API set to review the engine oil development process after the nine-year gestation period for GF-6. But now approved, the latest spec may roll-out faster than anticipated.
The comment by the American Petroleum Institute's (API) new Director of Product Programs, Kevin Ferrick, that "the development of a new engine oil category is challenging" may be something of an understatement. With licencing due to begin on 1st May 2020, the lubricants industry is only now starting to draw breath some nine years after the process began to develop the ILSAC GF-6 and 6B passenger car oil specifications. Delay followed by delay demonstrated just how challenging the process has become.
However, the completion of the ILSAC specs, along with the API CK-4 and FA-4 diesel engine oil specifications, now offers the industry some space to take stock of the development process and implement changes before the next round begins. Ferrick's comments were reported as part of an update of the Lubricants Standards Development Review Group (LSDRG), established in July 2017, which comprises industry representatives with the remit to enhance the existing standards development process.
According to the report, Ferrick stated that speed alone was not the issue, pointing to high costs of development, obsolete hardware and a current desire for backward compatibility as some of the challenges that required an overhaul. The LSDRG has already revealed a number of recommendations, the two most significant being:
- To de-couple test development from category development, with the former focusing on future technology requirements for lubricants while the latter allows specification changes to address more immediate issues. New categories would be reserved for new performance criteria resulting from a step-change in technology; changes to peformance limits that cause chemistry changes; or regulatory changes that require chemistry changes.
- A definition of "urgent need" in category development, which will apply if a warranty or field issue occurs across a wide number of OEMs. Examples included a new "substance of concern" highlighed by the US Environmental Protection Agency, or the recent issue of low-speed pre-ignition which led to the creation of the API SN Plus spec.
The proposed recommendations, along with an evaluation of the existing lubes specification development process has been sent to key industry stakeholders for consultation and feeback - these include lubes, additives and engine manufacturers. If the recommendations are accepted in principle, a wider consultation will take place.
Meanwhile, the roll-out of the new GF-6 spec would appear to be gathering significant pace. As recently reported, a number of major lubes producers are already announcing their GF-6-compliant product ranges. Now, it appears, the roll-out across Asia, the Middle East and Africa could be faster than expected according to recent reports.
Citing industry consultant, Shailendra Gokhale, Lubes'n'Greases highlighted that the EMEA market roll-out of new specifications have followed North America and Europe much more rapidly in recent years. In the case of GF-6 and 6-b, the roll-out is likely to be relatively fast but patchy, with Gokhale focusing on the UAE and India as the potential region leaders, with Africa as a whole likely to adopt the new specifications later due to higher costs of the new products.