Synthetic lubricants in all applications are becoming more popular and widely used worldwide. While it is estimated that the current consumption of synthetic lubricants is about six per cent of the global lubricants consumption, it is expected to be about 10 per cent by 2020, says Akhil Jha, Vice President Technical, Lubricants, Shell India Markets. Excerpts from the interview.
What are the latest trends in lubrication and greasing?
Indian lubricants industry is one of the fastest growing in the world. The market has grown at a CAGR of 17.8 per cent during FY2008-2012, expanding from $1,044.87 million to $2,014.85 million in the same period. The overall lubricants industry in India is expected to grow at a CAGR of 11.5 per cent to $7,713.7 million in FY2017.
The global grease market will continue to change and develop with the key drivers being green technologies, legislative compliance, end-user demands and availability of raw materials. Grease has become one of the most critical design criteria for many OEMs of bearings, gear transmissions, material handling equipment, etc. The grease selection by OEMs depends of various factors, including base oil composition, consistency, mechanical stability, type of soap used, adhesiveness or tackiness and pumpability.
Shell has demonstrated its technology leadership in industrial grease and has successfully introduced synthetic oil-based polyurea grease in roll bearing grease application in a hot strip mill section of a steel plant, reducing grease consumption by 10 times.
Brief us on the advantages of synthetic lubricants.
One of the major advantages of synthetic oil over mineral-based motor oil is its greater lifespan. In most types of engines under any driving conditions, synthetic oil has potentially less frequent recommended change intervals than traditional motor oil under similar circumstances. This is because synthetic motor oil is both slower to decompose chemically and less susceptible to evaporation over time. However, it is still likely to become contaminated eventually and a regular service schedule should still be observed, even if engine oil level readings are normal. Synthetic motor oil also has superior composition to that of mineral-based motor oil. Because its components are produced under chemically controlled conditions rather than through conventional refining process, synthetic oil is free of the impurities that comprise a significant percentage of the volume of most traditional motor oils. By being both more chemically stable and containing no undesirable impurities, synthetic oil causes fewer problems.
How does Shell range of synthetic lubricants help achieve maximum cost efficiency?
Shell´s synthetic lubricants offer the longest life oils and greases in the Shell range. These products enable to extend oil-drain and re-greasing intervals. Extended lubricant life saves money by cutting maintenance costs and reducing product consumption. Using less oil and grease can also help reduce environmental footprint and cut disposal costs.
Shell´s synthetic lubricants can help increase productivity by enabling equipment and processes to operate more efficiently. They can even help cut costs directly by reducing energy consumption. For example, Shell Turbo GT synthetic turbine oil has up to 70 per cent faster air release and over five times less sludge formation than the industry standards, which helps keep turbines running efficiently. Shell Omala S4 WE synthetic worm-gear oil is another advanced product that can directly reduce energy consumption because of its lower friction co-efficient than a mineral gear oil. Also, since the product does not contain any extreme pressure (EP) additive, it helps to extend service life of the worm wheel as sulphur phosphorous based EP additive in a mineral gear oil is known to chemically attack phosphor bronze material of the wheel.
How do you set the quality parameters of a synthetic lubricant for different types of equipment?
The lubrication and operational challenges for construction equipment are unique hydraulic systems used in heavy duty construction equipment have traditionally focused on function rather than efficiency. Maximising equipment availability and component reliability are important for many construction companies. Construction equipment operators are exploring possibilities to reduce equipment downtime by extending equipment and oil life. While meeting the regulatory emission norms, it is also important to meet the challenges from equipment operators for reliability, better cycle times, fuel efficiency, etc.
High fuel costs, lower cycle times and engine exhaust emissions make OEMs, lubricant suppliers and end-users to find ways to improve efficiency of hydraulic systems. Shell´s synthetic lubricants are formulated and proven to provide the ultimate component protection, fuel economy and long-life operation and faster cycle times for most of the construction equipment. We have a wide portfolio of synthetic lubricants and our technical advisors work with OEMs and end customers for offering solutions. A fluid with a very high viscosity index and low coefficient of friction can maximise both volumetric and mechanical efficiencies of a pump.
How suitable are Shell´s synthetic lubricants to the extreme weather conditions in India?
Shell´s synthetic oils have a high viscosity index, which means that the oils change less with temperature. They adapt to perform better in hot and cold conditions by staying thin enough to flow when cold and thick enough to protect at high temperatures. Synthetic-base oils also provide better protection in cold start condition than mineral oils with excellent low-temperature flow even at -40¦C.
Tell us about your R&D activities.
Royal Dutch Shell has a long history of technology and innovation. To date, we have three R&D facilities in the world US, Europe and India (Bengaluru). The Bangalore facility is one of the top three R&D facilities in the world. We recently announced an expansion of the Bangalore facility. We have about 108 engineers today who will be establishing a new campus to develop a next generation of technology. We have been investing quite heavily on R&D in India. We have also opened a R&D showcase lab on motorcycle oils in Bangalore this year.
We´d like to highlight that it is not just R&D in India for India, but it is also what we do in India for the globe. The capabilities that we are developing in Bangalore will be extremely useful all over the world. The idea of having them in three different locations and regions is to bring the knowledge, capability and the learning´s from all over the world and to ensure that we have all perspectives while we are developing our leading edge technology. Recently, Shell Lubricants also opened a new research centre in Shanghai, China.
Fuel and energy efficiency have become two major parameters while selecting equipment, as the end-user community is more focused on the lowest operating cost. How do you assess the impact of this shift on lubricant manufacturers like Shell?
Fuel costs are high in many countries. Fuel demand is increasing and fuel supply is increasingly becoming more challenging. Existing and new legislations aim to reduce CO2 emissions by increasing fuel economy. OEMs are increasingly interested in using low-viscosity oils to reduce friction and meet fuel economy requirements.
Shell already has products with fuel and energy efficiency benefits demonstrated to global vehicle OEMs like Daimler. Now we see Indian vehicle OEMs also moving towards the direction of fuel economy. Shell in India is already approved for fuel economy benefits by several vehicle OEMs and we are working closely with other major OEMs and customers on fuel economy lubricants. The impact for the industry is on positive side as this shift will not only help in reduction of total cost of ownership but also to save energy and reduce CO2 emission.
How important is the selection of right lubricant for right application?
Different applications need different designs as per hardware design, duty cycle, etc. An oil with ´X´ per cent of fuel economy benefits may not give the same benefit when is tested in similar application with different hardware design or duty cycle. Hence, it is not only right oil for right application but tailor-made solution for specific hardware design and application where the lubricant is not an afterthought but considered an integral part of design. We call this co-engineering in Shell.
Selection of right lubricant is very critical to realise energy saving. This has to be done by proper study of energy losses in application considering operating conditions, loading, etc. Shell in India has very strong set up of field based lubricant technical advisors to conduct this assessment and provide right advice on lubricants.
What is the impact of advanced gearbox technology on lubricant manufacturers?
Since last one decade, gearbox technology has become more advanced. Specifically, gearbox manufacturers have focused on developing systems that are more compact and efficient, which deliver higher load capacities. These new units offer significant advantages in terms of delivering better performance and occupy less space in a plant due to their reduced size. For example, a gearbox of today is 1/3 in size and weight compared to the one 40 years ago and hence now there is more stress on the gear oil. Smaller gearboxes of today are made from light weight materials. At the same time, they must produce more power, be more durable and reliable. The bearing loads and speeds of the gear teeth are also trending higher. This means that a smaller gearbox with less lubricating oil needs to support gears with much higher workloads. These trends in modern gearboxes will result in higher temperatures, which in turn results in accelerated oxidation. Oxidation is a particular problem for industrial gear oils because it contributes to sludge formation. OEMs are also focusing on new ways of hardening and surface finish technologies hence protection against gear micro-pitting is more challenging.
Higher cleanliness and finer filtration are desired by gearbox OEMs and wind energy OEMs as well. The new IEC 61400 cleanliness requirements (ISO 4406:99) are more stringent for the gear oils with respect to filtration.
Shell has developed gear oils both in mineral and synthetic range which meets the latest specifications of gearbox OEMs for higher torque and power ratings. Besides, gear teeth protection against micro-pitting, more emphasis is now on bearing protection, seal protection, paint compatibility etc. Shell Omala range of synthetic and mineral gear oils meet the most recent specifications of gearbox OEMs with respect to micro-pitting protection, bearing protection, filtration, seal and paint compatibility etc.
What is the positive impact of this trend towards integrated system solutions on lubricant manufacturers?
Some of the key trends in hydraulic equipment are increase in power density (size reduction and output increase), energy efficiency and reducing environmental impact (control of leakage, noise and environment-friendly fluids).
Since there are several types of energy losses in hydraulic system mainly to keep running the hydraulic pump in semi-closed-loop hydraulic system, there is a shift to modernise the system with closed loop with more advanced use of electronics which controls the hydraulic system. The system is optimised to minimise energy consumption by rotating the pump as per demand and this significantly reduces energy losses.
Another point of energy losses is churning losses in pump and it is seen that some of the pump manufacturers have come up with dry case where losses are further minimised.
If we look as oil suppliers to these developments, the first point will be to reduce stress on oil hence increasing oil life; second point is the need for special hydraulic oil which can cope with associated challenges such as cavitation and foaming. The performance of Shell synthetic hydraulic oil, Tellus S4 ME is excellent in these special conditions where standard hydraulic oils fail to meet the expectations.
In hydraulic systems, the trend towards smaller reservoir size design for the equivalent requires systems to perform the same amount of work as their larger predecessors but in a more compact mechanism with tighter tolerances. This translates to higher load and pressures. If we introduce a smaller sump reservoir into the equation then the system has to cycle the fluid more often, which means there is less time to dissipate heat, release foam, settle out contaminants and demulsify water. Overall, more demanding conditions which start to differentiate quality lubricants from ones which ´just meet the specs´ are now upon us.
Hydraulic component OEMs are developing new specifications like the Rexroth RDE 90240, Parker TP 30990 and many upgraded specifications from various hydraulic OEMs since last 4-5 years. Lubricant manufacturers have to work with these OEMs constantly to ensure that they meet these upgraded specifications.