Never has there been a greater need nor a greater opportunity for comprehensive change in the automotive oil industrys specifications systems, says Chris Locke, executive vice president of marketing and technology at Infineum. At this point in time, small incremental steps really wont be enough if we truly want to reach a more sustainable future, he stated during an industry conference in London in February. To deliver against the challenges of tomorrow, we must fundamentally change the current systems.
Locke, who delivered the global additive manufacturers call to action at the ICIS World Base Oils and Lubricants Conference, emphasized the importance of minimizing waste and duplication so that industry players can instead invest in creating value for consumers. The processes for certifying engine oil quality have become too expensive, he said, echoing a common industry complaint. Each new specification requires research, testing, manufacturing and distribution costs that add up to unprecedented numbers.
This call for change is not new; it has been heard before from Infineum and many other industry stakeholders. However, Locke said, attempts so far to redesign the systems and test procedures that affect us all have had limited impact on bringing simplification and efficiency across the industry.
Automotive lubricant specifications affect every player in the industry, ensuring rigor, consistency and value in industry products. While these specifications add value to the lubricant, they also add cost and complexity, something we as an industry must continually strive to balance, Locke reminded.
We are now applying processes that have changed little in over 25 years to a world that has seen enormous change and evolution, he pointed out. It is obvious to me that these specifications and the way they are developed has become very unwieldy.
Some complexity is necessary and good, he said – the kind that encourages innovation. However, the industry must strip out unnecessary complexity that has crept in over time. Testing is one such area that can no longer efficiently accomplish its original intent, according to Locke.
In recent years, the sheer number of bench and engine tests, parameters measured and chemical levels imposed have increased dramatically, Locke said. For example, the number of tests related to SAPS (sulfated ash, phosphorous and sulfur) in the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) specifications have doubled since 2002. The cost of individual heavy-duty tests in North America – and of course the cost of the entire battery of tests – have doubled since 2006.
LubesnGreases research bears this out. According to various sources, the price tag for putting a candidate formulation – one base oil, additive and viscosity grade – through a single run of all the tests for the new API CK-4 heavy-duty engine oil category is in the range of $1 million to $1.3 million. The test regime for API CJ-4, introduced in 2006, cost a bit over $550,000.
Further complexity comes in the form of specification subcategories (e.g. ILSAC GF-6A/GF-6B and API CK-4/FA-4), higher requirements for base oil interchange and viscosity grade read-across, and an array of minimum and maximum limits on chemical additives that, according to Locke, are often mutually exclusive.
This kind of complexity, Lock summarized, increases development costs for everyone involved. It also creates confusion among consumers over which oils to use, increasing the likelihood they will choose the wrong oil.
Another aspect of specification complexity – and a contributor to the proliferation of tests – is what Locke calls a fragmented approach to maintaining quality control systems. The American Petroleum Institutes engine oil licensing and approvals system encompasses a web of processes, tasks, drivers and limitations. Bench tests, industry committees, fuel definitions, base oil interchange, viscosity grade read-across guidelines, multiple test acceptance criteria, International Lubricants Standardization and Approval Committee specifications and chemical limits are among the many other considerations that affect engine oil certification. ACEA in Europe and the JASO system in Japan have their own requirements to add to the list.
Further tangling matters, Locke said, each part of these systems has been worked on separately to fix problems as they arise, without necessarily fully understanding or appreciating the impact elsewhere.
While applauding the accomplishments of industry committees in developing and implementing specification categories, often in the face of these very issues, Locke believes this network could benefit from a fundamental root and branch review. In North America and Europe, 23 groups – some of which can include more than 50 people in their meetings – are involved in the lubricant development process. With all good intent, these groups and committees have propagated to the point where they almost form an industry in their own right. Their internal complexities can delay decisions and result in adoption of the lowest common denominator acceptable to all parties, Locke lamented, ending in test parameters that fail to meet anyones real requirements.
Unless these groups are streamlined, made leaner and have a clear charter to operate to, including a requirement to take each others responsibilities and actions into account, he cautioned, we have the obvious potential for destructive complexity.
As the industry deals with the largest concurrent change to specifications in history, the current setup is causing real delays, said Locke. The ILSAC GF-6 standard for gasoline engine oils is three years behind schedule; there was a one-year delay for the heavy-duty PC-11 category; and in Europe, the ACEA C5 specification for light-duty vehicles is two years late. Im convinced these delays are evidence that the current processes are becoming ineffective, and possibly even close to breaking point, he warned.
Twenty years ago, recalled Locke, the industry recognized that the time was right for change and created the current North American and European systems for development of oils – a positive step forward to reduce complexity and bring standardization to the industry. Now the time is right to simplify the processes behind these quality systems.
If we accept that what we have now is not working as desired, then we need to effect change, and the timing could not be better, said Locke. The new European and North American category upgrades are nearly complete, freeing up time and resources. Many leaders of industry committees are retiring soon, limiting the window of opportunity to tap into their experience and expertise. Further, he said, it is important to develop a new system before the next set of performance levels is needed.
With significant changes in API and ACEA standards typically occurring every five to six years, and category changes every two years, Locke estimates a window of two to two-and-a-half years to accomplish this restructuring. Otherwise, he fears the industry will be overwhelmed by the next wave of standards changes. He is optimistic that this is a realistic amount of time in which to accomplish what some may see as a momentous task.
There will be many challenges to overcome, Locke conceded: the need to commit senior industry resources to the task, a willingness to look at long-standing processes with an open mind, the need for cross-industry cooperation, and the need to include the requirements of stakeholders in all regions of the world. Daunting though it may be, he continued, in my discussions with leaders across the industry, I sense a real appetite for change – right now there are very few people happy with the status quo.
Taking a piecemeal approach will not work – it will simply lead us back to, and indeed exacerbate, the position we find ourselves in today, Locke emphasized. I certainly dont advocate that we just break the entire system down and start from scratch, he clarified. Instead, he underlined that industry experts must work together to remove complexity while keeping a guarantee of performance and quality.
The first step Locke proposed is to set up an international task force of leaders from oil, original equipment manufacturing, additive and testing organizations. Senior-level committees within individual trade associations should assess current processes, then elevate the dialogue to cross-industry discussions through groups such as the additive manufacturers Representational Steering Group (ATC-RSG) in Europe. The established task force can then properly identify harmful complexity and set a holistic vision with both technical and timing goals.
Locke identified three priorities for the industry task force:
1. Set test parameters defining the protection that is needed in the field, then choose appropriate engines and test conditions that can be used widely across the globe.
2. Establish an efficient process for defining specifications that meet global stakeholder needs. For example, regional performance levels could be set within the global standard that account for factors such as emissions standards, operating conditions and market sensitivities.
3. Review and simplify the processes for developing oils, including developing and agreeing on base oil interchange, viscosity grade read across and minor modifications.
Locke emphasized that all of these steps should create cost-effective processes and definitions that continue to be based on sound technical data.
In the end, he summarized, the industry will benefit from a global system adapted for regional requirements, resulting in faster lube development and providing a solid framework for emerging markets. Consumers will also benefit when resources are refocused on innovation and development of high quality, value-added oils.
One conference attendee raised the concern of whether industry guidelines will still be relevant, as engine oil specifications become ever more tailored to each OEM. I think its extremely unlikely well ever get to the situation where there are no industry standard specifications, Locke answered, because consumers must be able to buy the appropriate oil for their vehicles when the OEM-recommended oil is unavailable. If we take action on industry specifications, these specific OEM requirements would have better-designed, efficient and reliable industry specifications as their foundation, leading to benefits right across the value chain.
The automotive lubricants industry needs a leaner, more streamlined process for developing tests, specifications and lubricants themselves, Locke concluded. Taking this cross-industry, comprehensive approach is the only way for us to create something that will be fit for use and which will continue to serve us well into the future – not just for the next performance requirements, but looking out towards the next 20 years.