Oils of today are closely integrated with technology
Cooling, sealing, keeping clean and protecting against rust – lubricating oils are subject to a wide range of requirements. At the same time, oils are now often closely integrated with the technology to be lubricated. This is achieved by mixing from 2 to 22 ingredients to produce impressive properties.
Lubricating oil production and science go hand in hand. Our fundamental components and advanced blends create products with unique properties, for example for lubrication at different temperatures.
“Tribology is the science of lubrication, abrasion and friction,” explains Charlotta Brodin, Laboratory Manager, FUCHS Lubricants Nordic. “We produce the right lubricating oil for the right technology and as needs vary so much, there is a wide range of products.”
This range includes everything from engine, hydraulic and turbine oils to special products for wind power, forestry and agriculture, metalworking and the manufacturing industry – all with their own more or less unique blend.
Emphasis on blends
Charlotta Brodin and her colleagues in Västerhaninge, Sweden work on around 750 products. Lubricating oils for vehicles and industry are two of the biggest areas. Their work essentially revolves around the art of blending lubricating oils. All the raw materials are delivered ready to use to the plant just south of Stockholm, where they are blended to create the right oil. Whatever the application in which the oil is to be used, nearly all lubrication has a few common denominators.
“Oil has to cool, seal, keep clean and protect against rust. Another important property is how friction is affected. The aim in an engine oil is usually to achieve low friction with adequate lubrication,” explains Charlotta Brodin.
These properties affect the blend that gives the oil specific properties. Technology requirements have also become more advanced over the years and determine how an oil must be designed to do its job. Charlotta Brodin gives an example.
“In the automotive industry, emission requirements have become much stricter. And when the conditions for vehicle manufacturers and their technologies change, the lubricating oils have to be adapted as well. Apart from lower emissions, the requirements also concern lower fuel consumption and longer change intervals, so the oil has to be able to function for longer than before,” she says.
“Lubricating oils have always been important, but they have become even more important as the requirements made of vehicle and machine manufacturers have become stricter,” continues Charlotta Brodin. “One way of describing it is that the oil has become an increasingly integrated part of the various applications to be lubricated.”
Developments in the industrial sector have moved in the same direction. As tools and machines have been made more advanced, the oil specifications have become increasingly specialised.
Three main components
The majority of lubricating oils are based on a few basic ingredients. The first is the base oil that accounts for 60 – 90 percent of a typical lubricating oil. There are several classes of base oil, both mineral and synthetic oils, and the product achieves its basic performance properties via the right mix.
“The base oil affects the end product’s volatility and stability, but also its minimum flow properties, inner friction and how well it protects against corrosion,” explains Charlotta Brodin. “A synthetic base oil gives us broader options and means that we can customise the product in more ways.”
The next ingredient is the viscosity modifier. It affects the thickness of the oil and is designed to reduce its change in viscosity, even if the temperature varies. And the variations can be dramatic. Some engine oils have to cope with temperatures of between - 40 and 350 degrees and still retain their lubricating properties. Last, but not least, various additives are blended with the lubricating oil. This is when it gets its final properties.
“Additives function as cleaners, contain antioxidants that affect service life and enable the oil to cope with friction and counteract abrasion more efficiently,” explains Charlotta Brodin. The cleaning properties are extremely important in engine oils. For industrial oils, it is particularly important for the additives to extend the service life of the oil and prevent seizure under high load.
The right quantity in the right order
Most of the ingredients blended in a lubricating oil are liquid. The volume of a blend usually varies between 1 and 40 cubic metres, and the actual blending process takes between half a day and two days. For each lubricating oil, there is a recipe which specifies quantities, the order in which the ingredients are added, how long it should take and how high the temperature must be.
“A lubricating oil may contain between 2 and 22 ingredients. The blending order is important to avoid negative chemical reactions between ingredients,” says Charlotta Brodin. Certain additives must be added when the temperature is high, and others when it is lower.
When the blend is ready, the lubricating oil is bottled and packed. The packaging may be anything from 1-litre bottles to 1,000-litre containers. Really large volumes of lubricating oil are delivered by tanker directly to a customer’s facility.
“Before bottling and delivering a lubricating oil, we also take samples of every product to guarantee that the quality is right,” says Charlotta Brodin. The samples are tested under various parameters and then stored in our archive for at least one year.
Quality control is therefore a kind of end point in an advanced blending process for quantities of more or less customised lubricating oils.