That’s a position with which Bel-Ray Lubricants identifies. Bel-Ray has been actively involved in mining for 45 years and it has studied each piece of equipment and the environment in which it operates before it tried to develop a lubricant for the application, explained Don Howard, R&D Manager, Bel-Ray Lubricants. “We study the application and learn everything we can about it,” Howard said. “Then we chose the key factors or problems and address them individually. We develop a basic lubricant that meets all of the requirements whether its OEM specifications or an industry standard, and then we add to that product to accommodate the severity of the application as far as load, speed and operating environment.”

Many mines have learned the hard way that a general purpose gear oil or grease cannot be used for mining machinery. It will not perform well. General purpose industrial gear oil uses the same type of chemical make-up that would be found in an 80W-90 gear oil for an automobile. The duty cycle for an electric shovel does not necessarily relate to that of a car.

Bel-Ray believes lubricants should be developed specifically for mining applications. One of the ways it is showing its level of commitment is through the Total Lube Partnership (TLP). “We are committed to providing, not only the best lubricants that can be formulated for these machines, but also the services required to properly maintain them,” Howard said. “As a company, we assume responsibility for providing high-quality lubricants that are consistent with respect to thickness and viscosity from batch to batch. Then we apply them to the machine.”

The company also does some “free” consulting services for miners. “We analyze components and centralize lubricating systems,” Howard said. “We look at performance and consumption rates. The object is to maintain the optimum level of lubricant consumption that provides the right amount of lubrication economically. We look at root failure analysis. The TLP is our effort to become totally involved in the lubrication aspects of our customer’s machinery.”

All of the mines expect lube suppliers to provide a quality product that will work. Some mine operators want the whole range of services, from component inspection to oil and grease analysis, while others just want the product, Howard explained. Acknowledging that some larger mines have brought used-oil analysis in house, there are many more that could still use the services of a third party provider. Used-oil analysis is one of the ways to predict an impending component failure.

While unexpected, catastrophic failures are rare in the mining business, bearing and gears do eventually wear out. “When a failure does occur, we will send a team of people out to the site,” Howard said. “Most of the time we are looking at gear or bearing failures and we have people who are very familiar with root cause failure analysis of gear systems and the different modes of wear. We can usually get a good idea of how and why a component failed, the mode of failure, and submit a complete report to the mine with our findings and recommend corrective actions.” Bel-Ray will also send independent experts into situations where the customer wants an independent verification.

The Benefits of Synthetics
Howard has only been working in this area for 30 years, and over the last 10 to 15 years, he has noticed that most lube suppliers have moved away from dangerous chemicals and toward less hazardous finished products as far as toxicity and flash points. He believes that trend will continue. “A lot of what we do as lubricant formulators, however, is really driven by what the OEMs are doing with their equipment,” Howard said.

Bel-Ray works with the OEMs and they occasionally give hints at what’s happening as far as machine design, Howard explained. “We will start formulating lubricants for increased loads and speeds,” Howard said. “Of course, everything these days is a little under-designed as far as handling load and operating at much higher speeds, which increases the load.”

Also over the last few years, the use of biodegradable products has increased. Howard noted they are fairly expensive, usually two or three times the cost of a standard industrial lubricant. “There is no regulatory push to purchase a product that is three times as expensive,” Howard said. “The mines decide to use the product because they are operating in environmentally sensitive areas.”

Over the next several years, Howard believes the industry will use more synthetic products for gear oils and open gear lubricants. This increase use of synthetics will come about as miners begin to understand the benefits of these products. “They will soon realize that you pay more, but they can be used twice or three times as long because they are highly filterable and extremely stable,” Howard said.

In the Bel-Ray labs, Howard and his team are currently performing studies on the benefits of synthetics. “We have already learned quite a bit,” Howard said. “Because of the viscosity-temperature profile of these synthetics, we were able to take an ISO 150 gear oil and run it in a gear dynamometer and develop an operating temperature (not heat input) and calculate viscosity at operating temperature and power loss through our gear system. Once we acquired the data on a mineral-oil-based ISO 150, we then ran the same test on a synthetic oil, more than twice as viscous as the mineral-oil-based ISO 150. The operating temp was within 2°, our power loss was within 8%, but our viscosity at operating temperature was 97% higher, meaning that you can use a higher viscosity synthetic product, thicken the lubricating film between the machine components and not significantly increase the operating temperature and the power loss.” Once the mines grasp this concept, they will realize the true benefits of synthetics.

Oil Change: New Heavy-duty Diesel Lube Spec Due in 2016

When it comes to diesel technology, nothing stands still for long. Engine manufacturers have been busy for most of the past decade, for example, planning, designing and testing new engine platforms and systems capable of meeting ever-tighter regulatory standards for lower emissions as well as customer demands for higher reliability, economy and power.

The pace has been a bit slower lately for diesel engine lubrication oils, however. The current performance category for heavy-duty diesel engine oils, known as CJ-4, went commercial more than five years ago. Over that period, diesel technology has continued to evolve, driven by design improvements that include increases in engine power density, combustion pressures, fuel injection pressures, oil temperatures, and expanded use of wear-resistant materials in engine components, to name just a few.

The last seven heavy-duty oil categories to be developed—API CE, CF-4, CH-4, CL-4, CL-4 Plus and CJ-4—were developed about three years apart starting in the late 1980s, a pace that serves to highlight the lag between introduction of CJ-4 and the likelihood that when a new heavy-duty oil category is finally brought to commercial status in the future, CJ-4 will probably have been in effect for at least a decade.

Citing concerns about the changes in engine technology, the age of the current category—certain engine tests for CJ-4 oils are becoming obsolete, for example—and the ability of CJ-4 oils to protect late-model engines, the Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) in June 2011 sent a formal request to the American Petroleum Institute (API) for development of a new performance category for HD oils, and API subsequently gave the green light to the project, which calls for the new category (PC-11) to be ready for commercial release in January 2016.

In February, Shell Lubricants invited a group of trade-press editors to a briefing held in Park City, Utah, to explain some of the major issues related to the development of the new HD oil category. Although many performance characteristics will be carried over from CJ-4, the principal objectives of PC-11, according to Shell experts, are to provide higher performance in several areas, including:

  • Oxidation (thermal) stability;
  • Aeration protection;
  • Shear stability;
  • Compatibility with biodiesel blends; and
  • Piston/liner scuffing and adhesive-wear prevention.

However, any new oil category also must be capable of meeting other demands, such as better overall fuel economy and decreased greenhouse gas emissions—both of which generally require lower-viscosity oils. And, PC-11 oils also must be backward-compatible with CJ-4 performance standards, which were designed to apply to engines meeting emissions-compliance standards in effect from 2007.

Shell believes it’s entirely possible for lower-viscosity oils to provide adequate engine protection. It cites tests of its Rotella T5 10W-30 oil versus CJ-4 15W-40 oils that have shown equal or better engine wear protection results from the lighter oil over the heavier product. “Thin [lower viscosity] oil is the oil of the future,” said Dan Arcy, global OEM technical manager, Shell.

Even so, oil suppliers and engine builders are concerned that a single PC-11 product may not have the ability to provide satisfactory protection over the wide range of engine applications it will encounter. Thus it’s likely, explained Arcy, that the new category will be split into two subcategories: one that preserves historical heavy-duty oil criteria and one that provides fuel efficiency benefits while maintaining durability. This will require engine-oil suppliers to develop two separate product lines to meet category performance specifications.

At this time, noted Arcy, the actual performance targets are still not entirely clear and defined, and it will be a “definite challenge” to have these targets defined and validated in time to meet the PC-11 release timetable. Work on defining the new category began in December 2011, conducted by a development team comprising three representatives each from API, EMA and the Truck Manufacturers Association and the American Chemistry Council.