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The concept of ‘lubricating oils’ or lubricants is presumed to be derived from the time when humans used tools. Lubricating oil has been used for a variety of purposes to prevent friction and corrosion on the clashing surfaces, suppress heat generation, keep objects clean, and create insulation and rust-preventive effects.

 

According to records, olive oil was used to move stone or lumber in constructing colossal buildings in ancient Egypt; since then tallow which is animal fat was used as lubricant in the wheel axes of trams. Grease which is used to describe lubricating materials originated from the Latin word ‘Grussu’ which means fat because grease looked similar to fat in the early days.

 

In the Middle Ages as complicated machines made from iron and cooper were widely used, various lubricating materials such as sperm oil, castor oil, peanut oil, and rape oil appeared. It was not intended to no longer use vegetable oil or animal fat and they were adopted mostly based on the experience of use instead of scientific analysis.

 

The history of modern lubricating oils began with the outset of oil drilling in Pennsylvania, the U.S. in the nineteenth century. At that time sperm oil was used as lubricant for spinning and weaving machine, but it was discovered incidentally that mixing with crude oil would extend the life of the machine to more than ten years. Since then, lubricants started being rapidly replaced by crude oil-based lubricant products.

 

In the mass production era of the twentieth century, machinery became more complicated and sophisticated, so that lubricating materials were needed to work in a harsh environment incomparable to that of the past. Through World War I and II, automobiles, aircrafts, diesel locomotives, missiles, and large vessels have been rapidly developed, driving the advancement of oil refining and lubricating products. A solvent refining method was invented in the 1920s and the use of additives to enhance the performance of lubricants proliferated across the industries in the 1930s.

In the 1950s, as a jet liner was introduced, the development of lubricants that work well even at the temperature lower than 50 degrees below zero was needed, resulting in the emergence of synthetic oil and multi-purpose oil. A hydrocracking method was developed in the 1970s and the more advanced hydroisomerization method was discovered in the 1990s, allowing the development and production of a wide range of high-quality lubricants using mineral oil which can compete with fully synthetic oil.

 

Recently, environmental factors as well as performance are mainly considered to choose lubricants, and industry stakeholders including chemists, engineers, oil refinery industry, and metallurgists continue research in upgrading the performance of lubricating products.

Selecting the right lubricant to suit each application requires understanding of the role of the lubricant above all. The accurate understanding allows users to select right lubricant products.

 

1. Reduced friction

Lubricant forms an oil film on the surface of metals, converting solid friction into liquid friction to reduce friction, which is the most common and essential function of lubricants. Reduced friction prevents heating and abrasion on the friction surface.

 

2. Cooling

Friction certainly causes heating on the area and more heat is produced if metals rub against each other. Therefore the heat needs to be absorbed or released; otherwise the system is destroyed or deformed. To prevent it, lubricants are applied. Especially cooling is critical to rolling oils, cutting oils, and lubricating oils used in an internal combustion engine.

 

3. Load balancing

Components like gear or bearing are limitedly contacted on a certain line or surface, so load can be increased in a moment, making systems at risk for being destroyed and attached to each other. Therefore the application of lubricant protects systems against increased load by forming an oil film to disperse load in the film.

 

4. Cleaning

Long.term use of systems may lead to corrosion or aging, producing foreign substances. In case of using hydraulic oil and gear oil, sediments accumulate such as sludge from deterioration. Especially an internal combustion engine generates too much soot, so that it is likely to shorten the life of systems and make them fail to work properly. Therefore lubricant itself cleans out foreign substances like soap.

 

5. Sealing

Sealing is to close the macro-gap between systems. Sealing the space between pistons and cylinders in the internal combustion engines or air compressors blocks the leakage of combustion gas and the inflow of external foreign substances to maintain the defined internal pressure and protect the system. Especially in the hydraulic system, lubricants itself serve to prevent the leakage by creating a hydraulic film.

 

6. Rust prevention

Metals produce rust when contacting water and oxygen. However, rust formation can be controlled and the system lifetime is extended if the surface of metals is coated with lubricating film.

It is basically required to understand the properties of lubricants and the terms used to describe them in order to select the right lubricant product.

 

1. Viscosity

Viscosity is used to measure how thick and sticky the fluid is under certain conditions, which is one of the most important factors to be considered when selecting lubricants. Viscosity is expressed in *cSt or SUS. It is understood that a high viscosity means more thick and sticky. Viscosity is not used to determine the quality of oil. Thus, choosing the right viscosity for each application is important.

* cSt (Centistoke), SUS (Saybolt Universal Viscosity)

 

2. Viscosity Index

Viscosity Index (VI) indicates a correlation between the viscosity of lubricants and temperature. Higher VI value implies little viscosity change according to the variation of temperature. Higher VI is more temperature stable, so that the life of oil is prolonged and usage is diversified.

 

3. Flash Point & Fire Point

Flash point is the lowest temperature at which the vapor produced by continuous heating of lubricants can be ignited. Fire point is the lowest temperature at which not momentary ignition but continuous ignition is possible. Generally the fire point is higher than the flash point by 20-30 degrees and lubricants cannot be used in the environment higher than the fire point.

 

4. Pour Point

If the temperature of a lubricant continues to be lowered, wax is extracted and solidified from it. The temperature right before this phenomenon is the pour point. It does not mean that a lubricant cannot be used in the environment below the pour point. However since this phenomenon may decrease work efficiency, the pour point should be considered especially when selecting engine oil to be used in winter.

 

5. Total ACID Number, TAN

Total ACID Number (TAN) indicates the amount of acid component contained in oil and the amount of KOH required to neutralize the acid component contained in 1 gram of a lubricant is expressed in mg. The more a lubricant is used and the longer the mileage is, the higher acid component is in the lubricant, increasing TAN.

 

6. Total Base Number, TBN

Total Base Number (TBN) indicates the amount of base component contained in oil and the amount of KOH required to neutralize the base component contained in 1 gram of a lubricant is expressed in mg. The longer the mileage is and the higher TAN is, the lower TBN is.

 

7. Oxidation Stability

Oxidation stability is an ability to reduce the lubricant’s rate of oxidation accelerated by high temperature. This property is particularly important to identify the life and storage period of engine oil.

1. Classification by raw material

A lubricant refers to a substance that makes parts of something move smoothly and liquid lubricants account for about 80% of it. Lubricants are developed using base oils produced from crude oil refining by adding additives according to mixing ratio for each use or developed by compounding chemicals such as PAO.

 

2. Classification by use

Lubricants are largely used for automobiles, heavy industries, industries, and vessels.

 

3. Classification by viscosity

To understand lubricants for engine oil, it is required to read and understand the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Index on the engine oil. SAE is an international standard established for the viscosity of engine oil by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

 

Single Grade

The products of grades expressed in a single number such as SAE 10W and SAE 30 and viscosity can be identified according to the viscosity grades in SAE Table below.

 

Multi Grade

The products of grades expressed in two kinds of numbers such as SAE 5W30 and SAE 10W40, which means the two SAE grades specified in the viscosity tables are both satisfied.

The viscosity change of multi-grade lubricating oils at high temperature is smaller than that of single-grade lubricating oils, offering economic benefits. Multi-grade lubricating oils are more liquid at low temperature than single-grade lubricating oils, so that they improve fuel efficiency of an internal combustion engine. Also most multi-grade oils have better wear resistance performance than single-grade oils, extending the life of parts of an internal combustion engine.

 

4. Classification by performance

The American Petroleum Institute (API) officially acknowledged standards for the quality of engine oil that suits each engine following the proliferation of automobiles in the 1900s and express them in signs which are classified largely into gasoline and diesel. Gasoline is marked in S (Service Category) and Diesel is marked in C (Commercial Category), and then added by A, B, C, D, and so on to distinguish their grades. Since the latest engine models are more required to work in harsher environment under tighter regulations, they satisfy more strict regulations than previous grades.

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