Interview with Gregor Patzer, Managing Director of Optimol Instruments Prueftechnik GmbH

Optimol Instruments is a manufacturer of friction and wear test systems with headquarters in Munich and representatives in Japan, China, Korea, India and the USA. In the run-up to the Lubricant Expo in Essen in September 2022, where Optimol Instruments will be an exhibitor, we spoke to Gregor Patzer, Managing Director of Optimol, about how global challenges such as CO2 reduction, the approaching end of the combustion engine and e-mobility are affecting the lubricant market and what developments Optimol are implementing to meet these challenges.

1. Your test systems are widely used for model tribometry in the lubricant sector. How do you assess the challenges facing tribological test system manufacturers and lubricant producers in the near future?

From a tribometric perspective, there is now a strong demand for test methods that can quickly verify potential lubricants, additives, thin film coatings and materials before live testing is performed at the system level. Prior to production and field testing the number of tribo-materials and lubricants under consideration must be safely reduced. The solution to this is component-level testing in tribometers with test specimens made from components with qualitative or even semi-quantitative reference to practice. Optimol Instruments is a pioneer in this field and provides a large number of fully equipped test scenarios developed on our original SRV® and proven in industrial use.

2. Will the phasing out of the internal combustion engine lead to a sharp decline in the need for lubricants in this area?

Irrespective of the question of whether e-mobility will establish itself as the main drive technology in the long-term or reach saturation at around 15% market share, new types of lubricants will be needed, which will have to be tested with regard to friction, wear and load-bearing capacity. Electrified powertrains, both battery and fuel cell, will require special lubricants to meet the new requirements. Greases will become more important here. Efficiency and also noise are related to friction properties and arcing in the tribocontact arises from electrostatic field build-up. Such conditions require a significantly changed tribometry. Electrified powertrains will create new automotive lubricant lines. All lubricants in the future will have to have very low friction with corresponding ecotoxicological properties and be sustainable. In addition, the ecotoxicological properties, the share of renewable energy and sustainability extend the test matrix or, in other words, they limit the number of acceptable solutions and thus increase the number of loops to “infinity”. As mentioned, only advanced tribometry can help here to minimize the combination matrix and keep the development on schedule. All in all, tribometry will have to evolve with new capabilities as the overall situation draws a clear framework for increasing tribological testing requirements.

3. What will be the future of existing lubricants?

The global fleet consisted of >1.4 billion vehicles in 2020. Assuming fleet growth based on the global average motorization level of 18.2% toward the European level of 58%, less the estimated fleet of 300-400 million EVs by 2040, there is still significant net growth for internal combustion engines requiring lubricants and fuels; possibly with bio-no-tox properties and from biogenic/renewable resources. In 2019, 24 million tons of automotive lubricants were consumed out of approximately 40 million tons of finished lubricants. Lubricants for “traditional” applications will remain for the next decades and even grow slightly in tonnages. It is important to remember that the most common E-configuration currently in use includes at least one reduction gearbox and differential, all of which are lubricated with a fluid of about 3 – 4 litres. Other subsystems such as steering, brakes, shock absorbers, joints, etc. will be present in all vehicles and no significant changes in lubricant application can be predicted.

4. You are presenting a new tribometer at Lubricant Expo. Which application sector are you targeting with it?

The ETS Easy Tribology Screener was developed for the tribological testing needs of SMEs in the field of coating, material development and for maintenance companies and service providers. We experience time and time again that smaller companies shy away from the personnel and financial effort that testing systems entail. Nevertheless, friction and wear data are of course essential for success, even for small companies. As the name suggests, ETS Easy Tribology Screener will lower the barrier to entry into tribology by making friction and wear results easily accessible.

5. What excites you most about the future of tribology?

Lots of things are currently changing in the industry that are changing our focus of development. The Internet of Things is a new challenge on the horizon for tribological testing which offers great new possibilities. Machines and components are opening up to the world of digitalization. They will be increasingly networked and communicate with each other. Data can be extracted from the machine, but commands from a higher-level control system can also be input into the machine. With an IoT interface, we now enable M2M communication for our Optimol tribometers.

6. What does this mean for the users of your ETS system?

Since its beginnings in the mid-1960s, Optimol has supplied its tribo-testing technology to top addresses worldwide in the lubricant, additive and automotive sectors, as well as to research institutes and universities. In the case of ETS, our IoT interface opens up a completely new field of application for tribological test systems – functional condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. Models can be created for normal machine behaviour, from which suggestions can be generated as to what to do in the event of a malfunction. The savings potential of this technology in sensor measurements is significant. The speed and accuracy of the results will contribute to an increase in product quality and speed to market.

Optimol Instruments will be exhibiting on stand 233.