Protecting Massive Gears

A longtime industry leader in producing oils and additives to protect gears in automotive transmissions, LIQUI MOLY rises to the challenge of industrial applications as well.


As a manufacturer of motor oils and additives, LIQUI MOLY specializes in the automotive sector and is the most popular brand of lubricant in Germany. Another new sector is also gaining importance: protecting the gears in industrial transmissions. For example, LIQUI MOLY has now established itself in the South African mining sector, which is a completely new field for the company. But it has been successful in transferring its know-how from cars to diamond mines.

Transferring Technology
The occasion was provided by the continuing difficulties of mine operators with their transmissions—with the gearing in their conveyor systems, for example. The transmissions on large conveyor belts may have entirely different dimensions than automobiles, but the principles and most of the problems are the same, explains Reiner Schönfelder, application engineer at LIQUI MOLY. “These include primarily wear and resistance to high temperatures,” he says. “Especially in mining, dust accumulates in the transmission, increasing friction between the gears and other components. This results in greater wear and higher temperatures. An additional factor is the high ambient temperature, frequently driving up the temperature of the oil in the transmission to its upper limit. The risk of inadequate lubrication and excessive wear is correspondingly high. In addition to the repair costs themselves, a defect in such a conveyor system leads to considerable costs for loss of production. Reliability is therefore of great importance.”

The simplest solution is presented by additives for the transmission oil, and additives for motor vehicles are LIQUI MOLY’s specialty. In its home market the company is the market leader with corresponding expertise. The mine operators were skeptical. When it comes to oils and greases, they too possess a great deal of know-how, but additives were uncharted waters for them. However, additives are nothing out of the ordinary for machines; they are an indispensable constituent of modern oils. Ultimately these additives give the basic oil the properties required, says Schönfelder. Figure 1

Here the company was able to contribute with its experience in the automotive sector. Together with the mine operators, it analyzed the concrete problems on site. This was followed by initial tests, which already delivered clear results: Following the inclusion of the additives, the temperature of the transmission oil decreased 10 to 15 degrees Celsius. Ronnie Graven, who has been operating diamond mines for decades, has now placed his full trust in LIQUI MOLY. “This is a very simple solution providing better protection for our machines,” he says. “This not only reduces the risk of malfunctions, but maintenance costs were also reduced.”

Decreased Friction
Basically there are two approaches for subsequent friction reduction in a transmission: chemical and mechanical. One example for mechanical reduction of friction is molybdenum sulfide (MoS2). This is a solid lubricant with a structure similar to graphite. It deposits on the surface of the metal and acts as a lubricating layer, preventing direct metal-to-metal contact. The reduced friction decreases the heat caused by friction, and thus the oil temperature. Moreover, wear is reduced and the service life increased. The benefits of molybdenum sulfide have been known for some time. During the Second World War the U.S. Air Force added molybdenum sulfide to the motor oil for aircraft engines. At that time the main objective was neither to increase service intervals nor to save fuel. The benefit was more direct: The molybdenum sulfide significantly improved the emergency running characteristics. When an engine lost its oil after a direct hit, the pistons seized up within minutes, necessitating an emergency landing in hostile territory. The molybdenum sulfide remained in the engine even after losing the oil, providing rudimentary lubrication for the engine. This capability kept the engine running longer, saving many pilots from being captured. Naturally, such emergency running properties are also an advantage even in non-military applications. In the event of damage, they help to minimize the consequences, and when no damage is present they reduce friction and therefore wear.

In the case of chemical friction reduction, special agents tend to harden the surface of the metal. One of these agents is molybdenum, embedded into the surface of the metal under pressure at high temperatures. The surface is smoothed and microscopically small roughness reduced. This principle was also exploited by the military. A manufacturer of tank cannons discovered that metal could be hardened with molybdenum. This effect can be applied during operation as well as in production. Figure 2

These two methods, mechanical and chemical reduction of friction, can also be combined. Cera Tec from LIQUI MOLY is such a product. Originally it was developed for use in motor oil in cars, but it is also beneficial in transmissions. Instead of molybdenum sulfide, it contains minute ceramic particles with a hexagonal boron nitride base. These not only increase performance, they also provide an additional advantage: They adhere so tenaciously to the metal, that they even withstand an oil change providing virtually the same performance in the new oil. The result is a highly effective wear protection additive with exceptional resistance to high temperature and pressure. Its use is not limited to engines, because it can also be used in compressors, pumps, and transmissions. The ceramic particles are smaller than 0.5 μm, allowing them to pass easily through the oil filter.

Chemical Tools
In the event of problems with transmissions, LIQUI MOLY recommends early use of additives. These are not miracle agents capable of repairing severe mechanical damage. They are chemical tools, with the advantages of costing little and achieving good results in many cases. In the automotive sector, LIQUI MOLY has had good experience with the following procedure: When faced with problems such as hard shifting, high temperature or excessive noise, it is not worthwhile wasting time on detailed diagnosis and troubleshooting. Start using an appropriate transmission oil additive immediately. Frequently that is all that is needed to remedy the problem. “Many transmission problems are associated with increasing friction and corresponding wear,” Schönfelder explains. “This is precisely where additives come in. And even if this doesn’t solve the problem, our additives are exceptionally compatible and can never damage a transmission.”Figure 3

The material costs for the additive are minimal, and the time required for use equally low. “That is exactly why they are so attractive,” he says. “That's what makes it worthwhile to take a shot in the dark to try and solve the problem before going through a complete diagnosis. If it doesn't work, it costs almost nothing. But if it does work you avoid long standstill times and high labor costs for troubleshooting, not to mention the expenses for replacement parts.”

As mentioned, additives are not a miracle cure and cannot remedy major mechanical damage. “We would never claim that,” Schönfelder says. “We know the capabilities and the limits of our additives very well and are very honest to our customers about this. However, the benefits of separate additives for transmission oils do not appear to have made the rounds in industrial circles. An increasing number of automotive garages are using transmission additives as a special liquid tool in their tool kit. Here it has become an important instrument for customer loyalty. Imagine a car owner with transmission problems has already gotten a cost estimate from another garage for a new transmission, and your garage can solve the problem within an extremely short time for only a few dollars. Which garage would you go to the next time you need some work done?”

Industrial Applications
In industrial circles, however, knowledge of the possibilities offered by additives is obviously lacking in many cases. Evidently parts of the branch have basic reservations about using additives. Some of these reservations may result from lack of experience with additives. And some from the fact that there are a few black sheep here, as in every branch, who make incredible promises or offer inferior products, giving additives a bad name. In-depth information and tests can help clear up existing prejudices and skepticism. When we demonstrate, as we did on site in South Africa, that this can all be accomplished without major efforts, the people are completely amazed,” Schönfelder says. Figure 4

However, the use of LIQUI MOLY is not limited only to large transmissions. The vehicles used in the mines now also benefit from the extra protection provided by LIQUI MOLY, and this pays off. “We used to have to change the motor oil in our excavators and dumpers every 250 hours, and now only every 500 hours,” according to Graven. In the meantime, more than a dozen mines in South Africa benefit from the additional protection.

The company produces exclusively in Germany to ensure the same quality worldwide. In the industrial sector it intends to offer the same product quality as well as the same service as for automobiles. LIQUI MOLY believes that long-term customer loyalty is the key to success. This is why we not only sell the right products, but also provide customers the support they need in the form of consulting services, application tips, and aid in solving concrete problems. This is why the chief of our Research and Development Department visited South Africa personally to find a solution together with the mine operators on site. When none of the present products provides the desired results, the research department attempts to develop a new product. As a matter of fact, such solutions for special problems experienced by individual customers have resulted in an entire series of products, which are featured in LIQUI MOLY's standard product line today. Figure 5

South Africa was the stage for our premiere in the mining business. Transfer of know-how from the automotive sector has proven successful. In the meantime, the company has also established itself in mining in Latin America as well.

LIQUI MOLY is a medium sized, privately managed company with over 550 employees. In addition to additives it produces a wide range of motor oils as well as transmission oils, hydraulic oils, and a series of specialties. Moreover, the line includes service products such as an entire series of automotive chemicals for workshop requirements, numbering more than 4,000 products altogether. We develop and tests our products in our own laboratories, marketing them in more than 100 countries around the world.