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Preparing for GF-7: A growing call for change

By Aaron Stone

Passenger car and heavy-duty engine oil specifications in Asia and North America are experiencing an unprecedented amount of change. The next major category upgrade for passenger car motor oils (PCMO) in North America and Japan, ILSAC GF-6, is not even here yet, but already there are growing calls for change prior to starting the next upgrade, which everyone assumes will carry the nomenclature GF-7.

Speaking at F+L Week 2017 in Singapore in March, Teri Kowalski, senior principal engineer at Toyota Technical Center in Michigan, in the U.S.A., requested a “thorough and critical review of the category development process” at the conclusion of GF-6 development or “maybe even before” GF-6 is officially launched.

In her presentation, aptly titled “Are We There Yet? – The GF-6 Journey Continues,” Kowalski suggests that improving the efficiency of the category development process will benefit all stakeholders and, importantly, provide customers “the proper performance level of oil in a more timely manner.”

Critical drivers behind the introduction of ILSAC GF-6 are the need to replace older tests for GF-5 that will become obsolete as test parts become unavailable, alongside new tests for low-speed pre-ignition (LSPI) and timing chain wear.

Despite an intensifying desire to replace the current category, GF-6 has been subject to ongoing delays. Work began on GF-6 test development way back in 2012. A year ago, first licensing was scheduled for 2018. We are now “running blind” with no specific timeframe to launch, she says. Expectation is it will be 2019 at the earliest, although Kowalski suggests there is “always the concern about further delays.”

The slippage of the timeline for GF-6 is due to delays in test development for all GF-6 tests as the development of these tests has proven significantly more challenging than initially expected.

Teri Kowalski giving an update on GF-6 at F+L Week 2017.While Kowalski has confirmed that test development is now essentially complete, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) Tech Demos and the mandatory American Petroleum Institute (API) waiting period, each requiring an estimated 9-12 months, means first licensing remains a further two years away, plus or minus.

The GF-6 development period will “in all probability” be longer than the life of the GF-6 category itself. Kowalski says this statement alone should be significant enough for every trade organisation, company and individual involved to demand a more efficient process.

The call to reduce the complexity of engine oil specification development is not new. Additive companies have been appealing for substantive change to the philosophy behind the system, enabling a step change towards innovation, for some time. Executive Vice President of Marketing and Technology at UK-based additive manufacturer Infineum, Chris Locke, has called for an “international cross industry task force” to address some of these challenges. Other companies have supported his position.

The Auto Oil Advisory Panel (AOAP) is the decision-making body for a new category, as defined in API (American Petroleum Institute) 1509. AOAP approves GF-6 development activities and final GF-6 specifications. The panel replaced the International Lubricants Standardization and Approval Committee (ILSAC) oil category development system for GF-6. Kowalski concedes “whether it will be used for future categories is an appropriate question.”

AOAP comprises a weighty number of stakeholders. Cornerstone to AOAP are three trade organisations: ILSAC, API and ACC. ILSAC represents the interests of 11 automotive companies from the United States and Japan; API acts on behalf of oil producers and marketers; and, ACC represents petroleum additive companies, of which 13 actively participate in AOAP. While membership is similar to the former ILSAC oil category development process, a key difference in AOAP is the allocation of voting rights to individual companies.

Several other organisations provide input to AOAP, even though they do not hold voting rights. Test labs and Central Parts Distributors (CDP) contribute significantly towards test development and availability; the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) define viscosity specifications for engine oils; ASTM plays a vital role in individual test development, approval and monitoring through the Test Monitoring Center (TMC). Towards the end of AOAP development, the API lubricants group assesses whether GF-6 has met the requirements based on the initial needs statement and API EOLCS drives licensing and certification.

Kowalski believes “the number of organisations may be greater than optimum.” Reducing this may allow the development to move more quickly. In fact, she says “each and every step in the process needs to be justified,” admitting she would be “surprised” if we didn’t identify a significant duplication of efforts.

While the complexity of AOAP and heavy stakeholder involvement may be cumbersome, test development appears to be the greatest hurdle. GF-6 has been identified as the most expensive ILSAC category ever, acknowledged by Kowalski during an SAE Asian Steering Committee Colloquia panel discussion, largely due to the unprecedented number of tests for a new category. The Toyota representative suggests that starting test development well before a replacement test is necessary may speed up the entire process.

Contentiously, Kowalski posed the question of whether test development and category development need to be aligned. She suggested there may be cases where the two do not need to be so closely affiliated. Separating these two should be considered as an option, she said.