Regulations Specs & Testing

Testing in Texas


LubesnGreases recently visited San Antonio, Texas, for an in-depth look at the two independent engine test labs and their importance to assuring oil quality in North America and around the world.

Both Intertek and Southwest Research Institute play a crucial role in the development of new and replacement engine tests, which is both difficult and complex and requires significant collaboration with industry stakeholders. For ILSAC GF-6, the passenger car engine oil category currently in development, these stakeholders include original equipment manufacturers such as Ford, Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Toyota, as well as the four major additive companies and many oil marketers.

New test development starts as soon the most recent category is completed. For GF-6, work started back in October 2011 when the International Lubricant Standardization and Approval Committee issued a draft document for discussion with the American Petroleum Institutes Lubricants Group. A new battery of tests would be needed to deploy these new products, and the two San Antonio labs were tapped to develop and ensure that the tests are properly implemented and monitored to deliver consistent results throughout the life of the lubricant category.

The Intertek laboratory is owned by a global company that operates in more than 100 countries and is listed on the London Stock Exchange. The San Antonio location has more than 100 powertrain test stands and employs over 300 people. It focuses on lubricant testing but is involved with other types of material and fluids testing, primarily for the transportation and industrial sectors.

Interteks lab is led by John Glaser, vice president of automotive research, who noted that the lab has been serving customers for over 60 years. Formerly PerkinElmer Auto­motive Research Laboratory, it was acquired by Intertek in 2005.

Southwest Research Institute is located on a sprawling campus not far from Intertek. SwRI just celebrated our 70th anniversary.We started as, and continue to be, a not-for-profit institute that is involved in many areas of applied science and engineering, related Mike Lochte, director of engine lubricant research. We have been involved in lubricant testing since the very beginning. SwRI grew from a very small staff in a few buildings in the late 1940s to over 2,500 employees working on a large campus today, which has dozens of buildings.

The organization includes nine different operating divisions covering everything from deep sea to deep space to the automotive industry. The powertrain division has more than 100 test stands.

Both labs boast extensive facilities to support engine tests for lubricants, including shops to hone engine blocks to precise measurements, areas to accurately rate and measure key parameters such as sludge, varnish deposits and wear, as well as expert photography for client reports.

The upcoming ILSAC GF-6 passenger car engine oil category has been a huge undertaking requiring the development of three new engine tests and four replacement tests. Only one engine test, the Sequence VIII for corrosive wear and shear stability, will remain from the current category, ILSAC GF-5.

Not since ILSAC GF-3 back in 2000 have so many tests needed replacement at the same time for any engine oil category. For that category, challenges such as converting Nissans KA24E test into the ASTM-accepted Sequence IVA wear test, as well as the move from leaded to unleaded fuel, led to a two-year delay. GF-6 was originally intended to debut in January 2016, and now looks as though it may finally see its first licensing date by late 2019 or, more likely, the first half of 2020.

One reason for the sluggish progress has been the need to develop a second fuel economy test that reflects operating conditions in engines that may use SAE XW-16 oils. The Sequence IVB valvetrain wear test was also thought to be relatively easy to replace but has proven otherwise. This test continues to cloud the industrys ability to determine when ILSAC GF-6 can be implemented.

ILSAC GF-6 has not been the only game in town over the last several years. Industry resources also had to be juggled among the new API CK-4/FA-4 heavy-duty engine oil categories (known collectively during development as PC-11) and the development of GMs second-generation Dexos tests.

PC-11 required the development of several new engine tests, including the Volvo T-13 engine oil oxidation test and Caterpillar Oil Aeration Test. The DD13 engine scuffing test from Detroit Diesel could not be completed in time for PC-11 but still made its way into that OEMs own specification.

More recently, Ford raised the concern that some CK-4/FA-4 oils with lower phosphorus content may not provide adequate wear protection for its 6.7-liter diesel engines. Mike Lochte noted, The Ford 6.7L engine test is still in development, and [Ford and SwRI] are working to implement this test as soon as possible.

At the same time PC-11 was being shaped, GM was working with both SwRI and Intertek to develop several new tests of its own. Because the OEM wanted to maintain full control of many of the tests needed to deploy its Dexos1:2015 specification as quickly as possible, most of those tests were developed outside the official ASTM International system and therefore could not be used for ILSAC GF-6. This led to parallel development of tests for oxidation and deposits, as well as for low-speed pre-ignition.

Both labs report that new test development is more difficult today than it was in the past. Engine hardware has evolved significantly and operations are more precisely controlled by instrumentation, computers and software that are more complex than even those used for the Apollo space vehicles. The latest engines do not wear as much as their predecessors, and the instrumentation available to control, monitor and measure their operation has never been better or more extensive. But even slight changes in engine hardware and parts, such as new batches of rings or pistons, can significantly impact test results.

Test engineers also need to monitor atmospheric conditions and even fuel. Tests must be capable of handling a wider range of viscosity grades than ever before. In addition, they need to be reproducible and give similar results from stand to stand within a lab, as well as between labs. Although the bulk of development and testing is conducted in San Antonio, there are several in-house engine test labs-those at additive makers Afton Chemical and Lubrizol and facilities run by marketers such as ExxonMobil and Valvoline-that want to access and run the new tests.

Testing engine oils is quite a complex operation. Labs need to maintain the right fuels for these tests and ensure an adequate supply. Some fuels, like the one for the Sequence VG sludge test and its replacement, the Sequence VH, must be precisely formulated for the test to meet its objectives. Others are closer to commercial fuel but still need to be monitored for consistency.

Fuel for the Sequence VG has an impact on sludge and varnish deposits, thus shortening the test length, said Glaser. The other fuels have a specification and some control of the chemical and physical properties so that, from one batch to another, there is minimal chance of fuel-related impact to test bias or precision issues.

Test calibration is critical and test stands need to be continually referenced to ensure they deliver the proper results for a particular lubricant candidate in accordance with requirements for the given tests-for example, over a time period such as one year, after a certain number of tests, or with changes to the hardware.

Reference oils are very important, Lochte emphasized. For the ASTM tests, the TMC [Test Monitoring Center] buys the reference oil from approved sources. The actual oil makers identity is held in strict confidence. The TMC does quality control checks on the oil and pours it into containers that hold just enough oil for one test.

He continued, When we need to reference or calibrate a test stand, we will ask for a reference oil assignment. If there is more than one reference oil for a test, we dont know which oil we are running until later. After we send in the results, they tell us if the stand is referenced or calibrated and which oil was run.

Reference oils are usually developed by additive companies and approved by OEMs and test sponsors. Normally, each test has several reference oils, such as a failing oil, a passing oil and a borderline oil. By running the calibration tests, the labs can understand if a test is in control, is running mild or severe, and in some cases if a correction factor needs to be applied by complex statistical data, using the Lubricant Test Monitoring System. Reference oils are also critical for back-serviceability from category to category and to ensure oils perform as expected in new tests.

Each ASTM Sequence test method is monitored by an ASTM Surveillance Panel to ensure its integrity, following ASTM guidelines. Once logistics for fuels and reference oils are in place, the labs must handle the many samples that are delivered each day by their clients for testing. Labs must track these samples, ranging in size from small jars to 55-gallon drums, and ensure their integrity throughout the testing process.

Although specific numbers were not discussed, it is clear that both labs sink significant amounts of money and other resources into the development of these tests. They invest in new test stands, contribute some of the operational costs and provide significant expertise to test development. Once the tests are completed, they recover their investment by running the tests for both additive companies and marketers developing new lubricant technologies and products. Final test pricing must account for operational costs and generate enough funds to recover up-front development cost.

Factors that impact test cost include length (taking into account fuel consumption and analytical testing along the way), engine rebuilding and preparation, tear-downs and rating of test parts, along with how often a test must be referenced. The new Sequence VIE and Sequence VIF fuel economy tests, for example, will cost almost double that of their predecessor Sequence VID because the new tests must be referenced significantly more often than the older test.

It is clear that ILSAC GF-6 will be the most expensive passenger car engine oil category ever developed and likely will exceed $250 million in total costs to all stakeholders by the time it is finished. Although the first allowable use of the ILSAC GF-6 Starburst is still about two years away, some OEMs have already started discussing ILSAC GF-7 and the introduction of even lower viscosity engines oils such as SAE 0W-8.

The folks in San Antonio are looking at the bright side. I have confidence the labs will maintain a strong core of experts that will be able to handle emerging needs for new and replacement tests to support future oil categories, said Interteks Glaser. We have emerged from an immense challenge of bringing 14 new test types on line in the past few years and many of the experts will be around for future development challenges with this experience under their belts.

Many engineers with less than 10 years of experience in the industry have made some great contributions to recent test development, added Lochte at SwRI. Everything they learned will help us get better next time.

Steve Haffner is president of SGH Consulting LLC. He has over 40 years of experience in the chemical industry, primarily with Exxon Chemicals Paramins and Infineum USA. He specializes in engine oil formulation and marketing. Contact him at or 908-672-8012.