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For one of our expert chemists working at our lab, a datasheet may be very simple to understand. From a user perspective, however, it might be a little more challenging. Although many of our customers have a great understanding of what these concepts mean and how to interpret them, we wanted to provide some helpful guidance to further expand this knowledge and support the newcomers on their journey to the world of heavy-duty lubricants and oils.
It’s all about testing
Any product, regardless of its nature, should always be tried and tested before being launched into the market. This ensures consumers are receiving a safe-to-use product that fulfills their performance expectations.
The key to the testing is oftentimes how it is conducted. The best products will always be those that are tested against conditions that emulate real-life situations as closely as possible. In the case of VISCOSITY products, off-road testing is an integral part of the assessment process for fluid performance, especially since conditions for heavy-duty vehicles can be extreme in terms of pressure, humidity, material wear, and temperature. If a fluid cannot withstand this testing, it means its performance will be deficient and, hence, it will not be serving its intended purpose.
Some of the parameters that our experts at VISCOSITY use to measure the efficiency of our formulations, and that you will find in the datasheets for each of our products, are:
- Kinematic Viscosity: Kinematic viscosity measures a fluid’s resistance to flow. It is usually expressed in centistokes (cSt), and it quantifies how easily the oil flows at a specific temperature. High values indicate thicker oil, like those found in gear oils, while low values note thinner ones that you may see in hydraulic fluids. Kinematic viscosity is also measured against SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) grades, which are represented by two numbers in some of our products. The first number (e.g., 10W) represents the oil’s viscosity at low temperatures, with lower numbers indicating thinner oils. The second number (e.g., 30) represents the oil’s viscosity at high temperatures, with higher numbers indicating thicker oils. The W, in this case, stands for “winter.”
It’s important to note that what is considered “thin” or “thick” can vary significantly depending on the context. The specific requirements for a given application and the manufacturer’s recommendations are crucial in determining the appropriate viscosity range. Additionally, viscosity can change with temperature, and many fluids are described using a viscosity-temperature relationship, known as Viscosity Index, such as the kinematic viscosity at 40°C and 100°C. These measurements are used to account for the temperature-dependent nature of viscosity and ensure that a fluid performs well under a range of operating conditions. A higher viscosity index typically means better performance in colder conditions.
- Pour Point & Brookfield Viscosity: these tests are commonly used to assess fluid behavior at low temperatures. However, they have different objectives and methods, depending on the distinct insight that is required. Pour point identifies the lowest temperature at which the fluid stops flowing, indicating the onset of a significant viscosity increase. Although there is no ideal number to have when conducting this test, as it depends on environmental and equipment factors, lower pour points are desirable when the vehicle encounters colder temperatures, while higher temperatures will tolerate higher pour points. Brookfield viscosity, on the other hand, quantifies the fluid’s viscosity at a specific low temperature and provides a more detailed viscosity profile, which is measured against the requirements of the type of product and vehicle it will serve. It is usually used for hydraulic fluids, THF and gear oils.
- Dropping Point: The dropping point is the temperature at which a grease transitions from a solid to a liquid state. It’s important for high-temperature applications and indicates the maximum temperature at which the grease can effectively lubricate and remain in place without running off or melting. Typically, greases used in heavy-duty vehicle applications should have dropping points in the range of 180°C (356°F) to 260°C (500°F) or even higher; however, this varies depending on the type of equipment and operating conditions.
- Flash Point: flash point is a critical safety parameter that indicates the minimum temperature at which a lubricant’s vapors can ignite when exposed to an open flame or spark. It should be above the expected operating temperature of the equipment in which it will be used. This ensures the product does not pose a fire hazard in either regular operations or extreme temperature conditions.
- TBN (Total Base Number) & Reserve Alkalinity: TBN measures the oil’s alkalinity or its ability to neutralize acidic by-products of combustion, such as sulfuric acid and other contaminants. These acids can form when fuel is burned in the engine, and if left unchecked, they can corrode engine components, leading to increased wear and reduced engine life. A high TBN oil can maintain its alkalinity over a more extended period, allowing for longer oil change intervals without compromising the engine, contributing to optimal engine efficiency. Closely related, reserve alkalinity is the “reserve” or remaining capacity of the oil to neutralize acids after the oil has been exposed to the engine’s combustion by-products and other contaminants. Since this is a dynamic property, its monitoring and assessment during oil analysis and maintenance is key to ensuring how the oil is performing. An increase in reserve alkalinity could indicate that the oil is not actively neutralizing acids as it should.
- Cold Crank Viscosity: Cold crank viscosity measures how easily an oil flows and maintains adequate lubrication during engine startup in cold conditions. To measure this parameter, a standard method called CCS (Cold Cranking Simulator) is used. This testing, used mainly for engine oils, is done by taking an oil sample— for which, typically, the SAE grade will determine the temperature at which the test is run—and cooling it (commonly at -25° to -40°C). A simulated engine crankshaft and bearing assembly is submerged into the sample, rotating it at a controlled speed and measuring the torque needed to turn it. The CCS value is determined by recording the lowest temperature at which the oil sample achieves a specified level of torque. The lower the temperature at which the oil reaches this torque level, the better its low-temperature performance.
- Elemental Analysis: elemental analysis provides valuable information about the chemical composition of a fluid, including major elements such as carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen, as well as trace elements like metals and sulfur. These are not only identified but also quantified, providing a better understanding of their overall concentration and assessing potential issues or impurities that could affect the fluid’s performance. This analysis provides key data that will help in the manufacturing process— especially when optimization and research efforts are taken—as well as help companies comply with the regulatory standards and quality specifications their formulations require.
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