DirectIndustry e-Magazine - #20 – NO MORE LUBRICATION?DirectIndustry e-Magazine


Malfunctions due to deficient lubrication cause billions in damage every year. More and more manufacturers are thus trying to reduce lubrication or even eliminate the need for it altogether. In this 20th issue of DirectIndustry e-magazine, we consider whether lubricant-free industry is really on its way.

Our journalists also explore one of the latest trends in the lubricant sector: nanotechnologies. While the use of nanolubricants is only in its early stages, it is already very promising. Offering friction reduction and increased engine life, the use of nanomaterials in fluids is expected to explode in the near future.

In this issue, our reporters also take you to the Far East, with special coverage of Chinaplas, Asia’s largest plastics trade fair, that takes place in Shanghai. You will discover how China, Taiwan and Hong Kong are making their debuts in eco-friendly plastics manufacturing.

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More and more manufacturers are trying to use less or even no lubrication.


More and more manufacturers are trying to use less or even no lubrication. Is it time for a lubricant-free industrial world?   Malfunctions due to deficient lubrication cause $240 billion in damage in the U.S. every year, and the resource waste resulting from excess friction exceeds 6% of GDP. High-performance...

Nanolubricants produce an improvement in tribological performances strongly reducing the wear rate and increasing engine life.


The lubricant sector is keen to embrace new technology and apply it in product applications where it makes economic and environmental sense—and one area of particular excitement is nanotechnology.


Nanomaterials possess specific properties at the nanometer length scale, roughly 1 to 100 nm, explains Mark T. Swihart, executive director of New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics.

These could be colloids or powders of individual particles in that size range, but could also be larger materials with pores or other key property-determining features at the nanometer-length scale. Nanotechnology is the practical application of these properties and physico-chemical effects that arise from nanometer-scale features.

Today, applications range from microelectronic circuits to nanocapsule formulations of existing drugs and lubrication. Nanoparticles of zinc, titanium dioxide, graphite, silver and even diamonds can reduce wear and friction.

These materials have different properties within a lubricant, suggests Swihart. Although not all functions are yet understood, graphite (or graphene) nanoplatelets have low surface energy, which would provide lubrication by a sliding mechanism. A hard material like nanodiamonds, or a quasi-spherical material like fullerenes (buckyballs) or inorganic fullerene analogs, would more likely work by a rolling mechanism.

Materials like zinc and silver can also interact chemically with other components of the lubricant, and may prevent degradation of other components of the lubricant.

Reducing Friction and Wear

Courtesy of NanoTech

Courtesy of NanoTech

Swihart continues:

Dispersions of nanomaterials can be very stable and behave, for most practical purposes like homogenous liquids, waxes, or greases. However, at the nanoscale, hard inorganic particles can provide rolling lubrication or can modify the surfaces in contact with the lubricant in ways that small molecules and polymers cannot. They may have a local ‘polishing’ effect that reduces friction between parts.

Lorenzo Calabri is the COO at Italy-based Tec Star, which specializes in developing high-tech solutions for nanotechnology industrial applications. He says even a small concentration of nanoparticles could be sufficient to improve the tribological properties of a mechanical system.

When the load between the sliding parts is small, friction reduction is mainly ascribable to the bearing-like behavior of nanoparticles that roll between the contact surfaces, keeping their shape intact; for high-load conditions, a coating, induced by the presence of nanoparticles, is deposited on the crests of surface roughness and it can reduce direct contact between the asperities, and thus minimize wear.

Nanotechnology is an exciting field within lubrication primarily because there are no issues related to thermal and chemical degeneration over time and at increasing temperatures with inorganic nanoparticles.

Furthermore, those nanoparticles are [typically] inert, so [they are] without major issues about toxicity or other regulatory and life cycle issues. However, standard inorganic microparticles could not be used, as they are less effective than nanoparticles and are more dangerous from a mechanical point of view, behaving as a detrimental third body, which can eventually increase the abrasion of the parts in contact.

Tec Star’s anti-wear additive (AWA) nanolubricants are a family of additives for lubricants, which are made with “special onion-like nanoparticles,” the exact nature of which is proprietary. They work with greases and different type of oils (mineral, synthetic, esters, etc.) and have a range of applications in gears, gearboxes, engine, metal-working and cutting fluids.

Nanolubricants have been shown to produce an improvement in tribological performances strongly reducing the wear rate (43% reduction with respect to base mineral oil; 33% reduction with respect to commercial chemical added mineral oil; 80% reduction with respect with synthetic PAG oil) and improving the coefficient of friction behavior as well.

Other materials recently developed include a nanoformulated additive for lithium-based grease for mechanical parts in relative sliding motion, which is thought to decrease noise during sliding of mechanical parts.

Improving Engine Life and Energy Consumption



U.S.-based NanoTech Lubricants Inc infuses four to six nanometer-sized diamonds into oils through its additives, explains managing partner Michael Markovitz. Again, these act like ball bearings by transforming the sliding friction that normally occurs between metal surfaces into rolling friction, thereby substantially reducing friction, heat, wear and early oil failure.

This results in better oil life and fuel economy—if the oil runs cooler it burns off less—and a reduced engine’s wear. Nanotechnology can therefore increase engine life and reduce costs in the long-term.

However, Markovitz suggests, it is still early days for the widespread use of the technology within lubricants. Costs of the additives vary, but are offset by the fuel savings.

People don’t respond as fast as you’d expect, and I think that may be because they don’t want to take the risk—companies with 5,000 or even 500 engines are worried about trying something new, fearing it might cause damage. But seeing is believing, and this will change as more companies become aware of the benefits and, of course, the more expensive fuel becomes, the more open they will be to change.

Dr. Calibri agrees:

Global energy consumption is strongly related to energy dissipation in tribological contacts—improvements in this field are always [in demand], and nanomaterials are a very effective solution.

Some of their potentialities have already been demonstrated, but many others are still under investigation and need to be revealed. The use of nanotechnology in fluids and lubricants is only in its early stage, but is expected to explode in the close future.

Calls for greener production have seen an increasing number of Asian manufacturers investing in energy-efficient systems and innovative materials.

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At this year’s Chinaplas—Asia’s largest plastics trade fair—the focus was largely on environmental protection, efficiency and automation. Many Chinese and Asian attendees took the opportunity to showcase cutting edge plastics and plastics-related equipment and processes. DirectIndustry e-magazine talked to four...

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    Jinhui Zhaolong is a biodegradable plastics manufacturer based in the central Chinese province of Shanxi. At last April’s CHINAPLAS fair in Shanghai, the company showcased new biodegradable solutions. DirectIndustry e-magazine spoke with its president, Janice Li.


    DirectIndustry e-magazine: China’s plastics industry is currently evolving from rapid growth to growth focused on quality, efficiency and environmental concerns. “Greenovation” was even the main theme at Chinaplas this year. How is your company preparing for this?

    Janice Li: Environmental protection and product quality are being taken more and more seriously in China. This year’s event represented the perfect platform for us and our PBAT products, such as Ecoworld PBAT and Ecowill PBAT. PBAT, a copolymer made of 1,4-butanediol, adipic acid and terephthalic acid, is a biodegradable plastic which can replace traditional plastic polyethylene in films, with a high stability and consistency.

    This year, we showcased a new PBAT compound containing both PLA (polylactic acid) and starch. These new elements help to reduce production costs and significantly increase the tear strength and elongation of the final plastic product, while maintaining biodegradability and compostability. This new material is perfect for agricultural mulch film and biodegradable bags.

    DirectIndustry e-magazine: Are we seeing the rise of genuine innovation within China’s plastics industry today?

    DI20-Janice-Jinhui-ZhaolongJanice Li: We agree with Shicheng Wang, Vice President and Secretary General of the China Light Industry Association, when he says a lack of independent R&D and innovation are the biggest problems in China’s plastics industry. The conflict between China’s weak innovation situation and the huge demand and supply gap for biodegradable plastic globally have driven us to focus our efforts on R&D. We are, for example, conducting research on new materials such as PPC (polypropylene carbonate), a thermoplastic material which can be combined with starch to produce bioplastics that are stable, elastic, transparent and non-toxic.

    DirectIndustry e-magazine: How do you see China’s plastics industry developing over the next 5 to 10 years?

    Janice Li: It is obvious that “white pollution” has become one of today’s biggest environmental problems, and plastics have started to affect our health. As in many other countries, the issues of energy conservation, environmental protection and biodegradable plastics are becoming increasingly significant drivers in China’s plastics industry. So we will see increasing R&D into eco-friendly new materials, with strong support from local and central government.


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    Rockwell Automation is in the midst of a global deployment of its smart manufacturing systems. The company shared insight into the two first examples of what it calls the Connected Enterprise, in Ohio and Mexico.


    A New Architecture in Mexico

    In 2007, Rockwell Automation began building two greenfield plants in Monterrey, Mexico totaling 637,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The operations produce nearly 3,000 unique products. By 2008, solutions were selected for Monterrey that would become company­wide standards. 

    These included some of Rockwell’s own integrated control and information software and hardware:

    • FactoryTalk ProductionCentre, the company’s MES, provides work­order tracking and management, ERP order confirmation and backup assistance in case of system failure, real­time production quality management, workflow management that includes regulatory compliance and production performance management.
    • FactoryTalk VantagePoint delivers real­time metrics for process improvement through MES data collection and integration, real­time response based on key performance indicators and dashboard results display for effective benchmarking.

    Allen Heid, a project manager at Rockwell, says:

    A single ERP system connected to FactoryTalk ProductionCentre has given us unprecedented information on processes and capabilities, to optimize them and improve quality, delivery, capital expense reductions and cycle times.

    The MES system’s data collection, management and communication significantly improved quality by handling information at each step of the manufacturing process, including the surface mount equipment used for placing electronic components on printed circuit boards.

    Bob Rossoll, project manager of operations and engineering services, says:

    On a given day, there will be 300 work orders released, generating more than 55,000 transactions in the FactoryTalk ProductionCentre.

    In the past, reporting relied on each station along the line generating its own documentation, so this quantity of data wasn’t efficiently handled. Now, the MES software collects and sorts millions of data points in a more systematic way. If a particular printed circuit board assembly consistently fails a quality check, plant engineers can more quickly identify the source of the problem and use MES data to drive improvements in the process. 

    Deploying the Standards in the U.S.


    This architecture was applied to the 257,000­ square­foot manufacturing plant in Twinsburg, Ohio, which manufactures approximately 2,500 distinct automation products. This facility required upgrades, including the addition of EtherNet/IP networking and new network management tools. 

    The company reports that the new MES system, in particular, eliminates manual data gathering at each production line and provides operators with more comprehensive and accurate data on output, cycle times, manufacturing processes and expectations.

    For Bob Rossoll:

    Project improvements are no longer centered on data collection, but are now focused actions derived from readily available information, resulting in reduced project time and increased productivity.

    According to the company, 4% to 5% annual improvement in productivity were observed. Seven more plants have been upgraded since these projects were completed, and the company envisions similar upgrades to four plants during 2016.


    Camille Rustici

    Camille Rustici is a Video Journalist and the Editor-in-Chief for DirectIndustry e-magazine. She has years of experience in business issues for various media including France 24, Associated Press, Radio France…

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    Daniel Allen

    Daniel Allen is a writer and a photographer. His work has featured in numerous publications, including CNN, BBC, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, National Geographic Traveller, Discovery Channel.

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    Abigail Saltmarsh

    Abigail Saltmarsh is a freelance journalist with 25 years’ experience for industry publications (Packaging Europe) and national magazines (The New York Times, International Herald Tribune).

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