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Episode 40: The future of industrial lubricants

Episode 40: Navigating the future of industrial lubricants

In Episode 40 of F+L Webcast, Uday Kumar, the industrial managing director of PETRONAS Lubricants International, shared his extensive journey and insights into the evolving world of industrial lubricants. The conversation with F&L Asia Editor-in-Chief Vicky Villena-Denton unfolded like a narrative of passion, expertise, and vision, shedding light on the intricate role of lubrication in industrial machinery and its future trajectory.

Kumar’s story began in Bangalore, India, where he pursued a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Mechanical Engineering His interest in tribology, the study of friction, wear, and lubrication, was ignited by a meeting with Professor S.K. Biswas, a renowned expert in the field. “Talking to Professor Biswas, I was amazed by how lubrication plays an important role between friction and wear,” Uday reminisced. This fascination led him to join Castrol India as a sales engineer, where his deep understanding of tribology set him apart.

Kumar’s career trajectory saw him taking on various roles across India, South Asia, and China, ultimately managing BP’s industrial lubricant business in Shanghai. His expertise was further recognised when he became the Global Key Account Director, managing relationships with key clients like Tata Group. In 2020, he joined PETRONAS Lubricants International, bringing more than three decades of experience to the table.

The importance of tribology

Tribology, often a lesser-known field, became Kumar’s specialty. He explained how tribology’s principles are crucial in maintaining industrial machinery. “Most industrial machinery is always under maintenance and breakdown, often due to inadequate lubrication,” he noted. Engineers, with their technical background, are best suited to diagnose these issues and recommend solutions that improve machinery performance and longevity.

The conversation then shifted to the differences between industrial and automotive lubricants. Kumar highlighted how industrial lubricants are closely tied to OEM specifications to ensure machinery runs smoothly, especially during the warranty period. This precision contrasts with the broader industry standards often seen in the automotive sector.

Embracing Industry 4.0

One of the significant advancements in the industry is the adoption of Industry 4.0. Kumar discussed how modern factories, especially in China and India, are embracing smart manufacturing. “Modern machinery operates at higher speeds and with greater precision, demanding continuous lubrication monitoring,” he said. This technological shift is transforming how maintenance is conducted, with real-time monitoring and predictive analysis becoming standard practices.

Discussing current trends, Kumar emphasised the growing focus on sustainability. Companies are increasingly looking for lubricants that are renewable, biodegradable, and have a lower carbon footprint. “Energy transition is a big topic now, with a shift towards wind and solar energy,” he remarked, highlighting how lubricants also play a crucial role in these renewable energy sectors.

Automation, Kumar explained, is reducing the quantity of lubricants required, though the demand for high-quality, specialised lubricants is rising. This trend is seen in robotic manufacturing, which uses advanced synthetic greases, compared to older, more lubricant-intensive machinery.

The future of industrial lubricants

Looking ahead, Uday sees a future where the focus will be on integrating services with products. “The future is about helping our customers reduce downtime and maintenance costs by incorporating the service element with the product,” he predicted. This shift from product-centric to service-centric solutions will be pivotal in meeting the evolving needs of the industry.

Uday’s insights painted a vivid picture of an industry in transition, driven by technological advancements and a commitment to sustainability. His journey from an engineering student fascinated by tribology to a leader in the lubricant industry serves as an inspiration for those looking to make a meaningful impact in this field.

In closing, Kumar reflected on the enduring importance of lubricants. “From a pin to an aircraft, lubrication plays an essential role. This industry offers a vast scope, and it’s here to stay for a long time,” he concluded, leaving the audience with a sense of optimism about the future of industrial lubricants.