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The development of lubricants comprehensively embodies the economy, mechanical equipment, technological level, environmental protection requirements, concept orientation and other inseparable economic forms. The primary development of the lubricants in the 1950s relied on the raw material of ordinary mineral base oil produced by original oil processes (commonly known as three-old system). The production process of the base oil produced by such processes was mainly physical process without changing the hydrocarbon structure and the quality of the base oil produced depended on the content and nature of the ideal components in the raw material. Therefore, such base oil was subject to certain restrictions in terms of performance and could not meet the lubrication requirements under harsh conditions, thereby affecting the quality and functions of the lubricants. With continuous improvement of the oil refining technology in the 1970s, the hydroisomerization technology came out, vigorously promoting the development of the base oil. The hydroisomerization technology could effectively remove undesirable constituents in the base oil and partially change the structural formation of the base oil, so that the stability of the molecular structure of the base oil was greatly improved and the quality and functions of the lubricants were greatly improved correspondingly. With the breakthrough of the synthetic technology in the 1980s, the quality and functions of the base oil were subject to fundamental changes essentially and the lubricants leaped into a new era. Regarding the raw material of the synthetic base oil, the ethylene, propylene and other fine ingredients emitted from the gas in the crude oil or the natural gas formed stabler macromolecular groups through complex chemical reactions such as collection, polymerization and catalysis. The synthetic base oil achieved expected stable molecular form through special artificial process by means of good components in the crude oil in essence combined with chemical reactions, so as to greatly improve the comprehensive performance and service life of lubricants. The traditional three-old system was eliminated in the mid-19th century, the base oil adopting hydroisomerization has been popularized and the synthetic lubricants are being promoted and popularized in developed countries. However, the three-old system is still used for 75% crude oil refining, the adoption rate of hydroisomerization technology is less than 25% and the synthetic oil is almost not available in China.
The overall world development trend of the lubricants is as follows: the hydrogenated and synthetic base oils are dominated; the multilevel will gradually replace single level; the new efficient and multifunctional composite additives will replace single additives; the general lubricants will replace special lubricants; the new environmentally friendly products will replace traditional products; in terms of indexes, low viscosity, high extreme pressure, high temperature resistance, antioxidation and large applicable temperature interval will be the future development trend of lubricants and the energy conservation, environmental protection and economical efficiency will be inevitable for development.
Lubrication and machinery should be twins developing synchronously rather than two unrelated industries.
Reviewing the current conditions of lubrication industry of China in terms of technologies for manufacturing base oils or China's gaps in lubrication technologies with that of developed counties, requirements for the standards of lube and modern equipment are obviously lagged behind. Therefore, it is inevitable for the lubricant industry to improve the lubrication technology and advocate energy conservation and environmental protection at present and for some quite time in the future. The lubricant industry will be in the face of new challenges in terms of production technology and supply pattern.
According to the statistical data published by China Petroleum Society in 2011, the total demand for lubricants in China was up to 6.8 million tons, accounting for more than 17% of the total world consumption of more than 40 million tons and more than 60% of the total Asian consumption of more than 11.3 million tons. China has surpassed Russia and become the consumer power of lubricants second only to America with the consumption of 8 million tons. So far, the market share of the lubricants in the Asian-Pacific region has accounted for more than 1/3 in the world. The demand for lubricants in China will grow at the speed of no lower than 5% in the future 10 years and the growth rate is the highest in the world (0.5% in North America, -1% in Western Europe, 1.7% in Latin America, 1.2% in Japan and 2.8% in Russia). The apparent consumption of lubricants in China was 6.8 million tons in 2011. According to the statistics of the customs section, the annual import volume of lubricants in China was 1 million tons in 2011, in which, 95% were high-grade products (the annual import volume was less than 400,000 tons in 2004, with the annual average growth rate of more than 12.7%). The difference between the apparent and statistical consumption, i.e. 5.8 million tons, was the actual domestic production and consumption amount in 2011, with the growth rate up to 5.7%. The production pattern shows that the phenomena such as many domestic low-grade lubricant manufacturers, excess production capacity and insufficient production capacity of high-grade lubricants were still serious.
Authoritative reports show that the foreign lubricant brands account for more than 60% in the Chinese high-end market and the profits account for more than 80% in the high-end market; though the domestic brands account for more than 85%, the profits only account for 22%. The lubricant manufacturing enterprises in China may be approximately classified into the following three categories in terms of the pattern:
(1) Two groups of PetroChina and Sinopec with resource superiority, the total resource supply of which accounts for more than 58%.
(2) Mobil, Shell and other foreign-funded enterprises with brand and technological advantages, the market share of which accounts for 20% and the growth of which is strong in the high-end market.
(3) Private enterprises represented by "Uni-President and Laike", the market share of which accounts for about 22% by virtue of flexible operational mechanism and awakened brand awareness, so as to form a situation of tripartite confrontation in the Chinese lubricant industry.
Attention leads to progress and change leads to innovation.
III. Problems in Chinese lubricant market and their influence on development
The production of the base oils for lubricant production in China ranks the third in the world, but China hardly takes a place in the world in terms of the production capacity of core additives for deployment of lubricants. It means that China only has some low-grade single additives, depends on joint ventures or imports regarding medium-grade additives and hardly produces high-grade additives. The truth is that China is lack of Chinese "core" in terms of lubricants.
(I) Insufficient application of advanced lubrication technologies results in severe waste.
The late start in research on Chinese lubricants and the establishment of the subject of machinery and lubrication result in lack of lubrication professionals or integrated application talents of lubrication technologies. The work is carried out mostly depending on experience, conventions and formats and the attention is paid to equipment purchase, maintenance and technological transformation, but the reasonable application and scientific improvement of lubrication technologies, leading to potential and huge waste of resources.
(II) Lag in standards prompts lag in equipment lubrication management and loss of improvement capabilities of lubrication technologies. The existing Chinese standards were cited from the American standards and formulated and published before 1995. Though they have been revised in a small part in recent years, they extremely unmatch the fast development of machinery. The lag in Chinese lubricant standards has seriously restricted the industry development. In the developed countries, the lubricant standards are timely launched according to the equipment changes and performance requirements to ensure safe and effective operation of the mechanical equipment.
(III) With constant upgrading and reconstruction of equipment, the high-power heavy trucks are increasingly common, the lubrication tasks are increasingly heavy, the reasonable lubrication gap is increasingly large, leading to serious potential and direct losses.
85% of the main force of the enterprises in China is restructured from old enterprises or transformed from traditional industries, so the malignant situation of lack of professional technologies, lag in standards and inferior lubrication quality is even worse. The lubrication technologies shall be applied and promoted on the basis of meeting equipment needs under harsh conditions, and the equipment shall not be used mechanically according to the lubricant standards. The lubrication standards shall meet the equipment operating conditions rather than that the equipment operating conditions shall meet the lubrication standards. In particular, in case of deterioration of the equipment operating conditions after equipment upgrading and transformation, the lubricant employment standards and the material quality must be improved accordingly; otherwise, the lubrication medium will not guarantee safe operation of the equipment and the equipment has been subject to serious losses inside even though it is not found in a short time.
For above reasons, Chinese enterprises consider stylized passive maintenance as a magic instrument in the equipment operation and are based on the outdated standards that cannot effectively protect equipment operation, so that the application of lubrication technologies exits in name only or is unavailable, resulting in rise in potential costs, decrease in direct profits and serious equipment competition and seriously restricting economic sustainable development.
IV. Functions of lubrication technologies in economic development
With economic sustainable development in China, increasing equipment quality and continuous upgrading of performance, the lubrication technology level directly determines the working quality and efficiency of the mechanical equipment and is related to a device and an enterprise locally and even the overall economic benefits of a country.
Xue Qunji, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering said that "The production and transportation related to mechanical equipment are closely related to tribology. China is in urgent need for breakthrough in tribological research and application in terms of manufacturing industry and high and new technologies, which is the key for China to transform from large manufacturing country to manufacturing power".
Zhang Siwei, chairman of Tribology Institute of Chinese Mechanical Engineering Society and former president of China University of Petroleum pointed out that "Lubrication is closely related to sustainable development and advanced lubrication technologies are particularly important for energy conservation and emission reduction. If the friction between the mechanical equipment parts can be reduced, the wear may be greatly reduced to achieve energy conservation".
The research report Triboscience and Engineering Application Status and Development Strategies of the consultation and research project of the Chinese Academy of Engineering pointed out that "10.5% of the thermal energy of the fuels only distributed in vehicle energy is consumed in frictional loss of various auto parts (The holding quantity of the cars in China was more than 100 million in 2011). 30-50% of the world energy is consumed in frictional loss and the material wear caused by poor lubrication accounts for more than 60%. The loss caused by friction and wear accounts for 2%-7% of GDP (gross domestic product) in the European and American developed countries and 5%-10% of GDP in developing countries (China). The costs are equivalent to GDP under current economic development conditions plus RMB 5 trillion (the total GDP was nearly RMB 50 trillion in China in 2011)."
According to American studies, wear is a major failure mode occurred to machine parts, it respectively accounts for 47.2% of the total failure of a complete machine, 65.3% of the failure of speed-change mechanism and 72.9% of the drive equipment failure and thus, causes the maintenance cost taking up 25% of the equipment operation cost.
It is therefore not difficult to see that, with the continuous economy development, increase of the quantity of mechanical equipment, upgrade of the international economic competition situation, less production differentiation and profit and more intensive request for environmental protection, it is very important and even necessary to promote and popularize the lubrication technologies, optimize the lubrication technical proposal and improve the usage of novel lubricating materials in the course of economic development, which is also the most efficient path of tapping potential, saving energy and uplifting the operating efficiency.
Lubrication technologies are an important link that cannot be ignored in energy conservation and emission reduction but are also easiest to forget.
V. It is inevitable to implement "lubrication economy" in Chinese economic development
"Lubrication economy" is to effective prevent and reduce friction and wear of mechanical equipment, reduce energy consumption and improve the energy efficiency by means of advanced lubrication technologies and materials so as to maximize the economic benefits.
The research report Triboscience and Engineering Application Status and Development Strategies of the Chinese Academy of Engineering pointed out that the friction and wear resulted in the loss of about RMB 950 billion in the industrial areas of China in 2006. The vehicles and the industrial equipment are significantly increased currently, so the waste is even more amazing. According to the statistics of international petroleum import & export, China imported 9.88 million tons of petroleum from abroad for the first time in 1998 and imported more than 2 trillion tons in 2011, with the annual growth rate of no less than two digits. The degree of the Chinese dependence on foreign countries for oil was increased from less than 6.7% in 1993 to 57.2% in 2011 and is expected to exceed 70% in 2020, second only to the Britain, European Union and Japan. Practice has proven that it is a waste to use low-end lubricants due to failure to effectively protect equipment operation and it is economical to employ advanced lubrication technologies and high-grade lubricants. Unreasonable use of lubricants will result in great waste, directly affect the rise in the degree of the Chinese dependence on foreign countries for oil and relate to the safety of national petroleum strategies.
We advocate preliminary maintenance mechanism, i.e. the use of advanced lubrication technologies, high-quality lubrication materials and reasonable maintenance plans to prevent and reduce the failures in equipment operation rather than forced shutdown and maintenance for the equipment failure due to negligence of lubrication or poor lubrication. Such "normal phenomenon" is passive maintenance. It is the key to implement lubrication economy to replace the traditional passive maintenance with preliminary maintenance.
Benefits of lubrication economy:
(I) Thrift: a. Save energy and reduce wearing parts and daily maintenance personnel.
            b. Reduce the investment in host equipment and other fixed assets and reduce the occupation of funds for spare parts inventory.
            c. Reduce the equipment management difficulty and management costs.
            d. Improve the output power and reduce the expenses on pollutant emission.
(II) Efficiency improvement: a. Improve the equipment power output and reduce failure and emergency shutdown loss.
            b. Reduce the maintenance downtime and improve the operating efficiency.
            c. Extend the equipment life and reduce other costs incurred from equipment life.
(III) Safety: a. Reduce the mechanical failure and improve safety guarantee.
            b. Reduce the equipment operating temperature and improve the work environment.
To sum up, with China's economic development, it is imperative to implement lubrication economy, the lubrication economy is important due to the world economy competition and is urgent and inevitable for the needs of the national energy strategies and environmental safety.