Background Image

Tribology and Lubrication Technology June 2012 : Page 42

COVER STORY Jean Van Rensselar /Contributing Editor The Six Elements of Product Success Experts agree—these six principles are the path to long-term product acceptance and profi tability. TO KEEP UP WITH EXPRESS-PACED TECHNOLOGI-CAL ADVANCES AND INCREASING GLOBAL COMPE-TITION, product development is continuously becoming more rapid and intense. Lubrication company executives are constantly bombard-ed with technologies alleged to be The Next Big Thing. Technology professors Satish Nam-bisan and Mohanbir Sawhney refer to this market phenomenon as the “innovation ba-zaar.” They write: “Like a traditional bazaar, it can be chaotic and bewildering. The dizzying array of wares ranges from raw ideas and pat-ents to market-ready new products. And they are touted by all kinds of hawkers from idea scouts to business incubators. Just contem-plating a plunge into the hurly-burly of this space can be daunting.” 1 The many demands on successful lubrica-tion products only increases the daunting fac-tor. Some of those demands, such as ironclad reliability, applicability to multiple disparate industries and regulatory compliance, are challenges missing in other products. “Equipment designers are always stretch-ing the envelope of performance,” says STLE-member John Arnold, corporate maintenance manager with Louisiana Pacifi c Corp. in Paris, Texas. “Higher speeds, loads and temperatures From: A Buyer’s Guide to the Innovation Bazaar , Harvard Business Review, June 2007. 1 KEY CONCEPTS • To be considered successful, a product must enjoy 10-plus years of increasing sales and profi ts, a good chunk of them consecutive. • No lubricant can succeed in the marketplace without obvious applica-tions and the ability to be sustainably produced. • Collaboration with OEMs is key to success. 42 • JUNE 2 012 TRIB OL OG Y & L UBRIC A TION TE CHNOL OG Y WWW .S TLE. OR G


Jean Van Rensselar

The Six Elements of Product Success

Experts agree—these six principles are the path to long-term product acceptance and profitability.

TO KEEP UP WITH EXPRESS-PACED TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES AND INCREASING GLOBAL COMPETITION, product development is continuously becoming more rapid and intense. Lubrication company executives are constantly bombarded with technologies alleged to be The Next Big Thing.

Technology professors Satish Nambisan and Mohanbir Sawhney refer to this market phenomenon as the “innovation bazaar.” They write: “Like a traditional bazaar, it can be chaotic and bewildering. The dizzying array of wares ranges from raw ideas and patents to market-ready new products. And they are touted by all kinds of hawkers from idea scouts to business incubators. Just contemplating a plunge into the hurly-burly of this space can be daunting.”1

The many demands on successful lubrication products only increases the daunting factor. Some of those demands, such as ironclad reliability, applicability to multiple disparate industries and regulatory compliance, are challenges missing in other products.

“Equipment designers are always stretching the envelope of performance,” says STLEmember John Arnold, corporate maintenance manager with Louisiana Pacific Corp. in Paris, Texas. “Higher speeds, loads and temperatures require improved lubrication. At the same time, the equipment footprint is getting smaller, so oil sumps are shrinking.” In addition, cooling and filtration requirements are increasing due to the tighter tolerances designed into cutting-edge measurement and control systems.

While there are some differences in the elements that contribute to a successful lubricant and those that contribute to successful products in general— many others, such as usefulness, price and better performance, are the same.

In addition to the quantifiable contributors to success, there is a myriad of un-quantifiables. STLE-member Gary Rodak, president of Machining Efficiencies Inc., in Gregory, Mich., explains, “Lubricants are a confidence purchase and include an intangible such as the manufacturer’s reputation. If an end-user has had high reliability with a particular supplier’s products, then the supplier’s new offerings will be accepted. In fact, consumers are willing to pay a premium for the peace of mind based on past experiences.”

There is no mathematical, ironclad formula for successfully launching new lubrication products. But our experts did agree on Six Elements that are most likely to deliver long-term growth and profitability for your new product.

This article explores the Six Elements— with the discussion limited to finished, equipment-ready lubricating products that enter the consumer and/ or industrial markets—not to bases tocks and additives. The term successful in this context means long-term acceptance and profitability in the marketplace.

Lubricants are process-intensive products— meaning the production process places strict constraints on the properties of the product. Process-intensive products also are produced in relatively high volumes. In some cases, a new product and process are developed at the same time. In other cases, a specific existing process for making a product is selected and the product design conforms to the capabilities of the process.

Within this category of process-intensive products, there are four basic types of lubricant product development:

• New product technology. This involves a significant development effort to create a new suite of products based on a new, common technology. The new products address familiar markets and product categories.

• Morphs of existing product technologies. This involves extending an existing technology to better address existing markets with one or more new products.

• Sequential improvements to existing technology. This involves continuously adding or modifying some features of existing technologies in order to stay competitive and relevant.

• New Products. This involves a radically different product or production technology that fulfills a need in a new or unfamiliar market.

In addition to the assumption that lubricants must be safe, reliable and comply with regulations, there are Six Elements most successful lubricants share. The first two are critical to success, and the remaining four are contributors to success—meaning they are important but not necessarily critical.

Let’s start in the critical to success column.

No lubricant can succeed in the marketplace without obvious applications and the ability to be sustainably produced. Without singling out individual products, most tribologists and other lubrication professionals can think of a few new products that left them scratching their heads.

The problem with sustainable production is that the inability to sustain production isn’t always apparent when a new product enters the market. Sometimes economic conditions, political conditions, toxicology surprises and even weather conditions (in the case of crop-based components) kill a promising new formulation.

1. It has obvious applications.

Research funding and the pressure to continuously develop new products in order to outpace competition have produced a climate where lubricants are created either ahead of the market or without a market. For the most part, only products that meet a genuine market need have a chance for long-term success and even some of those fall short when radically better substitutes are quickly introduced. Given that, no one would argue that to be successful, new lubricants must meet obvious applications in either a large market or a stable niche market.

However, some products that were initially unsuccessful later found a market when conditions changed. Synthetics are a salient example.

Arnold explains. “When synthetic motor oils were first introduced, conventional oil was 50 cents a quart or less and filtration, oil consumption, leakage and engine performance did not support the extended change intervals or other first-impression benefits that synthetics could offer. With modern engine life often exceeding 200,000 miles, synthetics make more sense now.”

There are potential problems.

Some new products are the result of a new capability—ionic liquids, for example. The danger is that these capability- driven (as opposed to demand- driven) products risk introduction into a marketplace that doesn’t have a strong need for them. Because they connect a need to a market, it’s not surprising that demand-driven products are much more likely to be successful than capability-driven products.

Researchers develop capability-driven products because they can, not necessarily because they’re needed. Sometimes the vested interest is so strong that researchers, engineers and executives truly believe the market is there (confirmation bias) even when research clearly indicates it is not.

Capability-driven products with no clear, sustainable market are common in facilities that receive government funding (university and government labs). Creative research teams are incentivized to develop these new applications, often before it’s clear that there is sufficient, sustainable demand or that the product is economically feasible.3

2. It must be capable of sustainable production.

Our Next Big Thing also must be sustainably produced if it’s to meet long-term demand. Too often, the technology and market are there, but the requirements for sustained production are not—either they were never there or conditions changed. Some of the aspects that create or contribute to an unsustainable product include:

• Limited raw materials
• Limited production capacity
• High production costs
• Unstable production costs
• Inability to earn a profit.

Aside from the high cost of components, one of the primary drivers of low-margins is lack of meaningful differentiation, which leads to intense price competition. One of those meaningful differentiators is performance.

Now let’s return to the other elements and examine the four contributors to success.

These are more than simply nice-to- haves. But the reason they are designated contributors rather than critical is that, historically, some lubricants have been successful without possessing one or more of theses qualities. In order for that to happen, though, a compensating strength must exist in another area. Synthetics, for example, are more expensive than other lubricants but perform better in some applications.

3. It performs better than current alternatives.

As Arnold points out, equipment manufacturers are developing equipment that’s more efficient and delivers a higher load capacity in a more compact design. While this means better performance and productivity, it also means more stress on a smaller lubricant reservoir. This mandates high-performance lubricants that deliver extended protection. So while there are lubricants on the market that can manage these demands, end-users are always looking for lubricants that better meet or exceed these demands.

The best way to judge performance is to continuously monitor the lubricant in the real world. At Toyota they have a saying, “genchigenbutsu,” which means “go and see.” In order to understand a situation, you need to experience it first-hand. At Toyota that means go and confirm the facts for yourself and, more important, accept responsibility for the accuracy of the information you report to others.

In 2004 Toyota undertook a major redesign of its Sienna minivan. Chief engineer of the project, Yuji Yokoya, had worked on Japanese and European vehicles but not a vehicle for the North American market. So he made a commitment to drive all 50 U.S. states, all 13 Canadian provinces and territories and all of Mexico in a rented Toyota Sienna where possible. The trip resulted in the following important observations that prompted design changes:

• Canadian roads are higher in the middle than American roads—thus the importance of controlling drift.

• Severe crosswinds are more of a consideration in North America than Japan and Europe-prompting the incorporation of better crosswind stability.

• Trips in North America trend longer than those in Japan— thus the importance of two cup holders per passenger.

Americans tend to eat in the car while the Japanese do not. Yokoya added a driver-accessible flip-up tray.

Yokoya also stopped at a big box home improvement store and watched customers load items into their minivans. He realized that a 4x8 sheet of plywood fit into some minivans but not the Sienna—prompting a redesign of the cargo space.5

“We need to always remember the practical aspect of introducing new products,” Arnold says “How do we use them? Compatibility issues? Environmental issues? Are there storage, handling or disposal issues? Beside improved lubrication, are there cost savings in energy or maintenance? Can we improve equipment reliability or equipment life? Remember also that lubricant testing and analysis is often critical to equipment life, and new products must be able to be properly analyzed.”

4. It is less expensive than current alternatives.

If a lubricant performs better than existing alternatives but costs significantly more, end-users will take a hard look at the cost-benefit ratio. Among the primary considerations are the cost of the equipment and how much increased efficiency and protection the alternative provides.

End-users must see evidence of return on investment. “Evidence of a superior product for end-users includes longer repair intervals on wear parts, wider temperature applications and longer service life of components,” says Rodak. “This concrete evidence is essential to product success.”

STLE-member Aaron A. Davis, primary lab technician with Maxum Petroleum in Long Beach, Calif., believes the price of protection needs to be factored in. “Quality and availability are more important than price,” he says, “Quality to me means that it works. When a lubricant fails, it leads to downtime and costly repairs. If the protection isn’t there, then the wholesale and retail prices become obsolete.”

5. It saves energy.

With energy prices climbing, energy efficiency is an important consideration across all industries. While lubricant properties are the main drivers of a lubricant’s energy efficiency, it’s important to factor in the energy required to produce, deliver and dispose of the lubricant and the energy expended to deliver, maintain and install equipment that fails from improper lubrication.

Better fuel economy results from the correct viscosity at cold temperatures, which eliminates morning startup, metal-on-metal engine wear. On a chemical level, both lubricity and the ability to withstand oxidation are key aspects of a lubricant’s ability to create energy savings.

Additive packages such as ZDDP and friction-reducing polymers create chemical bonds with base oil. These chemical bonds defend against the loss of energy due to friction. Other lubricant aspects which affect energy savings are high-temperature shear stability, pressure, grease consistency and grease-channeling properties.

“When it comes to energy savings, viscosity can be both an inhibitor and an enabler,” says Joseph Fotue Sado, a lubricants engineer with TOTAL Cameroon S.A. in South Africa. “Too much viscosity causes churning losses (excessive internal oil friction) and heat production, especially in engines, gears, bearings and hydraulics.”

But the importance of energy efficiency to product sales is nothing new. It has always been directly tied to gross profits, and reduced energy consumption has long been an aspect of all lubricants claiming to be green and sustainable.

6. It is environmentally friendly.

In order for green to matter to endusers, there have to be advantageous green aspects (such as lower human toxicity) that are not present in competing products. But Arnold stresses that green products must perform as well or better than the competition in order to sell.

Nicholas Vandenassem, an operation, maintenance and reliability engineer and president of N Vandenassem Associates in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, says: “Green is very important in Europe and is mainly focused on longer drain intervals and high levels of recycling and sanitary handling and storage. In North America, green is less important—fuel economy, safety and handling are the main focus. Green products have their place, but nongreen lubes will also be with us for many years.”

Rodak says, “Any product that is not environmentally friendly has an uphill battle for acceptance.”


Dysfunctions often occur in the quest to achieve the Six Key Elements. Development teams often cause one or more parameters to go unmet. Common dysfunctions include:

• Consideration of only one or two alternatives proposed by the most assertive members of the team.

• Not considering the usefulness of similar concepts employed by competitors.

• Ineffective integration of attractive partial solutions.

• Failure to consider an entire category of solutions—many product development teams waste time and resources by building from the ground up when they don’t have to.

Toyota has nearly eliminated these issues by equitably divvying up responsibilities and expecting individual accountability.


While mineral-based lubricants still represent the majority of sales, the introduction of synthetics into the marketplace was and continues to be a game-changer. Not only did they contribute to workplace efficiency and longer equipment life, they made many technological advances in equipment and machinery possible. While synthetics have been mainstream lubricants for decades, they had hurdles to overcome (notably price) before achieving commercial success.

Post World War II, when the U.S. was facing a crude oil shortage, oil companies were asked to find ways to develop lubricants from non-crude oil sources such as natural gas. The goal was to find a synthetic oil that acted just like a conventional oil, as virtually all engines and machines were built around such simple conventional oil capabilities as:

• Lubricating metal parts.

• Dissolving chemical additives needed to protect metal parts from contaminants and byproducts formed during operations.

• Keeping rubber seals pliable and leak-free.

ExxonMobil looked at a number of possibilities, including polyglycols, silicones, and synthetic esters, which they quickly saw had limited applications. They knew they needed a breakthrough for synthetics to gain acceptance in the broad marketplace. At the same time, engine and equipment designs were advancing rapidly, requiring higher-performing conventional oils and driving research toward performance- enhancing additives.

In 1949 while attempting to synthesize stepout additive compounds, one of ExxonMobil’s researchers discovered that one of the compounds looked very much like a conventional oil and easily mixed with conventional oils. More important, the new formulation exceeded the properties of conventional oils in two important ways:

1. It was an excellent lubricant at very high temperatures (>300 F).

2. It flowed extremely well at low temperatures (-70 F).

With the development of the Mideast oil fields and plentiful oil supplies, interest in alternatives to crude-based lubricant alternatives waned. But before the researcher set the project aside, he filed a patent-information document describing the invention of PAO. Seven years later, a new Exxon- Mobil research manager rediscovered the potential of PAOs as high-performance synthetic lubricants.

In most regards, synthetics were vastly superior to conventional oils. These synthetic lubricants could drive equipment efficiency, reliability and productivity far beyond what was possible with conventional oils. They could overcome traditional weaknesses of conventional oils—such as poor viscosity and poor thermal stability. They also could be tailored to meet any viscosity requirement. But Exxon- Mobil knew that it had market barriers such as higher cost and product unfamiliarity to overcome.

Researchers brainstormed possible applications. They started with niche aircraft applications and then initiated a full-scale introduction of synthetic engine oil for the European passenger car market. The thinking was that it would improve the reliability of small cars frequently driven at high speeds on European highways. Mobil® SHC was introduced in 1973 and marketed to car enthusiasts and owners of expensive, high-performance cars. This was a market that appreciated the significant performance difference of a relatively inexpensive oil change.

In the early 1970s, ExxonMobil responded to the energy crisis by applying its synthetic technology to produce Mobil 1, an SAE 5W-20 synthetic oil. This was the first oil on the market formulated to improve fuel efficiency (reducing gasoline consumption by 5% over conventional oil). Later new formulations of Mobil 1 raised the bar for other key performance factors—such as high-temperature protection, cold starts and engine life. ExxonMobil has since developed and commercialized more than 175 synthetic lubricant products.

ExxonMobil’s working relationships with leading OEMs is a key factor in the continuing shift to synthetic lubricants. Through cooperative research, new equipment and new lubricants are developed simultaneously. This means the right lubricant is available when new equipment reaches the market—virtually ensuring the product’s success.

The current trend of synthetics is toward higher purity, lower volatility, longer life and generally better lubrication performance. And the price differential is narrowing.

“As Group II and Group II+ products that are heavily additized to improve performance are coming out, their cost is rapidly approaching that of synthetics,” Arnold says. “This is especially true in the case of PAOs.”


Performance improvements on the horizon include better energy efficiency, better oxidation prevention, green-friendly factors such as reduction of heavy metal additives and products that operate in a wider range of conditions. “Quality and well-promoted products with OEM backing will succeed,” Vandenassem says. “ExxonMobil’s Mobil 1 is a good example.”

While there are many more marketplace successes than failures, the failures are instructive too.

“A notable failure in cutting fluids was the 2-component products available several years ago,” Rodak says. “They failed because they required too much massaging to optimize their performance in a machining environment. However, those end-users who made the extraordinary effort to control these delicate products enjoyed outstanding machining performance.”

Both Davis and Vandenassem say that there are many products with gimmicks on the market. “Oils and additives claiming miracle benefits come and go,” Vandenassem says. “In spite of what the manufacturers of these think, the public is not naïve.”

While the definition of market success is open to debate, most agree that a product must enjoy steadily increasing sales and profit for 10-plus years, with a good percent of them consecutive. And lubrication developers need to get it right the first time.

“End-users and early adopters have little patience for correcting minor flaws or oversights in the design or manufacture of any product,” Rodak says. “Beta designs for market testing are not tolerated by today’s purchasers. They demand perfect performance with the first introduction and are not interested in contributing their time or money to de-bugging a new product.”

Jean Van Rensselar heads her own communications firm, Smart PR Communications, in Naperville, Ill. You can reach her at

Q&A with ExxonMobil’s Angela Galiano-Roth

STLE-member Dr. Angela Galiano-Roth is the Technology Program Leader for ExxonMobil’s Research & Engineering, Products Research & Technology.

TLT: Why do you think synthetics have been so commercially successful?

Galiano-Roth: We continue to see increased market awareness and demand for synthetic lubricants across a wide range of industries.

First, increasing global competition is making it more important than ever for companies to maximize their productivity and reduce downtime in every way possible. As most people know, synthetics can typically deliver better performance and equipment protection over extended time durations compared to conventional, mineral-based oils. That’s why many successful companies view preventive and predictive maintenance and using high-performance lubricants as investments to help ensure long-term success.

They recognize that conventional, mineral-based lubricants are limited in their capabilities, especially when compared to advanced- technology synthetics. As a result, many turn to synthetic lubricants to help maximize the performance and durability of their critical equipment.

Another key factor that has spurred growth for synthetic lubricants is the extensive changes in equipment design and performance that have occurred over the past 10 to 15 years. During this time, manufacturers have developed equipment that is more compact and efficient and delivers high load capacity with a smaller footprint than ever before. Although these newer units deliver better performance and increased productivity, they can be more difficult to maintain, as they typically run hotter and faster than their predecessors—putting more stress on a smaller volume of lubricant. That’s why so much of today’s industrial equipment requires high-performance oils and greases that can deliver extended protection.

TLT: What aspects of a lubricant create energy savings?

Galiano-Roth: Compared to conventional mineral oils, high-performance synthetics can actually reduce energy consumption in many applications. This stems in part from synthetics having lower traction properties and better lubricity. These characteristics help minimize friction between moving components and result in lower operating temperatures and energy-efficiency benefits. Synthetics also have a lower viscosity compared to their mineral counterparts during low-temperature startups, which results in lower windage/churning energy losses.

TLT: Why is energy savings becoming more important?4

Galiano-Roth: It is anticipated that global energy demand will be approximately 30% higher in 2040 compared to 2010. So while energy efficiency is a key issue for companies in the industrial sector today, it will continue to be increasingly more important in the future.

Obviously, from an operating and financial perspective, reducing energy usage can have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. Also, minimizing energy consumption can help companies demonstrate to their partners and customers that they are committed to sustainable business practices. ExxonMobil has a range of lubricants that not only deliver exceptional, long-lasting performance and protection but also feature statistically validated energy-efficiency benefits.

New-product specialists: Q&A with Kevin and Ross Kovanda

Brothers Kevin and Ross Kovanda, both STLE members, are president and vice president, respectively, of American Chemical Technologies, a specialty-product developer in Fowlerville, Mich.

TLT: Synthetics are a good example of a product that was initially introduced into the marketplace with very few applications but was reintroduced later with broad success. What has to change for this to happen?

Ross: OEMs and the environment. Now fluids are being asked not only to handle higher performance applications but also to last for years while doing so. We have fluids that have been in operation in excess of 10 years. This is not to say systems have not leaked, but common mineral oils in these applications would only have lasted 3,000-4,000 hours versus the 65,000-plus hours our synthetics provided.

TLT: How important are a lubricant’s green aspects?

Kevin: In the past, employees had to work with certain (toxic) lubricants. But the liability is too great today to continue these practices. Biodegradable and biobased lubricants are gaining acceptance, but there is a lot of misrepresentation and false or misleading information being marketed about these types of lubricants. I think green lubricants will be a niche product for a long time to come, but the cost/benefit differential does not justify their use everywhere.

TLT: Name some products that failed and why?

Ross: I think some of the vegetable oils were sent in the field prematurely and have caused many to take a hard look at environmentally friendly fluids in a different light. They did not have very good oxidative stability and performed poorly in the presence of water and heat. They caused many failures, which is noteworthy because they were promoted as having ‘as good or better’ performance than incumbent fluids.

TLT: What limits your ability to bring new products to market?

Ross: Most of the time it is new or outdated specifications requiring testing that can, at times, be limited to a specific product type. If your product has a different basestock chemistry, it will not match up to the specified testing parameters or results.

TLT: What is the future for synthetic lubricants?

Kevin: Synthetics will continue to gain market share. As most companies reduce costs, with a large portion coming from personnel reductions, there will be less time to monitor lubricants. The proper synthetic chemistry, in the right application, offers the customer long-term performance with little oversight.

TLT: How important is concrete evidence of product superiority to success?

Kevin: It is paramount. Your competition always will be pointing out your shortcomings and even offering misleading and false accusations. Concrete evidence diffuses that.

Read the full article at

Previous Page  Next Page

Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here