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About this series

Ensuring engine oil quality is a multi-step process, from the engine test laboratory to the lube blending plant. This month, Automotive Editor David McFall examines how two major additive companies guard product quality – under both typical and extraordinary circumstances.

By volume, chemical additives may be 12 to 20 percent of a finished engine oil – the technical core of any lubricant. This high-tech, precisely formulated additive package, consisting of multiple specialized minerals, elements and metals, blended into a base oil, is what allows your car (after you scrape off the crusted windshield ice) to promptly start at below 0 degrees F in a mid-winter, Minneapolis snowstorm. It also protects that fully loaded engine during a four-day winter trip to balmy Miami, where the outside temperature averages 70 F and can spike to 100 F. All this while your engine experiences no excess wear during multiple startups at widely different temperatures on the 2,000 mile trip.

On that Minneapolis-to-Miami trip, the additive pack in your oil performs a host of essential functions, including controlling engine wear, enhancing flow properties, preventing sludge, varnish or rust, and usually maximizing fuel economy.

The four major U.S. additive companies that manufacture engine oil additive packages – Afton Chemical, Chevron Oronite, Infineum and Lubrizol – dont take any of their product for granted. Nor do the companies that make the specialized components used in finished additive packages. But what kinds of safeguards are taken to meet that goal? LubesnGreases recently visited one of them to find out.

Infineums Bayway plant in Linden, N.J., in the shadow of New York City, makes more than 300 products and is the companys largest. From his office overlooking a myriad of piping and tanks, Joe Saco, Infineums global manufacturing manager, voices his mission: Maintaining a very high manufacturing consistency rate for all our products in all our manufacturing facilities worldwide – around the clock and around the world.

Our manufacturing process is highly automated with the process-control computer preprogrammed with product recipes, operating ranges and alarms, he explains. During the blending of any one of the 300 products we are approved to make in our Bayway plant, when the computer shows that an operating parameter is out of tolerance an alert is issued and the plant operator, whos always immediately available around the clock, will take prompt corrective action, including a shutdown of the process until the problem is identified and corrected.

Thats a very rare event but the option is there if an unexpected, serious problem occurs.

Bayway Plant Manager John Englishman points to the sampling and testing performed. All of our testing requirements are well documented and thoroughly understood by the plant operators. A system of detailed checklists is used to alert the operator when a sample should be drawn. The operator does so, takes it to our lab, at which point the sample is immediately placed in the testing queue to run a series of prescribed physical and chemical tests. A software program takes over and testing results are automatically fed back to the plant operator, who will take the necessary corrective steps. However, that rarely occurs. Over the years our processes have become highly reproducible.

He adds, Nearly 100 percent of our output is right on spec the first time and doesnt need any fixing.

The Quality Hierarchy

As is much of todays life, Infineums quality process has been reduced to acronyms and abbreviations. At the top is ISO 9000, to which Bayways manufacturing and laboratory operations have been certified since 1992. Infineum attained ISO 9001:2000 global certification for all its facilities in 2002 and was recertified in 2005.

ISO certification is a necessary but nowhere near a sufficient condition for Bayways quality program. The real quality action at Bayway turns on two other company-specific acronyms, IQP and KOV.

IQP, or Infineum Quality Practices, are formal, detailed, proprietary quality processes which set standards for everything that happens in Infineum – procurement, the supply chain, sales, marketing, finance, information technology and, arguably the most important, the manufacturing process. About 50 companywide IQPs are in force and 12 apply to manufacturing, covering subjects such as product manufacture, analytical testing and plant optimization. Each describes, in deep detail, the steps that apply to the function in each area.

The IQP for Product Manufacture ensures that plants manufacture consistently to the agreed quality and performance requirements. This includes not only Infineum plants but also third-party processors and drumming operations where Infineum retains ownership of the product.

KOVs, or Key Operating Variables, are critical operating parameters that are controlled by a computer software program during the manufacturing process, including the components that form a commercial chemical additive. Limits for KOVs are set, and operation outside these limits is treated as a non-conformance.

By strictly adhering to the specifics in the documents characterized by these acronyms, the 300 separate lubricant additive products produced at Bayway are assured of containing the correct ingredients in the prescribed quantity.

Oversight and Audits

The Infineum way also includes oversight from the top of the organization onto the plant floor: a system of audits.

Audits occur here at a regular and seemingly constant frequency. Each IQP is audited annually, Saco notes. A team from the plant will audit their process once a year, and an external Infineum team will then come in and audit the process again. And each of our 12 manufacturing IQPs get the same audit oversight. For example, during the first six months of this year, Im leading a global audit of one IQP that describes the process for approving a plant for manufacturing a specific product. We go through a very detailed approval process prior to manufacturing every new product, to add to our inventory of manufactured products.

And our own internal audits are in addition to the ISO external audits that occur annually, Saco adds. In addition, sometimes we have an oil customer or vehicle manufacturer audit our operations. For example, last year a major car manufacturer spent two days at Bayway.

When you produce hundreds of products, each with a different recipe and with some products containing up to 20 ingredients, and you dont have dedicated manufacturing facilities for each one, you face the issue of keeping components separate.

Plant Technical Leader Rob Lucas states, Cross-contamination is what we keep at the front of our minds. Weve got separate blending tanks, and we are especially careful during the blending of the multiple components in a product.

Some of these components are present in very tiny quantities but are crucial to performance, so the scrutiny is relentless. For some of the smaller ingredients, Lucas notes, we charge the component from drums with a dedicated measuring and pumping device. In some cases, for very critical and very expensive components, we use a backup, redundant measuring device. In every case the computer will identify the component and tell us in what quantity and when to add it.

Such safeguards seem to be working, both at Infineum and industry-wide. The American Petroleum Institutes Aftermarket Audit Program annually selects about 600 marketplace samples of engine oil and has them tested for several viscosity measures, filterability and foaming, as well physical and chemical properties for eight specific elements. APIs Kevin Ferrick reports that only rarely do we find a difference between the audit findings and the actual component values on file in the marketers licensing documents.

Incoming, Outgoing

Neither this plant nor any other Infineum plant is self-sufficient, Englishman observes. We obtain feed-stock from a local supplier, exchange product with other Infineum plants and buy other product from third parties. To facilitate all of this movement, we have up-to-date distribution processes for components within the plant, like this one. We make four major families of products, including [additives for] passenger car motor oil, heavy-duty diesel oil, automatic transmission fluids and industrial oils, and we make certain that ingredients for each family are segregated with no chance for cross-contamination.

Shipping calls for extra oversight. Englishman says, Last year we made thousands of shipments varying between 3,000 and 23,000 gallons. Shipments are split about evenly between trucks, all of which are owned by either a customer or third party, and railcars, many of which we own. We visually inspect the inside of every tank truck that comes on the property. The same is true for the railcars. We have contracts with third parties to clean our shipping containers, but we verify their cleanliness ourselves. Although a contaminated shipment would not be our fault, the customer would look to us and we have to ensure that the shipping process is flawless.

Infineum does not claim to be representative of the entire additives industry, but at its sprawling Bayway facility, Saco and his staff display considerable pride in their ability to produce their products Right First Time.

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