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Filters and lubricants for a better tomorrow

Filters and lubricants for a better tomorrow

Filters and lubricants are small components of an automobile that make a big difference. With the government tightening the noose on exhaust emissions and stressing on more fuel efficiency, they have assumed an even more important role.

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An automobile is the sum of many components; all do their part in ensuring its smooth operation. There are more than 10,000 moving parts in an automobile and these require lubrication to ensure optimum efficiency and a long life. This job is performed by various oils that are used in engines, transmissions and differentials. The moving parts like bearings for example, require grease of different ratings that are designed to work under a variety of stresses and temperatures. The lubricants market size in India is estimated at 1.04 million MT and is the third largest market by volume, just behind US and China. The volume consumption of lubricants has declined over the years owing to improvements in lubrication and engine quality but on a global scale, this industry is expected to grow with a CAGR of 2.4 per cent till 2019. India is in a position to capitalise on this with its ‘Make in India’ campaign focusing on manufacture, and the Government pushing for development in infrastructure. Sectors like automotive, power, construction and manufacturing will witness growth, in turn generating more demand for lubricants. The major players in the lubricant sectors are companies like IOC, BPCL and HPCL which account for nearly half of the entire market share. The automotive lubricants sector boasts of big names like Castrol, Shell, Elf, and IPOL etc.

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The automotive filter industry on the other hand, is also heading towards good times. Filters are used to purify the lubricants as well as air that are used in automobiles. These are intake and cabin air filters along with oil filters. The industry is classified into two segments, OEMs and aftermarket. The latter is the bigger and more lucrative segment of the two because filters are counted among consumables as they need to be replaced periodically for maintenance purposes. Thus, the demand for these parts is always high, especially with the prevalent dense pollution levels among the major metros of India. In 2012, the global market for auto filters (2-, 3- and 4-wheelers, LCVs, HCVs and off highway vehicles) was worth USD 3.35 billion and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.02 per cent between the period from 2014 to 2019; reaching USD 5.1 billion by the year 2018. The companies that are most prominent in this industry are Bosch, Cummins, Donaldson Filtration Solutions, K&N Engineering, Mahle Behr and Mann Hummel.

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The automobile industry as we know is going through a lot of changes, thanks to the increasing concerns about carbon emissions and the need of getting more mileage from every drop of fuel. Consequently, the change in design that comes with downsizing, downspeeding, turbocharging and hybridisation has impacted the development and function of lubricants in a big way. Nowadays, most of the engines are turbocharged and maximised for fuel efficiency. One look at the models launched in the previous year is enough to ascertain this fact. Mitigating frictional losses is an important ingredient to achieve efficiency and this is precisely where lubricants play a crucial role. Mineral or non-synthetic oils are gradually being replaced with semi-synthetic and synthetic oils to meet the advancements in engine technologies. Another trend that is taking shape is the introduction of engine oils with low viscosity. This is being done keeping in mind that internal combustion engines these days are not tuned for power, and hence do not have high revving characteristics. They are happy with operating at a lower rpm range and do not really need a high viscosity grade oil for proper functioning.

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So, what we see now is that instead of the conventional 10W-30 and 10W-40 grades, we have an increase in the use of 5W-20 and 0W-20 oil specifications. As mentioned earlier, the quality of engine oils has increased over the years and they now protect the engine for longer periods of time. This is not an easy feat once you consider the Indian driving conditions — hot, dusty, stop-go-stop traffic, older engines, poor fuel quality, etc. Mineral oils have a recommended change interval of 5000 km or 12 months whichever comes earlier, with the advent of synthetics this has been increased to 10,000 km or 24 months. Thus, we see that engine oils are getting more complex and durable over the years.
Shell, is one of the global leaders in lubricant manufacturing. Recently it announced lifetime warranty for its ‘Shell Helix Ultra’ range that offers guaranteed protection of the engine for a phenomenal 15 years or 1,00,000 km. Shell says that, this is achieved through a revolutionary Gas-to-Liquid (GTL) process that converts natural gas into a crystal-clear base oil with virtually none of the impurities found in crude oil. Shell Helix Ultra is claimed to provide superior wear and corrosion protection, deliver up to three per cent fuel economy offer superior resistance to oil degradation and reduce oil consumption because of better lower volatility properties.

Demand for automotive lubricants is high. According to Viren Sinha, Chairman & Managing Director, Balmer Lawrie & Co Ltd, success depends on reach, he says, “The success of the automotive retail business is dependent on the reach. We are at a nascent stage in this business and our major focus is now to build on the distribution network including distributors, retailers, mechanics and others. We are witnessing more and more MNCs entering both the car and commercial vehicles segment. OEM approvals play a major role in the lubricants selection. We have started working closely with select OEMs for getting our lubricants approved both for the OE and service fill market.”

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Coming back to automotive air filters, the most commonly used type of air filter is the flat panel type. This filter is used to clean the intake air going into the engine. Mostly, the material used in its construction is a paper filter element arranged in pleated format. These filters are efficient, affordable and easy to maintain; in order to clean them, all one has to do is remove filter from the housing and direct pressurised air to blow off the dirt, dust and other particulates that are restricting the flow of air. Cabin air filters are made from the same material as that of intake air filters but their purpose is different. They purify the air going in to the passenger cabin and also inhibit any foul odour from the outside from sneaking into the passenger cabin.

Developments are also being made in this space on account of increasing governmental engine exhaust particulate and evaporative emission regulations. Various alternatives are being researched to replace the media element in the filter, i.e., the paper material. Donaldson Filtration Solutions has come out with an Ultra-Web Nanofibre technology that is composed of a cellulose/synthetic substrate with nano-fibres applied to one side. Benefit of this is a durable filtration solution that has higher initial and lifetime efficiency as well as excellent engine protection from sub-micron particulates. Its Synteq range of engine oil filters are made from layered, micro fibreglass synthetic fibres that enhance durability, extend drain intervals and improve efficiency by lowering restriction thus affording better engine protection.

All in all, the lubrication and filtration industry are well on their way towards a period of renewed growth with countries in Asia leading the charge. These industries are also heading towards an exciting period with the emphasis on emissions, fuel efficiency and compactness taking centre stage. The future is definitely something to look forward to.

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