When the new API CK-4 and FA-4 oils hit the market later this year, they will have undergone some of the most rigorous, varied and exhaustive testing in the industry. It is important to be able to tell customers with complete confidence exactly how products will perform for them in whatever environment they may be. That’s why a wide diversity of testing, in different engine types and under different operating conditions, is absolutely critical to bring new API CK-4 and FA-4 oils to market.
Going Beyond the Lab
Testing programs should be very deliberate and highly diversified. At the early stages of product development, focus is on passing specification tests. These are very prescribed tests under controlled conditions, designed to evaluate oils quantitatively in an accelerated fashion. Because of that, the testing provides valuable information but may not necessarily reflect what the oils will actually encounter in the field.
Industry-standard testing also tends to emphasize on-highway performance, but you don’t want to overlook off-highway needs. That’s why it’s important to run tests in collaboration with customers that expose oils to a broader variety of operating conditions, duty cycles, temperatures and other environmental factors that are important to understand.
The Chevron Process for Field Testing
In field testing, Chevron takes multiple products across various viscosity grades and tests them in different engines spanning a range of manufacturers, including engine types that aren’t used in the standard specification tests. Within the on-highway category, we look at different types of operations – tractor-trailers, garbage trucks, pickups and others. We also test in farm equipment and different types of off-highway operations. Field testing takes time — including several years through different seasonal and temperature changes. The key is to understand how oils will perform regardless of the engine type or operation, precisely in the way they’ll be used when they are commercialized.
After a certain time, engine tear-downs are conducted to look at components and confirm wear protection and deposit control. In a heavy duty engine, it’s not really instructive to do that kind of inspection before 500,000 miles. If you figure a truck averages 100,000 to 200,000 miles a year, it could be three to five years before a tear-down test will yield meaningful analysis.
Testing at Every Stage of the Process
Another important aspect of our Chevron field testing program is getting oil analysis data early through used oil analysis. We’ll periodically take oil samples from field trial engines and test them chemically, which tells us a lot about oil performance and breakdown tendencies.
The full development cycle for a motor oil, from the initial discussion to launch, is about five years. Two to three of those years are spent simply developing the specifications and tests and establishing the standards. Then a company can actually start developing the product, which takes about two years with fine-tuning right up until the launch.
Given that long development cycle, Chevron is already thinking about what’s next – where are engines headed, what manufacturers are going to be looking for, and how regulations are going to evolve. In the next year, we’ll start prototyping and field testing products that may not be marketed for another five years!