What I've Learned About the Lubricants Industry (Christmas Special!)

Episode 50 January 26, 2024 00:29:17
What I've Learned About the Lubricants Industry (Christmas Special!)
Lubrication Experts
What I've Learned About the Lubricants Industry (Christmas Special!)

Jan 26 2024 | 00:29:17


Hosted By

Rafe Britton

Show Notes

In this special Christmas episode, join me as I reflect on the past two and a half years and discuss the latest trends in the lubrication industry. We'll delve into the insular nature of working for major companies, the importance of collaboration and sharing knowledge, and the challenges of ruthless competition. We'll also explore the complexity of the industry, from certification overload to overwhelming product lines. And, on an optimistic note, we'll discuss exciting technologies on the horizon that have the potential to revolutionize the lubrication industry. Plus, we'll share insights into the journey of starting a YouTube channel and the value of connecting with experts in the field. Don't miss out on this thought-provoking and informative episode! Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year!


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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello. [00:00:02] G'day, everyone. Welcome to lubrication experts. And for the last episode of 2023, I thought I'd do something kind of special, or at least different. I don't know if it's special, but do a little bit of a discussion on things that I've learned, you know, in the industry, and do a bit of a recap of my experience over the last, you know, two, two and a half years since going out on my own. You know, obviously everything that's come along with the YouTube channel and just some reflections on where I see the industry and where I think the industry is going and all that kind of stuff. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to take this off. [00:00:33] That's better. [00:00:38] So I don't have a guest for this episode, so I'm just going to kind of ramble a little bit. But I think it'd be worth going through some of the trends that I've seen, some of the technologies that I see on the horizon, some stuff that's really exciting about the industry, and some stuff that's not so nice. So I think I started off with an overall impression of the industry. What I think is really interesting, that when you work for one of the majors, it's very insular. So during my time at mobile, I had a great time and I learned a lot. But you do tend to only do business kind of with yourself. I find that there's not the opportunities to get out there, get yourself known to interact with other people in the industry. I wasn't involved in ICML or Stle or anything like that. It's very much you're kind of focused on your own business, winning your own customers, and you don't really get a chance to interact with people from the likes of Shell or Amsoil or Klubar. That kind of doesn't really happen now. Partially that's because you guys are rivals and you're competing for the same business. But also, there's part of working in a major, which is simply that there is no time for that kind of stuff. There's a lot of internal reporting that goes on. It's the nature of a big business. Right. And so that's one of the things I've really appreciated about being able to get out there on my own, is to be able to experience it, meet new people, and really find how many people are out there trying to make a difference in the industry. And that's been really cool to see. The other thing that I can say is that overwhelmingly, 99.9% of people that I meet in this industry are incredibly nice people. [00:02:16] It's sort of a terrible phrase, really. To say someone's nice seems so kind of bland. And the word is, if you look into the history of the word, it's kind of lost all its meaning and it's been sort of starched of its value. But I really mean it. These people are just kind. They're generous with their time, they're generous with their ideas. I've found that the vast majority of people are willing to share both technical and commercial knowledge and be really open about it. And that, I think, is a really exciting prospect because it does give me hope that the industry can move forward a little bit. Now, the flip side of that is there is a small amount, and I've got to stress it is a very, very small amount of ruthless competition out there. Now, we are all competing in some senses, right, for people's attention, for people's dollars, for customers and all that kind of thing. But just to give you an idea from an anecdotal experience, someone I know within the industry put out a call on LinkedIn to say, I'm looking for training. [00:03:26] Do you know anyone who offers training? And someone else who I know in the industry replied, and actually Rafe, the guy from the YouTube videos lubrication, explained, he does some training. Here's a link to his website. Maybe it's worth checking out. [00:03:48] I know, and I'm not going to mention any names here because that's not necessary. But I know that that second person who made the recommendation was later contacted on LinkedIn by other training providers and told in no uncertain terms that it was, quote, irresponsible for them to be recommending uncertified and untrusted training. [00:04:16] And that was kind of like the darker element of the industry that I'd seen, where it feels that in some instances, people are competing over the same scraps. [00:04:27] And I would say, if there is a message that I could give to the industry, it's almost like that that's unnecessary. [00:04:34] And I don't mean that just because it was directed at me. But let's say, for example, filtration companies. [00:04:43] I see filtration companies that are going after each other's business and trying to do each other kind of like out of jobs. And to that, I would say, is everyone in industry currently doing filtration? [00:04:59] Right? And the honest answer is no. There are plenty of businesses out there who are either not filtering their oil or filtering their oil poorly, or not understanding where some filtration methods should be appropriately used, whether that's to remove water, to remove particulates, to remove wear debris, to remove varnish, they're using the wrong tools for the job. So until everyone is using the correct tools for the job, we should be going out there and finding greener pastures. Right. There's wide open fields where people are not doing business without industry at all. Let's educate those people first and go after that business before we kind of go after each other. Now, with lubricant brands, that's kind of a different story, right, because everyone's using lubricants and we're all competing over the same patch. So that, I think there are some differences. But when it comes to things like training, when it comes to services, when it comes to filtration, when it comes to condition monitoring, I think realistically we should be trying to educate the industry and get more people using our services and using our technology, as opposed to trying to compete over with competitors. [00:06:09] Now, having said that, the ruthless and competitive streak in the industry, I think happens. [00:06:19] My experience of it at least, has been very limited. And on the whole, I would say my experience so far has been that people have been very warm, very welcoming, and very willing to share their information, which is fantastic to see. Right. Because we need that education piece. We need everyone to sort of upskill. [00:06:37] One thing I would say, though, and this is just an observation, as someone who has kind of been, I guess, in the industry for a little bit now, I think we have maybe made our industry way too complex. [00:06:56] And I mean that in all senses of the word. When you look at training, for example, there's a million different providers out there. There's so many different certifications, and you need to broaden that discussion out just beyond lubrication. Right. But between lubrication and reliability and maintenance, there's so many different certifications out there. And asset management, I think we've overcomplicated that. And I think the danger there is that we make it seem like just a money printing exercise, that we're coming up with all these certifications purely so that people can pay for training and pay to sit the exams. That's obviously not the point of it. Right. We're trying to upskill people, but I think that there is maybe some room for improvement there. But also, it's obviously not just all about training, but also complexity in the products that we sell. [00:07:51] I was thinking a little bit. I've been putting together this tool to help compare different types of lubricants. And as a result, I've been looking through the complete industrial product lines for a handful of businesses. So the majors as well as some minor players as well. And not to begin on anyone in particular, but if you take someone like the fooks product line, there are hundreds and hundreds of different products within their product line, covering every different type of compressor, oil, gear oils, whether it's food safe, whether it's biodegradable, whether it's ester based, whether it's polyakylene glycols, mineral oils. [00:08:31] Just looking at the pdses, it is easy to be overwhelmed. And I feel a great deal of sympathy for anyone who is having to interact with that product line. So think about. [00:08:46] And by the way, I should say I'm not picking out fooks particularly, I was just using them as an example. You could substitute basically any brand in there, right? Whether it's shell, whether it's mobile, whether it's Kluba, whether it's Castrol, anyone, right? Substitute anyone in there and the product line is massive. And think about what that means for the end user. [00:09:05] You know, the end user is looking at a product line which might be 300 industrial lubricants deep and a similar number for greasers. [00:09:16] Someone from Kluber was saying that they have 2500 products in the industrial product line. And yeah, let's say, for example, you're a mining customer. Not all of that's going to be relevant to you, but the likelihood that you are going to select the optimum lubricant for your application among a forest of different options, the likelihood that's going to occur is almost zero. And I worry that all of this development work that is occurring at the likes of all the people that attend stle, right, the development chemists, the formulation gurus, the technologists, the testers, all of this high tech stuff that's going on is being lost at the ground level because people are not able to make the correct selection because they are drowned by choice and complexity. And I think that that's something our industry probably needs to grapple with a little bit because we have made things overly complex. Now take a step back, right, who sells lubricants these days? [00:10:17] In my experience, it's very rare that, for example, the majors are selling you your lubricant. If you're an end user, most likely you are purchasing your mobile or your castro or your shell through a distributor or potentially a reseller. [00:10:37] Now think of most of the distributors these days are multi branded, so have some sympathy for the poor sales rep who's out on the road. And one of his customers says, I have a particular gearbox. Which oil should I use? [00:10:56] This sales rep needs to go deep into. Let's say, for example, maybe you sell total and shell, right, as a multi branded distributor, to be able to make a selection within two now product lines. The chances that you're going to get that selection right again are increasingly small, especially with the workforce that we have now layer on some more complexity. Imagine that you're now being sold to by a reseller. That reseller is not just selling a couple of different brands of lubricants, they're also selling filtration equipment, they're selling bearings, they're selling seals. [00:11:37] Now you start to see how it's nigh on impossible for these people to make a correct selection. And that complexity, I think, is worrying. And that's one of the major things. I've got some ideas on how to solve it. [00:11:53] I'm not entirely sure whether they're sort of cogent. I'm still kind of playing around with these ideas in my head. But if you have any ideas, please put them in the comments section below. [00:12:06] Not only that, but we also have complexity in the development stage. Something I'm finding, as I start to do a little bit of development work with some businesses, or some clients of mine at least, is that we have so many test criteria, and in some instances, there is broad agreement across the industry that some of these test criteria are unnecessary or even ill advised. A great example of this would be the four ball wear and weld test. [00:12:36] Almost everyone I talk to universally says this test is really designed for development purposes, right? It gives you an indication of the EP performance of, let's say, for example, a gear oil. [00:12:50] However, it's such an extreme scenario that you never see it in the real world. And that makes sense, right? For anyone who's unfamiliar with the four ball test, think of three balls arranged in a triangle, right? And then you drop a fourth ball in the center of those. So now you're forming kind of like a pyramid, triangular pyramid, and you press a load down it and spin that top ball. And eventually, because of the boundary lubrication condition, it's going to weld together. Now, the reason why it's such an extreme scenario is because all of the loads are point loads, right? So how does a sphere touch another sphere? Theoretically, it's at an infinitesimally small point. And so it is the most extreme kind of contact scenario that you can come up with. And the reality is, when do you see that in the real world in machinery. And the answer is you don't. You generally see, let's say, for example, in gears, it's a rolling and a sliding action. So it's usually a line kind of load. Sometimes the load is an ellipse. We know that there's a certain amount of deformation that occurs. Probably the closest that we get is in rolling element bearings. That's probably the close if you have a ball bearing, but even then, it's a ball contacting a race. So it's not a perfect point load in the same way that two spheres are. So we're using this test that we know is good for development purposes. But now all the oems are using this test criteria and saying, your four ball test must pass some number, some arbitrary number, and it's kind of been taken up as a default in the industry. And I don't know that it should. And it seems like there's pretty broad consensus across people that I talk to in the industry at least, that that test should not be done. [00:14:46] Sorry, should not at least be reflected on the pds for comparison purposes. You shouldn't be selecting a lubricant based on the four ball test, and that it's probably not a good thing to have in OEM specs. [00:14:59] Now, that is just one example in a microcosm of many, right, of which we have a whole bunch of different tests which add complexity to the development process, and I think really hinders the development. And what is the result of that? What's the negative result of that? I think you're seeing a lot of consolidation. [00:15:19] I have this project that I'm working on, which I'm hoping to talk about next year. But it has been borne out of the fact that formulation these days, when you're working for an oil company, is extremely boring. Right. It's terrible to say this, but most formulation that occurs in oil companies now is a matter of calling lubrizole, Afton, infinium, king Industries, someone like that, and saying, I need a gear oil. I need it to have micropitting performance, and I want to be able to mix it. I want to make it as synthetic. Do you have an additive pack for that? And they say, yes, they tell you to buy this additive package, and they say, mix it with this base oil and it will give you such and such specs. So all of the development has been handed over to the additive companies, and they are the ones who are pushing things forward and they are doing the testing. Unfortunately, what that's done is it's kind of commoditized lubricants because none of the, well, I shouldn't say none, but the majors and the smaller companies down the chain, they don't have an opportunity to do development work because we've raised the bar too high. [00:16:33] The testing requirements are such that it costs way too much money to basically do a standalone formulation of your own. You really need to piggyback off all the approvals that have already been achieved by the additive companies. And I think that restricts the amount of innovation that we're seeing in our industry. And that's a little bit of a concern, right, when we need innovation. When you look at formulations now, they're not significantly different from like 30 years ago. So where are we kind of pushing the boundaries? And it gets harder and harder to do, at least in my opinion, when you have that consolidation, there's even things like, let's say, for example, we're setting arbitrary limits. If you look at the API NSC aspects, for example, we set minimum criteria for phosphorus levels. [00:17:26] Now this was probably done with good reason, but if you think about it, why do we set a maximum phosphorus spec and why has that maximum been decreasing over time? Well, that makes a lot of sense, right? We're concerned about things like catalyst fouling, we're concerned about plug dpfs. That's why sulfated ash levels have been going down. But does it make sense to put a minimum phosphorus specification on it? In my opinion, no. Right. The minimum phosphorus spec is really there so that people don't kind of cheat. Right? So we know, for example, that phosphorus is the main antiware chemistry. [00:18:00] It's present in phosphate esters and in ZDdps, where obviously the p stands for phosphate. [00:18:07] And we've set this minimum criteria. And I think it's basically a safety mechanism to be able to say, well, there aren't really any alternative antiware chemistries out there. Everyone's using phosphorus. So the way that you can tell that someone's not cheating is by having a minimum phosphorus spec in it. Therefore it's likely to provide anti wear protection to your engine. And I kind of get that argument from a consumer's protection standpoint. However, what it does do is it excludes any kind of new anti wear chemistry, right. We, by definition cannot innovate in that space because if we come up with an alternative chemistry, you're not going to be able to get an API license. And so that, to me, that sort of layering on of self regulation and complexity and consolidation at the additive company level, to me, that is a bit of a concern for our industry going forward, when what we need is groundbreaking innovations. [00:19:03] And one of the reasons I want groundbreaking innovations is because we know how important our industry is. We know how important it is to kind of like a sustainable future. I know that we can kind of take our rightful place in that conversation, but unless we're doing exciting things on the technology side, we're not going to be part of it. We're going to get sort of shut out. So that's just some reflections from me. [00:19:31] Take it or leave it with a grain of salt. However, here's where I'm optimistic about the future. [00:19:37] I think that there is the convergence of a number of really exciting technologies that are going to change how lubrication is viewed. [00:19:51] I'm in a very fortunate position where I've been doing this YouTube channel for long enough that, rightly or wrongly, people come to me with ideas, right. It's not necessarily that they're pitching startups or anything like that, but maybe they have a new technology and they want my advice on how would you approach getting into the industry, or how would you approach marketing this, or what kind of market segment do you think that we should go for here? And so I'm lucky in that I get to see a range of different new technologies. And to be honest, with all due respect, 95% of the technologies that come across my desk are kind of vaporware, right? It's either variations on things I've seen before, or really cool technologies that cost way too much money. And so if you could gold plate everything, or if palladium all of a sudden became a new additive, yeah, that's great, but no one's going to pay for it. But I think I've seen enough in that 5%, which are good ideas, that I think we're on the cusp of some really cool breakthroughs. There's some specific breakthroughs which I'll talk about next year, but some of them are around new chemistries that are available, new base oils that are available, new polymers that are available, new filtration equipment that is available, and new condition monitoring equipment that is available to me. As these technologies are starting to coalesce together, I think realistically we're going to be in a position where we are going to be able to effectively make industrial lubricants last forever. [00:21:34] And that's a really exciting time. [00:21:37] I actually think that that requires a complete rethink on how we formulate lubricants. Because if you believe that you can restore a lubricant to full health by using filtration. [00:21:49] To me, then there are certain additives that you really shouldn't be using. [00:21:53] And again, I'll talk about some of these ideas in sort of the future, but I think that confluence, or, sorry, the convergence of all these technologies over the next, let's say five years, five, six, seven years, because obviously it takes a little while to commercialize them. But I think that that offers a lot of promise. [00:22:15] And what I was talking about earlier with us taking kind of our place in that sustainable transition and becoming a key component of that, the convergence of these technologies, makes me really excited. Finally, let's talk about the YouTube thing. This has been a really interesting journey. When I started YouTube a little while back, it wasn't for any particular reason. [00:22:40] Right. [00:22:42] I had aspirations to kind of teach people about lubricants, and with COVID everyone was pivoting to online learning. [00:22:52] One of the things that I discovered with online learning is, number one, most online learning is not very good, which sounds awful to say, but it's really not. And that's because it's not a skill that's been built up over many, many years. Classroom training, which I want to be clear, I still believe is the gold standard in training. Right. If I could, I would train everyone in person because I think that face to face interaction is something that you can't fully replace. [00:23:23] But online training is something that people haven't been doing for very long, so we're not very good at it. The other challenge with online training is it's very hard to get better because you don't get that immediate feedback that you get from in person training, right. So when I'm doing in person training and I can see everyone's getting bored and they're starting to fall asleep, I know I've got to change something up, I've got to change my tone, I've got to vary something, I've got to take a break, something like that. Right. But with online training, you don't get any of that feedback, and that makes it very difficult to improve. So I actually started YouTube as a way to improve my online teaching skills because the one thing that YouTube does very well is it gives you second by second analytics over people's attention. So every one of these videos, I get a retention graph and it tells me when people's attention falls off and the process of developing like, a style of talking, the speed at which I go, the type of animations that I use, the speed of those animations, when I use them all of that has been honed by my time on YouTube. And so that's been a real blessing, right? It's been given me really good insight into what works and what doesn't. And hopefully that's reflected in the online training that I provide. [00:24:47] But more than that, YouTube has been just a really cool way for me to meet people. [00:24:56] It has opened up so many doors for me to be able to call people up within the industry and ask questions. Because even though my business is called lubrication expert, that is not supposed to refer to me. That is supposed to be the journey to becoming a lubrication expert. And part of that is finding people who have expertise in specific fields and getting their input so that they can teach me and I can share that information with a wider audience. And that's especially why the podcast came about, right? Is to be able to find people who have very niche and specific expertise. Because no one is truly a lubrication expert. It's impossible to be an expert in all fields of lubrication. And so to seek out these people who have expertise in these pockets has been one of the great, great joys of my life. [00:25:51] I have loved every minute of it, which is a little strange because most of my friends would probably describe me as an introvert. [00:26:06] It takes a lot of energy for me to kind of meet people. [00:26:12] One of the great joys of me working on my own is that I don't have to talk to people on a regular basis. And when I do, it requires a lot of my energy. But I still enjoy it, because, like I said, to come full circle to what I was talking about at the start, everyone that I have met has been so generous with their time, with their attention, and with their knowledge. [00:26:40] I've had a few people reach out because they wanted to start a podcast or a YouTube channel. And I don't know, I get the sense that they're just being polite, but they've asked me if it's. [00:27:00] Yeah, absolutely. Like, this is not some kind of zero sum game where if someone else has a YouTube channel that diminishes mine in any way, I want to encourage us. [00:27:13] If anyone out there wants to try this, I would highly encourage it. And if you need any pointers or tips about how to go about it and how I got started, please reach out, because if there were more of us, I think it would be a good thing. Different teaching styles, different styles of interviewing, of doing podcasts, of getting out there, I think that would be super valuable, right? So if that's something that you're interested in, please reach out. [00:27:43] Finally, just the direction of this channel and this podcast. Next year I'm going to try and do some more kind of real world stuff, get out there and show people a little bit of a behind the scenes of the industry, how things work. And so if you have any ideas for that kind of video, please let me know. I'd like to be able to do a few more demonstrations and things so you will see that the videos will slightly change a little bit. I'll still try to do the explainer videos and I'll still continue with the podcast. The other thing is with the podcast, if anyone is interested, I am considering taking on some sponsors for that. So I feel up until this point I've never really wanted to do it because this wasn't a commercial enterprise, but I have had a couple of people reach out and say that they are interested in sponsorship of the podcast and it is something that I'm considering. So if that's something that you would like to be involved with just to support this channel, then please let me know. But otherwise, I really, really hope that everyone has an awesome Christmas and New Year period. I know that not everyone celebrates Christmas, so for those of you who are not celebrating a religious holiday, then I hope you have a really good new Year period. [00:28:58] Obviously there's going to be a lot of people in our industry that are very busy with plant shutdowns and the like. So if that's you, good luck and stay safe. And again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for everyone who has watched and supported, and I'll see you in 2020.

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