Finished Lubricants

Spotlight on Lube Manufacturing and Equipment


At first glance, it seems like little has changed for decades in the lubricant manufacturing process. Producers still use mostly mineral base oils and blend them with chemical additives much as they have for the past several decades.

While the basic process hasnt changed much, technologies that are altering the rest of the world are creeping into upstream industries and may soon be trickling down into lubricants production, quality assurance, distribution and sales processes.

Inspect This

Inspections present one opportunity for technology to nudge lube production into the future. The prospects are attracting heavy hitters, including IBM and General Electric.

Last year GE spun off its Avitas Systems unit, which combines computer analytics and artificial intelligence with drones and robotic crawlers to inspect refineries, factories and railroads.

In trials with customers, aerial drones and robots are able to move around and inside remote or dangerous facilities while photographing corrosion or taking temperature, vibration or gas readings that can be analyzed by computer algorithms and artificial intelligence, an Avitas representative was quoted as saying in a Reuters article.

IBM is coupling its Watson artificial intelligence technology with cameras and acoustic sensors while taking note that the aging workforce issue is also affecting the number of inspection engineers working in the field.

Lets Get Digital

The methodology and terminology of tech, including analytics, machine learning, big data and advanced algorithms, are sliding into the broader petroleum industry. According to a survey published by Aspen Technology this year, Oil and gas companies that integrate advanced analytics, machine learning and other facets of digitization into their operations can achieve significant cost savings-16 percent or more-in their operations.

The survey targeted 400 energy industry managers and executives who added a bit of bitter irony to the optimistic findings when nearly half of the respondents said there arent enough humans-specifically those with data science expertise-available to fully implement the oil and gas industrys digital transformation.

According the executives surveyed, in addition to personnel issues, the other top barriers for a full digital upgrade to the business include:

Cost of data analytics (42%)

Lack of production data (33%)

Lack of confidence in benefits (29%)

Organizational resistance (29%)

Wearables for Workers

The Boston Consulting Groups areas of interest include a number of global industries, such as energy and environment. It recently unveiled a white paper on Digitizing the Refining Process, which breaks the industry into five areas: suppliers, distillation, conversion, quality control and sales. It examines advances in tracking ship locations, plant settings and automated warehouse operations, along with the use of smart portable devices.

According to BCG, Companies can improve field force effectiveness through the use of wearable devices and digital tools, including augmented-reality systems. Wearable devices can also connect to an enhanced safety control room to detect and mitigate critical risks, such as man down or gas leakages.

To test its findings, BCG says it worked with a leading refiner to incorporate portable devices into critical tasks to simplify those operations and improve safety and productivity. As an example, electricians used software to check the status of equipment, better understand and prepare for standard operating procedures and work instructions, and immediately notify the appropriate people and systems when a task was complete so the next appropriate action could begin immediately.

Data, Data, Data

McKinsey and Co. also keeps tabs on whats happening in the oil and gas markets and have their own prediction on how technology is changing industry for the better. They point to the increased use of predictive maintenance utilizing advanced sensors that can see into the future of a troubled components imminent demise. Their own predictions point to maintenance cost reductions of up to 13 percent by employing this form of mechanical fortune telling.

At one company, where maintenance costs accounted for 25 percent of operating expenses, this enabled preemptive equipment maintenance, McKinsey said. In effect, vital equipment could be repaired before it broke down. This effort reduced costs by up to 27 percent while increasing reliability and uptime. Advanced analytics for energy and yield also have the potential to increase energy efficiency by as much as 10 percent.

McKinsey said it sees opportunities for technological improvements in the retail realm, too. Retailers in other industries have implementeddigital technologies to gain a better understanding of consumer habitsand preferences, optimize pricing models and manage supply chains more efficiently. Oil companies are applying these same methods, with impressive results.

By using geospatial analytics, for example, executives are increasing the efficiency of their supply and distribution networks through location planning and route optimization. Collectively, efforts in this category have lowered costs by up to 10 percent and increased revenue by 3 percent.

Checking Local Levels

While digital technology infiltrates refineries, warehouses and retail stores, its also showing up with the firms that make handling equipment and metering gear.

Total Control Systems, which is headquartered in Fort Wayne, Indiana, manufactures a full line of meters and accessories that are measuring and digitally capturing the movement of lubricants and grease. The TCS 3000 electronic register records delivery information and electronically sends it to software that can be accessed at the office.

According to TCS, the electronic register is designed to provide increased accuracy, security and productivity for liquid handling systems. The companys distributors, such as Murray Equipment, incorporate its products into their systems to increase automation and allow users to mechanically and electronically connect these systems together and control the entire operation from one panel.

The company also provides pulse transmitters that allow customers to send volume data to remote display, register, computer or fuel management systems.

Technology continues to find ways to make production processes more efficient. New refineries are being built, and old ones are getting upgrades. Drones are looking for leaks and analytics are being employed to fix problems before they occur. The wholesale to retail chain is getting smarter; delivery is becoming more accurate and interconnected as digital systems are adopted.

In this Spotlight, TCS explains how one of its products can improve lubricants industry operations.

Get Smart About Fluid Transfers

Technology is affecting every link in the lubricant manufacturing chain, including how fluids are transferred. The Smart-Kart from Murray Equipment provides a flexible answer for transferring lubes and oils of varying viscosities. Intelligent design ensures that there are no operating decisions to make as the cart automatically adjusts to the viscosity of the material that its pumping, which means maximized flow rates without tripping circuit breakers.

The cart can transfer a variety of materials, including transmission fluid, 90-weight lube oil, or 10W-30 motor oil, handling viscosities from 30 Saybolt universal seconds to a maximum of 20,000 SSU. For added accuracy, the cart can be equipped with Total Control Systems 682 and 700 series meters, two precise measurement systems that are approved for product resale in the United States and Canada.

The cart ships preassembled, allowing operators to plug in and immediately start pumping. Pneumatic tires make the cart easily maneuverable into tight and previously out of reach areas, allowing transfers to happen more quickly and efficiently.

Multiple metering options are available, including piston or rotary configurations. Air eliminators, mechanical ticket printers and electronic registers are also available as options. The self-priming, positive displacement pump that serves as the heart of the system has an internal bypass valve and is driven by a totally enclosed, fan-cooled (TEFC) motor.

The platform for the unit is a custom-designed, powder-coated cart frame complete with a work platform. Stinger holster, protection bars and hose hangers all come standard. Standard cart prices range from $8,599 to $13,410; TCS 3000 meters and ticket printers can be added as options.

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Finished Lubricants