson, with Bob Olree of General Motors serving as vice chair.

One year ago, on Oct. 25, Jackson chaired a meeting of this task force and noted, As originally designed J300 was a simple system that classified engine oils by kinematic viscosity. As engine design and oil technology evolved, J300 incorporated additional rheological properties to fill needs created by these advances.

Today there are several schools of thought regarding if and how J300 should be modified in the future, Jackson added. Some feel the system should be kept simple and new parameters and criteria should be avoided. Others feel that significant changes should be made in order to meet upcoming needs and opportunities, as both engine and lubricant technology evolve.

Whatever future shape it takes, Jackson urged, J300 should be flexible enough to adjust to changing technical and commercial needs.

If the past is any guide, J300 has certainly been a very flexible and adaptable document, as shown by an illustrated history presented to Jacksons task force by Chris May, who observed, As we contemplate where we want to go, its good to have a perspective of how we got to where we are today.

Adding to J300s historical perspective is its global scope. From its beginning and through the present day (except for an eight-year period in the 1940s), J300 has been the single viscosity classification used throughout the world. When it comes to engine oils, there is no other viscosity classification in use nor any other on the horizon.

Above all, J300 is an SAE document and is subject to revision solely by SAE International. The overwhelming number of participants in the J300 Task Force are from the United States, but the worldwide effect of any change is certainly a consideration. We are actively soliciting international participation on the task force from both the automotive and lubricants industries, Jackson said.

Olree said, While the EOVC Task Force needs to keep others that use the SAE viscosity grades in mind, SAE J300 is intended to serve the needs of the engine manufacturers and if it needs changing to better serve those needs, so be it.

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