Switching to Synthetics Can Actually Help CUT Costs

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, there still remains a misconception that switching to synthetic lubricants will lead to increased operational costs in industrial applications.

Efficiency loss is a major driver of cost increases for operators. Synthetic lubricants can improve mechanical efficiency, helping to reduce energy consumption and lower operational costs.

Recently, my colleagues Kevin Harrington, David Blain and Dr. Angela Galiano-Roth conducted a test of synthetic lubricants that proves the potential cost-saving benefits of switching to synthetics.

The causes of efficiency loss in gearboxes essentially fall into two categories—those that are speed related and those that are load dependent. The load dependent losses are of particular interest to the industrial sector, because they result from internal fluid friction and metal-to-metal contact, which can be reduced through the use of a suitable lubricant.

ExxonMobil looked at the efficiency benefits of three synthetic oils and found that during gear mesh over a wide temperature range synthetic oils delivered lower traction coefficients than comparable mineral oils, reducing friction between gears and improving mechanical efficiency. Further testing indicated that, Polyalphaolefin (PAO, API Group IV) gear oil can provide the greatest efficiency savings, showing an average of 5.6 percent efficiency over an API Group III/ PIB-based gear oils.

Through testing, my colleagues determined that synthetic lubricants have the potential to significantly reduce energy consumption in gearboxes, demonstrating energy savings of up to 3.6 percent, as compared to conventional mineral based gear oils.

In addition, ExxonMobil looked into the total cost of ownership in using synthetic lubricants.

In the gearbox used to perform these tests, the cost to upgrade the gear oil from conventional to synthetic was about $6,600, but test results showed that, with the help of efficiency savings as a result of synthetic lubricants, operators can recover this expense within five to nine months of operation.

This means that by choosing the right synthetic lubricant, operators can actually recover their start-up costs rather quickly and increase return on capital investment and generate economic growth.

Rick Russo, Product Technical Advisor, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering