African Blenders Debate Quality Control
CAPE TOWN, South Africa – The African lubricant market’s lack of an adequate quality control mechanism – particularly for its engine oil segment – has led to ongoing challenges for industry players, speakers said during a panel at the ICIS African Base Oils and Lubricant Conference held here late last month.
The West African sub-region is the market most lacking in quality control due to poor regulatory framework in the region, said Hicham Bouzoubaa, senior business manager at Petromin International “West African countries don’t have institutions that are in control,” he said, noting that inspectors focus more on documentation and do not have anything to do with regulation or enforcement.
Ranjith Ramkissoon, Umongo Petroleum’s technical director, however, said that he is happy with recent efforts aimed at combating substandard lubes in Kenya and Tanzania.
Ramkissoon described the poor lubricant control in the continent as a persistent problem throughout the industry’s history. “It has been an age-old problem and as an industry we need to find a way out because the old approach does not work. Lubricant quality [was] a problem 20 years ago, it is still a problem today and will be a problem in the next 20 years,” Ramkissoon asserted.
Merely putting an American Petroleum Institute label on lubricant kegs does not solve quality control issues, Ramkissoon continued, because even people in the industry sometimes find it difficult to understand what an API label means. He emphasized that there is a need to find simple language to communicate to consumers.
Bouzoubaa echoed this sentiment, claiming consumers in Africa do not care about API labeling. Rather than focusing on API labeling, he advocates a creative approach to communicating technical terms on lubricants.
A major problem with monitoring lubricant products is the testing capability of laboratories. “Most of the laboratories in Africa are not competent to differentiate between substandard and standard lubricant products,” Ramkissoon said. “Getting laboratories up to the minimum standard is very expensive,” and finding enough qualified laboratory workers to staff the facilities is another challenge, he added.
However, Bouzoubaa told attendees that many labs can return product test results within 24 hours, an approach he described as a good way to measure what is in the container.
Distributor CJP Chemicals’ David Beard, divisional and technical manager for Afton, lubes and energy agreed, saying companies do not know what is in the oil container until it is tested. He said that companies could conduct a test for viscosity, which could be done quickly, in an effort to verify the contents.
While Ramkissoon agreed, he noted that the “problem is that heavy-duty engine oil’s soot makes chemical analysis very difficult to carry out.”
Furthermore, he suggested that the major oil corporations could work towards developing a central point where used lubricant drums are returned after usage and put a control over the drums. “That is the easiest way to control counterfeiting. Get back old drums and restore it to use again,” Ramkissoon added.
Beard emphasized that lubricant quality control issues are unlikely to be solved without government support. Ramkissoon added that a “proper legislation that can be enforced” would be the most effective tool to stem the tide of poor quality control on the continent.