Automated batch blending for lubricants: up-grading existing plants with minimal capital investment - the paradox resolved

Industrial Lubrication and Tribology

ISSN: 0036-8792

Article publication date: 1 April 2000

Keywords

Citation

(2000), "Automated batch blending for lubricants: up-grading existing plants with minimal capital investment - the paradox resolved", Industrial Lubrication and Tribology, Vol. 52 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/ilt.2000.01852bad.011

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:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited


Automated batch blending for lubricants: up-grading existing plants with minimal capital investment - the paradox resolved

Automated batch blending for lubricants: up-grading existing plants with minimal capital investment - the paradox resolved

Keywords: Blending of lubricants, Oils

It is now possible to upgrade older blending plants without, paradoxically, investing large amounts of new capital. This is achieved by replacing the existing blending kettles with one or more skid mounted, computerised, blend to order units. The cost of the units is wholly or largely funded by the reduction in finished stocks required under the new regime. All other benefits such as reduced manpower, reduced additive usage, no reblending (or slops), huge flexibility and a one hour turn-around per blend go straight to the bottom line.

Background

The computerisation of Lubricants blending has revolutionised the process over the past 15 years. The Major Oil Companies have all invested heavily in this technology throughout the world. For many small and medium sized lubricants companies the harsh economic conditions which have existed over the past few years have often inhibited the commitment of investment in the building of green field lubricant plants or the drastic revamping of existing plants. In the face of uncertain market conditions, squeezed margins and variable component prices prudence has been the watchword.

The paradox

Many blending plants in the UK and Europe still rely on "old fashioned and simple" technology and have proved over many years to be highly effective in meeting the needs of lubricants producing companies; but for how much longer?

The advantages of computerised technology in terms of the consistency of product quality, the long term survival of the company, together with the economic advantages of tight control of additive usage have never been in dispute. However the arguments of whether to invest or not have led to the paradoxical conclusions that "We cannot afford to invest in the new technology at the present time" and "We cannot afford NOT to invest in the new technology".

Something is required to break this circle and allow progress. Can a way be found to introduce the new technology in such a way as to release capital that allows the investment in the new technology with all its accompanying advantages for the bottom line and for the future?

Costs

For many years the UK lubricants industry has been squeezed for margins, resulting in the closure of a number of blending plants. New plants have been built, across Europe and also in emerging lubricant producing areas, using modern technology. These new plants keep blend costs to a minimum, and therefore put further pressures to maintain margins in the UK lubricants business. Many of these plants, however, may not have the inherent flexibility necessary for future production requirements.

Market pressures

In modern times we are witnessing a reducing use of lubricants, not only in the automotive sector but also in the industrial sector of the market.

Recent announcements and moves within the automotive world see this reduction in use exacerbated, with car manufacturers currently looking to 30,000km oil changes and truck manufacturers looking towards 140,000km oil changes.

In many of these new automotive situations the lubricant specifications are not just internationally recognised blanket specifications, to meet exacting conditions, but they also require particular OEM specifications. It is suggested that a scenario may emerge where different blends may be required by different OEMs.

This situation would require the production of many low volume blends by the lubricants manufacturers. Added to which, the blend components will be particularly expensive and therefore accurate blend control is of paramount importance. Finished product stock values will also be high, because of the diverse nature of the product requirements.

A similar situation is also emerging in the industrial lubricant market, with reduced use of lubricants coupled with ever increasing long life and low maintenance cost, becoming the norm.

The development of new lubricants is therefore being carried out, in the knowledge of lower sales of the newly developed product. Quite apart from the increased cost of more sophisticated raw materials, modern additive development costs are likely to lead to higher additive costs on a unitary basis. Therefore close process control of blending is a necessity.

Technical demands in the market place

We therefore have a situation where the blend requirements for a modern plant may be summarised as follows: accurate blend component control; high turn down on blend vessels with maintained accuracy; minimum labour content of blend process; rapid blending.

The benefits that accrue from satisfying these requirements can be summarised:

  • Accuracy of blend component control: minimal use of expensive additives - accuracy of blend compares with accuracy of laboratory analytical technique; minimal use of expensive base oils - blend produced to exact viscometric requirements with no adjustments; reduction of reblends - in practice the new blend technology will require no reblends resulting in expensive laboratory time saving and in increased blend vessel utilisation.

  • High turndown on blend vessels with maintained accuracy: design of blend vessel ensures at least a 5:1 turndown with maintained blend accuracy; increases blend vessel and plant flexibility.

  • Minimum labour content: all additives and base oils are transferred automatically under computer control into the blend vessel. Additionally the finished product is transferred to storage automatically and under computer control; blend control is within the jurisdiction of the laboratory; in a "no-reblend" situation laboratory time is reduced to a minimum.

  • Rapid blending: blends fully finished, pumped to storage and the major characteristics proven by the laboratory within the hour; facilities for many blends within a single shift; reduction in number of blend vessels; maximum utilisation of blend vessels.

Subsequent to achieving all of these requirements, the benefit of blending and filling on a "just in time" basis becomes possible. The necessity to carry stocks of finished product is reduced to a minimum.

The paradox resolved

The solution utilises to the maximum all the existing equipment and facilities except the blending vessels which are replaced with a single or an optimal number of blending units which blend rapidly and accurately.

This enables a virtual blend to order situation which reduces the working capital tied up in finished stocks to an absolute minimum. In turn this releases that capital tied up in finished stocks to purchase or substantially contribute towards the purchase of the new modern blending units.

Upgrading existing plants

Upgrading to the new Technology can be achieved by replacing existing blending vessels by a smaller number of skid mounted semi-automated batch blending units.

The units are custom designed and built for each individual application for each customer.

Blending units, factory built to exacting standards, at highly competitive prices, are delivered to site in a fully tested condition. These skid mounted units are delivered ready for connection to raw material supplies and to finished storage.

Individual modules are capable of producing from 2,000 through to 20,000 tonnes per annum based on eight hours per day, five days per week, 50 weeks per year operation.

A one tonne blending unit produces up to 2000 Tonnes per annum of finished product.

The design allows a high turndown ratio, which again helps to minimise finished product stocks for a day's orders of less than one full blend. Production is dependent on facilities already existing within plants, but modifications can be readily engineered where necessary.

The process

Each project is reviewed to optimise vessel configuration to customer requirements and facilities.

The main features are: computer controlled automated batch blending of lubricants; precise manufacture and an almost limitless diversity of products from the range of raw materials held; the process is a high "added value" operation with low operating costs; the technology is proven; and design engineering and construction on a turnkey basis by a British company.

Advantages and benefits

The main advantages over rival processes are: low capital costs and low operating costs blending is totally controlled by the Laboratory; low manpower and only semi-skilled labour required; rapid response to orders, minimal finished product stocks and therefore optimised working capital requirements; and no environmental problems due to accurate control of raw materials.

The technology offers the following benefits:

  1. 1.

    The operation is very profitable.

  2. 2.

    The operation is extremely flexible in respect of changes in grade: virtual blend to order

  3. 3.

    All the products are of saleable quality. No slops or off-grade material.

  4. 4.

    Finished stock holding is reduced to a minimum.

  5. 5.

    ISO 9002 compliance is facilitated, and also compliance with ISO 14000.

  6. 6.

    Accurate management information on costs, grades and production volumes can readily be generated in real time.

For more information contact Mike Ward Associates or Dr Keith Nicholson, Booth Industries Limited, The Rodgelands, Bank Lane, Abberley, Worcester, Worcestershire WR6 6BQ. Tel: +44 (0)1299 896654; Fax: +44 (0)1299 896955; E-mail: wm_ward@msn.com