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GF-6: Ready for Lift-off?


As of Oct. 1, 2010, GF-5 became the only licensable ILSAC specification for passenger car engine oils. No GF-4 licenses have been renewed or issued since that date, and all remaining GF-4 licenses are due to expire on or before Sept. 30, 2011.

These new GF-5 oils are backwards compatible with earlier GF category designations – per longstanding API practice that assures older vehicles are covered by the new technology – and are distinguished by the American Petroleum Institutes Starburst logo on their front labels. APIs donut trademark identifies the S series of engine oil categories, which now has added SN and SN Resource Conserving to the mix. API SM, SL and SJ continue as active light-duty categories as well.

The process leading to GF-5 started in 2005, at the time GF-4 was introduced. While GF-5 was relatively simple technically, it was still very costly to the industry. It took five years to get to the new category and included development of only one new engine test procedure (the Sequence VID test for fuel economy). Steering the upgrade was the ILSAC/Oil Committee, with representatives of the North American and Japanese auto industry arrayed on one side (ILSAC) and oil and additive companies on the other (Oil).

Now, as thoughts turn to the next upgrade – ILSAC GF-6 – the oil, additive and auto companies are seeking ways to make the next round go smoother and faster while controlling development costs. General Motors, among others, has said that these oils will needed by 2015. But what will ILSAC GF-6 look like? When will it actually become necessary? How will the industry develop it? Is the current development process right or will changes be needed? These questions and more were aired during an April 14 meeting between the API Lubricants Group and ILSAC. They form the framework upon which the future of the ILSAC/Oil process hangs.

Luc Girard, manager of lubricant technical sales for Petro-Canada in Mississauga, Ontario, outlined several guiding principles for engine oil development. These included transparency in the process, a fair voting structure, and having more than one test development path (which still must be transparent). He also cited data-based limit setting, emphasis on technology demonstration including blind-coded data, broadened OEM participation, and agreement that category development should flow from data.

How to improve the process for creating the next ILSAC category raises lots of questions, and Girard also highlighted some of these:

1. Do we change the voting structure to ensure open and transparent communication and facilitate the voice of all participants?

2. What approach can allow both the Starburst and Donut to coexist?

3. How should participants best evaluate new category needs and targets?

4. How do we include considerations for formulation tradeoffs and sharing confidential information with OEMs?

5. How do we develop new/replacement tests and secure resources?

6. How do we manage the timeline properly once its established?

7. Should the group consider a stage-gate approach for test development and test approvals, with appropriate time for precision matrices and a technology demo period?

Whats on the Table

Joan Evans, senior industry liaison advisor for Infineum in Linden, N.J., presented a conceptual view of the next specification. She started by hoping ILSAC would reaffirm its support for the starburst as an evergreen symbol, for ASTM developed and monitored tests and for the systems which underpin the specification such as the American Chemistry Councils Code of Practice and APIs rulebook, Document 1509.

One bone of contention has been the relationship between the ILSAC GF specifications and the API S series of categories, which dont match up. Related to that are the issues of universal oils – products which are licensed to both an API C diesel category and an S category – as well as how to manage viscosity grades such as SAE 10W-40 and SAE 30, which dont meet ILSACs fuel economy needs but are needed in many markets worldwide.

Evans also outlined the possibility of tiering the performance standard. For example, the ILSAC requirement could be the minimum standard, while individual OEM specifications would create an upper tier. In addition, she noted, the OEMs want to link fuel economy with overall robustness; would it be possible to use the starburst to represent fuel economy, and the API donut to represent robustness?

Ford Motors Ron Romano noted that the next ILSAC standard would include a fuel-economy requirement among other parameters, and said non-ASTM tests could be a part of any new standard. Older categories, however, will not be included in any new tests developed for GF-6.

Auto Interests

Romano, the companys technical expert for service lubricants in Allen Park, Mich., reiterated the ILSAC view that OEMs will determine need and that any new standard should cover the majority of OEM vehicles – Ford in fact wants GF-6 to cover all of its engines. He also commented that ILSAC is looking for innovative technologies from oil marketers and additive suppliers to protect future engines.

Romano went on to present the auto industrys position on three important issues:

Voting. ILSAC wants to streamline the voting process and to allow more input from individual companies. This would be a departure from the current method of having consensus positions come from the API and additive representatives, which ILSAC believes slows down the process of category development.

Universal engine oils. ILSAC wants API to eliminate universal oils, concerned that such oils could be misapplied to their light-duty vehicles. Some performance tests (such as the TEOST-33C turbocharger coking test) are waived for API SN when the CI-4 or CJ-4 categories precede it in the donut logo, and ILSAC feels this makes them unacceptable for gasoline engine needs. Such oils also may have higher phosphorus content, which is harmful to gasoline engine catalysts.

API S category oils in ILSAC viscosity grades. ILSAC viscosity grades are the ones that help automakers meet fuel economy targets, such as SAE 5W-20, 5W-30, 10W-30 and increasingly 0W-XX multigrades. Romano proposed that any API S category oil in these grades must meet all requirements of the latest GF-series standard. The OEMs feel that this is the only way to make sure that the right oil will be used, since API SN oils do not always meet GF-5s fuel economy and phosphorus requirements. (API SN Resource Conserving oils do match up with GF-5, however.)

The API Lubricants Group agreed to consider the ILSAC proposals and respond to them.

Testing Targets

Engine test development looms large for GF-6, said Chris Castanien, OEM liaison at Wickliffe, Ohio-based Lubrizol Corp. He reminded that GF-5 required only one new test and some modification of limits for other tests; by contrast, GF-6 could need at least three new tests or modifications of existing tests. In addition, there may be some non-standard tests which are not approved by ASTMs consensus method – a sure path to controversy.

Some of the current tests are due to be replaced because their engine models are obsolete or parts are running out. If a test doesnt extend for the life of the category, asked Castanien, what is ILSACs position regarding replacing it with another engine test to keep the category alive? Will ILSAC support the ASTM consensus process for developing tests? Another concern is whether prototype engines might be used to develop tests, which all agreed would create significant issues.

Both Ford and General Motors have said that the preferred method to develop a test is for an OEM to work with one or more of the automotive test laboratories to get the test ready, and then hand it off to the industry. That leaves the obvious question of when a test is ready.

The meeting did raise industry consciousness about what category development means and what approaches can be taken to assure new categories will be developed in a timely and cost-effective manner. It remains to be seen if agreement between the API and ILSAC groups can be achieved on every issue.

One reason it takes so long to develop tests and set limits is because of divergent needs and wants by both sides. OEMs want the most stringent limits possible in order to get the most from the oils used in their engines. For instance, the more fuel economy, deposit control and oxidation resistance they can get from the engine lubricant, the more weight and performance they can build into their vehicles.

Oil companies, on the other hand, want to see limits set that are realistic about cost considerations. The more fuel economy componentry that is built into the engine oil, the more costly the additive package and the more difficult it is to meet the full slate of test requirements. Both sides try to gain the advantage and in so doing create drag on the implementation process.

What and How?

One of the concerns expressed by the API Lubricants Group is the so-called needs statement. This is the definition of performance targets for the next oil category which must be negotiated and ultimately accepted by both API and ILSAC. In the current system, the needs statement is the result of a series of discussions between representatives of both the OEMs and API. It is first proposed by one side or the other (typically the OEMs) and then evaluated qualitatively. No test development work takes place until the need is established.

Once the needs statement is written and consensus reached, test needs can be defined. This can take the form of new tests or resetting the limits for existing tests. New tests require development and precision work to verify that they do what theyre supposed to do and measure what they are designed to measure.

Fords Ron Romano indicated that his company is looking at replacing the Sequence VG engine test with a Sequence VH test to measure oil sludge and varnish. Don Smolenski, technical fellow with General Motors R&D in Warren, Mich., believes that a replacement for the Sequence IIIG test will be developed to measure high-temperature oxidation resistance as well as deposits. He is not sure however that the new test will be used to measure wear, as is done currently. Instead, GM is looking at a replacement for the wear portion of the IIIG which could evaluate two-phase cam wear and include sliding friction as well as ring and cylinder bore wear. As well, the Sequence VID test might be replaced with a procedure to measure the engine oils new and retained fuel economy benefits.

Interestingly, Takamaru Sagawa, representing the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association, has said JAMA would like to see a new test for low-temperature wear. He suggested that a bench test would be acceptable, or another engine test.

The current low-temperature wear test is the Sequence VG. Everyone on the Oil side would love to see more bench tests since they tend to be more repeatable and are not subject to as many outside variables such as fuel composition, etc.; theyre also far less expensive than fired engine tests. Whether a bench test for low-temperature wear would be acceptable to Ford (the VG developer) or other OEMs remains to be seen.

The ILSAC/Oil process has been in place for 20 years. In that time, five specifications – GF-1 through GF-5 – have been introduced to serve the needs of automakers and their gasoline-fueled vehicles. Each has been a struggle to some degree, but with the introduction last year of GMs proprietary Dexos1 oils and the increasing number of European nameplates now being sold in the United States, the days of a one size fits all product may be numbered. In any case, the countdown to a possible GF-6 has begun in earnest.

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