In April, Caltex Australia, one of the countrys biggest lubricant and grease suppliers, recalled one of its lubricating greases. A recall is a rare event, at least Down Under. In fact, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the government agency responsible for product recalls, indicates this was only the third such event affecting the lube industry in Australia in some 20 years.
Then, just a couple of months later, in early July, Fuchs Lubricants Australasia, another of the countrys major suppliers, announced it was also recalling one of its grease products.
What happened? And how could this happen in an age when major suppliers are supposed to test every batch of product? How did these products slip through the cracks of sophisticated quality assurance and quality control protocols?
While answers to these questions may be elusive, the fact remains that a recall is a big deal, particularly if the ACCC gets involved, said a senior manager of one major who spoke on condition that he wouldnt be named. You have to follow a very prescriptive set of guidelines; you have to publish advertisements in the newspaper. It has the ability to do quite a lot of brand reputation damage.
The ACCCs product safety recall process involves stopping supply of the product, notifying customers via national newspaper advertisements, notifying everyone in the supply chain in writing that the recall has been initiated, and offering a remedy to those affected.
To be sure, local players have said that they know both companies will be putting a lot of resources into rectifying any damage done as quickly as possible.
If a recall is not conducted successfully the first time around, suppliers may find that the process of revisiting a recall is costly and time consuming, the ACCC says on its website.
The commission recommends taking these steps to reduce the impact of a product recall on a business:
Identify customers and the best ways of reaching them by referring to sales and marketing databases and online product registrations.
Keep details of all suppliers involved in the manufacture, supply and sale of each product.
Record details of key components of products, including batch numbers and suppliers.
Ensure that batch numbers are recorded and tracked on products, not just the packaging.
Decide how each product, if recalled, can be collected, repaired or destroyed.
Caltex entered into a voluntary recall of a general purpose grease, following a few recent reports from customers that a premature wheel bearing failure occurred where Liplex Plus EP2 was the grease used in the wheel hub assembly. In response to LubesnGreases inquiry, the company stated that it expects investigations to conclude over the coming months, with outcomes to be communicated to our customers.
The product was sold in Australia between May 2018 and May 2019 and was available in bulk containers of 180 kilograms down to packs as small as 450 grams. It was designed for use in a wide range of applications, from heavy mining equipment and trucks to kids bikes.
Caltex had not, at the time of writing, confirmed whether or not it was a breakdown in the grease that caused the customer complaints. Still, the company announced that it had made the decision to recall the product to ensure our high standards of safety and product performance are met.
In the official recall notice, the company warned that wheel-bearing failure can result in a wheel seizing, bringing the vehicle or trailer to a sudden stop. This type of failure can cause an accident. Seizure can occur when a grease fails or runs out of the wheel hub rather than staying on the bearing. This can also happen if a truck fords a waterway with a cracked hub and the grease washes out of the bearing. With insufficient or no grease to lubricate moving parts, the wheel doesnt turn. It can become extremely hot and even catch fire.
In the case of the Fuchs recall, the problem also involved a general-purpose grease, Renolit EP2. A batch of 2.5 kilogram packs labelled as Renolit EP2 was actually filled with a petroleum jelly instead of the correct grease.
If the wrong substance is used on rolling mechanical components, this could result in mechanical failure or overheating of machinery, potentially increasing the risk of an accident or injury, Fuchs said in a recall notice, advising customers not to use the product and to contact Fuchs for a refund.
Fuchs Australasias managing director, Wayne Hoiles, told LubesnGreases that the incorrect filling had happened with a few tubs in a small batch sent out to a contract packer. He explained that the company uses contract packers for some small lines, or about 1 percent of its locally sold product. The problem batch was sold between March 1 and June 26, 2019.
We have very strict policies around quality, said Hoiles. He added that as small as the problem batch was, Fuchs still chose to announce a voluntary recall through the product safety commission, affirming that the company is working with the packer to prevent such a mistake from happening again. Absolutely every time we have any quality issues, we look at what corrective action to take moving forward, Hoiles emphasized.
Before the recall announcement, Fuchs local technical and compliance manager, Jeannette Wyatt, spoke to LubesnGreases about quality in the lubricant and grease industry.
If theres something low risk, you dont spend a lot of money testing the hell out of it; if its high risk, you put more controls on it. Thats the big move Ive seen, said Wyatt, commenting on how quality management has morphed over recent decades.
Fuchs, like Caltex and other major Australian lube suppliers including Shell, Valvoline, BP and Harrison, is ISO 9001 accredited. This is the internationally recognized standard of quality management systems, designed to nurture continuous quality improvement. When the standard was introduced in the late 1980s, it was more prescriptive, like a checklist. Today, after several editions, the standard requires users to consider and evaluate the data it elicits and to employ risk management.
Its no longer just doing things for the sake of it but doing it with an actual purpose in mind, which is to continuously improve and to guarantee your quality out to the customer, said Wyatt.
Similarly, more recent iterations of IATF 16949, which is the International Standardfor Automotive Quality Management Systems, have increasingly incorporated business risk, accounting for such things as contingency plans for supply interruptions.
Another point for consideration in quality studies is change management. This has become more important as the range of lubricant products has expanded in recent years to cater to new and demanding emissions and performance requirements of modern equipment, particularly in the automotive sector.
It is possible that a formulation change or process change could result in a product that could still pass the limited QC requirement but not meet the more extensive in-field performance, said Mike Raleigh, general manager of sales and marketing at Harrison Manufacturing Co., Australias largest independent toll blender. We adopt a thorough change management process for any significant changes in product or process.
Quality control is the process used to verify the quality of a product or output, testing that it meets specifications. It is just one component of a quality management system. Change management is another. Quality assurance is also a key plank; it is the process of managing for quality and includes the processes for receiving raw materials, maintaining and calibrating equipment, and implementing tools like vision systems to check labels front and back.
Application of QA tends to be proactive and focused on prevention, whereas QC tends to be reactive and focused on detection, explained Raleigh.
The effort that the industry has put into developing quality assurance protocols has dramatically changed lubricant and grease makers approach and raised the chances of getting a formulation right in the first batch.
According to a chemist at one oil major, This is something that has really improved over the last 30 years: your ability to get it right the first time by ensuring all your materials are in spec and that all of your metering and gauges in your plant and calibration in your laboratory are accurate, plus a whole lot of training and process stuff.
In the modern day, everything is documented, and there is a process for it, and people are trained and expect to be trained. Safety is incredibly important, and all of that has evolved over the last few decades. The processes and the quality of the product today are lightyears ahead of where they were.
Still, things can go wrong, as the recent Australian recalls show. The good news is that both companies stepped up and announced voluntary recalls. They are now engaged in investigations as part of the process for continuous quality improvement.
Caroline Falls is an Australia-based freelance writer. She can be contacted at email@example.com.