My guess is that many of you might not recognize the title of this column. If you do, you are of my generation. If not, Ill give you the answer: This is a Bob Dylan song from an album of the same name issued in 1964. I was just starting out on my career in the industry, which was a big change from my college days.
Its interesting how change affects us in so many ways. I was looking for a summer job in 1964 before my last semester at San Diego State College (now San Diego State University). I was a chemistry major but without any real clear idea of where that would take me. I sent out letters to some of the local companies that I thought might be good places for an aspiring chemist to work. The Richfield Oil Corp. Research Center in Anaheim, California, was the one that responded.
I worked that summer in the analytical lab doing classic ASTM bench tests measuring oil properties such as flash point, distillations and viscosities. The viscosity tests were kinematic tests using ASTM D445 but reporting the results in Saybolt Universal Seconds. You have probably seen those numbers still reported. In fact, the SUS values are the ones that give base stocks their nomenclature; for example, 150 Neutral is a base stock with an approximate 150 SUS viscosity at 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Summer ended, and I went back to San Diego to finish my degree. Sometime around November 1964, my mom called me to say that Richfield Research had called and wanted to know if I would be interested in interviewing for a full-time job. Of course I said, Sure, and went up to Anaheim to meet with the group leader of lubricants research and development, Frank Chamberlin. I think that for many of us, our first real supervisor sets the tone for the rest of our business life. I know it did for me.
Frank was a big, jovial and very wise man. I instantly decided that I would really like to work for him, and apparently he thought Id do okay, as well. The offer was made and accepted, and I went to work on Feb. 1, 1965.
My first task was to smear various dyes into samples of grease being made at Richfields Watson refinery in Carson, California. In case youve never worked with grease in the lab, a laboratory spatula and a glass plate, along with a lot of elbow grease, is a good approximation of a grease mill. It wasnt long before I moved on to more serious projects involving metalworking fluids, hydraulic oils and other specialized products.
I mention all of this because the greatest lesson I learned came from Frank, and it involved writing. Like many who were fresh out of school, I was more or less trained to write in passive voice with big sentences and long paragraphs. I guess people thought it made a scientist seem smarter. Frank challenged that idea and led me into a much different style.
He read my first report and called me into his office, where he shared with me that corporate executives dont have time to read reports written this way. His advice was to write at a sixth-grade level (using the Gunning Fog Index to calculate the average number of words per sentence) so they would be able to understand and respond. Frank was one of those people who changed things for me.
Fast-forward to Pennzoil, where I worked for 17 years, from 1979 to 1996. During this time, the International Lubricants Standardization and Approval Committee and the American Petroleum Institute dueled over the creation and implementation of what became the API 1509 Engine Oil Licensing and Certification System. Several people were involved in this effort. Don Johnson from Pennzoil, who was then API Lubricants Committee chairman, and Mike MacMillan from General Motors and ILSAC, sat down and decided that it was useless to continue to battle over how and which engine oil categories were to be developed. They led what might be called a collaborative effort to take what had been an API system (APIs engine oil Service Categories) and merge it with the needs of ILSAC.
One of the events within this process was the development of the base oil interchange system, which to me is the most important part of API 1509, along with viscosity grade read across. Larry Kuntschik of Texaco led the group that created the BOI tables as we know them today. Larry, Don and Mike were changemakers.
The BOI and VGRA systems are really ingenious. They were created in order to help with base oil and viscosity challenges that threatened to sidetrack any meaningful performance system improvements. That was a critical need for the oil and additives businesses. Otherwise each oil, viscosity and additive combination would have to be measured in all tests. For the API CK-4 heavy-duty diesel engine oil category, that is a test protocol which would cost around $1 million. No one wanted to pay that much.
API Group I was the baseline, with Groups II, III and IV working off of that. VGRA functioned by identifying the most critical or difficult viscosity, and by testing that grade the results would cover all other viscosity grades. Those systems opened the door to more frequent product upgrades in line with the rapidly changing needs of modern engines.
Basically, the BOI system relates to base oil refining and resulting performance in engine tests. Group I base oils are processed by solvent extraction and solvent dewaxing. This processing removes undesirable materials but doesnt change anything structurally. Thats why viscosity index, saturates and sulfur content are not as strict as for Group II and Group III.
Both Group II and Group III base stocks are the result of hydrogen processing. The hydrogen goes after unsaturated links between carbon atoms and either adds hydrogen to saturate the link or breaks the link entirely, creating smaller, saturated molecules. The degree of hydrogen treatment determines the difference between Group II (less severe) and Group III (more severe). Group IV is, of course, polyalphaolefins, which is as close to a true synthetic as we can achieve.
Another changemaker at that time was Jim Newcombe, who kept the Society of Automotive Engineers involved and, through his chairmanship of Technical Committee 1 on engine oils, was able to nudge things forward. I was fortunate enough to follow Jim as Tech 1 Committee chairman. I learned a lot about nudging from him. Newc, as he was known, passed away in August last year, but his influence will last for a long time.
The whole idea of more frequent changes to engine oil specifications was pursued vigorously by the original equipment manufacturers. One man who was a great champion of constant improvement was Mike Quinn of Caterpillar. I remember many meetings in which Mike passionately pushed for upgrading limits on a running basis. There was a lot of resistance at the time, but I hear echoes of Mike in some of the new leaders of the industry, such as Angela Willis of GM. Time will tell whether or not this change will occur, but dont bet against it.
Jim McGeehan from Chevron was a leader in the development of many heavy-duty engine oil categories. In 1987, when he began his tenure as chairman of ASTMs Heavy Duty Engine Oil Classification Panel, API CD was the current oil category, and diesel engine life expectancy was in the 200,000- to 300,000-mile range. Today, the category is API CK-4, and engines can coast past 1 million miles. Engine drain intervals were just 10,000 miles in 1987, and now we speak of 50,000- and 60,000-mile intervals. The classification panel, even under Jims able leadership, cant claim credit for all that-but it certainly helped make it possible.
McGeehans last official act as chairman was to commit the panel to supporting the existing engine tests that would be used in the PC-11 category, which became API CK-4 and FA-4. In this effort, as before, he used his you gotta go slow in order to go fast approach to make sure that all of the issues were fully discussed and clarified before moving on. Another tool he introduced to the HDEOCP was exit ballots, which ask members to affirm that they can live with the decisions reached at each stage. These votes help to reinforce consensus and keep the participants moving forward together. Jims influence certainly led to changes in the tedious but necessary business of developing and managing engine tests to achieve consistent testing results.
Weve lost some real changemakers in the past few years. One of the most influential was Chuck Colyer from Lubrizol by way of Amoco Chemicals. He knew everyone in the industry, was a master politician and consensus builder, and he was one of the true giants of the lubricants industry. Chuck was so well liked by the industry that Joe Colucci, former head of General Motors Research Fuels and Lubricants Group, noted when Chuck passed that, My dads highest praise for someone was to say, Hes a gentleman! I can say that about Chuck.
Another agent of change was Danny Larkin, who worked at Detroit Diesel Corp. for many years. Danny spent a career figuring out how lubrication and lubricants react and perform in diesel engines. His fact-based problem solving was a powerful assistance for development programs at DDC as well as application support for DDC-equipped fleets.
Change is a constant theme throughout our industry, and the pace is speeding up. There are new ways to develop new categories that are less time consuming and expensive, but which still provide the level of confidence weve come to expect. Who could say it better than Dylan? Indeed, the times they are a-changin.
Industry consultant Steve Swedberg has over 40 years experience in lubricants, most notably with Pennzoil and Chevron Oronite. He is a longtime member of the American Chemical Society and SAE International, where he was chairman of Technical Committee 1 on automotive engine oils. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.