Developments, products and advice from PSV oil specialist
Profound changes have taken place in the UK oil industry in the past five years, according to Optimum Oils MD, Cliff Thrussell. A veteran of the lubricants industry, he said that, ‘all of the major oil suppliers once had numerous engineers on the road throughout the nation, but now their numbers have been dramatically decreased. What does this mean for fleet operators? One of the effects is less expert knowledge and support available for them.’ Optimum Oils is an exception to this. It remains determined to provide the bus and coach industry with technical expertise when it comes to selecting the right lubricants. Chris Peat met Cliff recently to discuss the oil industry and Optimum.
This lack of lubrication engineers available means that if an operator has a problem with their oil, one of their few options is to turn to a distributor. Websites may provide some minor help, but often they do not go into enough detail. These distributors, claims Cliff, might have reasonable expertise to sort the problem out, but perhaps not to the extent his company does. Cliff himself has over 30 years of experience in the oil industry, having travelled the world with it, yet even he admits he has ‘not seen a company like Optimum’. He said, ‘We are all lubrication professionals. Everyone involved in the company has been in the industry for a long time.’
It is this level of expertise that sets the business apart, he believes. ‘If we don’t know the answer to any enquiry, then we can and will find out for you,’ he said. One area it has particular knowledge in is the bus and coach industry, being a specialist supplier to this market. The company provides direct services, talking to customers about different products, grades and other aspects of oil specification. It aims to keep its customers in touch with new products and OEM specifications as they become available, at the same time they keep customers aware as new bus technologies are introduced and other industry trends.
Something that gives them this knowledge of the market and the products is the fact it has such close relationships with oil companies. The business believes in long term relationships and tries to develop partnerships with its major suppliers beyond the relationships that typically exist. Cliff said, ‘We are always talking to the OEMs and agencies, we know them very well.’ One oil company that it is close to is Q8Oils, whose products it supplies extensively in the PSV sector. Optimum is Q8Oil’s strategic lubricants partner. Among the operators it has supplied with Q8Oils products is London United Busways, part of the RATP Group, who have been using the products for several years.
Optimum provides a managed service to London United, so it has access to the operator’s data and has regular communication with them. The company monitors the operator’s stocks online so they know usage and levels in the storage tanks. The three grades of Q8Oils lubricants currently supplied to London United are Q8 T 905, Q8 Auto 15 ED and Q8 Synthetic Gear Oil 80W-140. Q8 T 905 low SAPs synthetic engine oil has extended the company’s oil drain periods. It has also provided a year-on-year saving of approximately £26,000, which equates to £130,000 over the five years of the contract, including the reduction in waste oil, filters and labour.
Prior to his recent retirement, Les Birchley, Engineering Director of London United Busways, said, ‘Oil is a long term investment and part of a £20m budget spent maintaining buses; and Q8Oils produce high performance products that we can trust. They also routinely maintain our stock. We don’t have to think about it.’
More than just oil
As well as supplying oil, Optimum has also seen the amount of anti-freeze (or coolant) it supplies go up. It provides its own range of antifreeze products as well as other brands to suit all requirements. All meet or exceed automotive OEM specifications. Its products are based on Mono-Ethylene Glycol with different corrosion inhibitor technologies and are available either as a concentrate or in the ready mixed condition at 50/50 ratio to water. This mix rate should prevent ice crystal formation down to minus 37degreesC. Cliff said this area can become ‘extremely technical’ and a ‘bit of a minefield’, but he is confident his company has the expertise to help customers through it.
Another product Optimum hopes to supply more of is the Chevron Techron HD fuel additive. This product is designed to target internal diesel injector deposits (IDID), which clog up the diesel injector causing an internal stickiness that impedes the movement of injector needles and plungers. This is a relatively new problem, emerging with the use of low-sulphur fuel and the inclusion of a higher percentage of fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) biodiesel in EN 590 diesel. Trials of the additive have been carried out on fleets and at Millbrook, resulting in better fuel consumption than each study’s control group.
Chevron Techron HD and its anti-freeze products are supplied to all sizes of companies, as are its oils. ‘All operators are customers,’ said Cliff. Optimum supplies two of the major bus and coach groups in the UK already, but it also provides to ‘a lot of regional operations’. The bus and coach market is one of its main customers, with Cliff reckoning the company enjoys a large share of the market. Optimum has long been strong in the bus market and is now increasing its focus on winning a greater share of the coach market.
‘We really enjoy working in the bus and coach market. Those in the industry are fantastic automotive engineers to work with and they challenge you. They know what they are talking about. The best challenges we get are from the bus and coach market,’ said Cliff.
He says there is some thinking in the industry that a good lubricant comes down to cost, but he says it is not simply down to the price. One of the main factors is how well it performs through the life of the vehicle. Cliff said, ‘We are making people more aware of this. Look at it like this, if you bought a new Ferrari, would you put substandard lubricant in it? Of course not. The same thing stands if you buy a new Volvo coach. It might have worked for Euro3, but the world has moved on with Euro6.’
Another idea he is trying to get across is that if you can reduce fuel by 1%, then you have already covered the cost of the oil.
Fulfilling individual needs
Cliff went on to describe the philosophy and values of Optimum. He said the company aims to fully understand the requirements of individual customers, with ‘each operator having different needs and different expertise. It is a case of one size does not fit all.’
If an operator calls in and they have a mixed fleet, then Cliff said the first thing the company would do is to send an engineer to the depot to have a chat, work out what is best and make a recommendation. The business has a ‘forensic’ approach to providing a solution.
‘I’m an enthusiast about this industry,’ said Cliff. ‘Oil is one of the most emotive subjects in fleets. When we say to operators they should change the oil they are using, some engineers soon become “scared”. But sometimes people just don’t see the efficiencies it would make; people get so used to the way things are that they don’t see how good it can be.’
He offered the following advice to any operator reviewing their oil sourcing and supply, ‘I would take the time to understand your requirements. You can rationalise the costing of it, but be careful. Make sure you get some professional advice from suppliers. Ensure you have a dialogue with your supplier too. And if you have any doubts, go back to your supplier with them. Stay on top of regulations in terms of safety too.’
Another good idea he suggests is to carry out some oil analysis. ‘Some companies swear by it,’ he said. This is something Optimum provides, running what it calls a ‘Night Exercise’ that involves its technicians starting work in the depot at usually five in the evening to collect oil samples of at least 95% of the fleet. They work around depot staff, drivers and cleaners to avoid disruption. A summary analysis can be carried out on site, where issues are discovered. Complex analysis is carried out off site with results available in three working days. The analysis includes checking the oil’s viscosity, whether there is any water or fuel dilution and its overall quality. From this, it can be worked out whether there is any cause for concern. By the end of the next day, Optimum can provide the summary results of the analysis, giving a ‘snap shot’ of the state of the operation’s oil. This is all part of the company’s Five Star Service Offer, something readily taken up by the bus and coach market.
That bus and coach is Optimum’s biggest and most important sector, and has been since the business was first formed in late 1997, is not a coincidence. It was at this time that Chevron started to dispose of its assets to Shell. Four people from Gulf Oil (Great Britain), which was the leader in the PCV market at the time, formed a strategy around bus and coach. They used their relationship with Gulf to move into the PSV sector.
The link with Q8Oils came early on in the company’s history. Optimum has worked with this company to create specialist products that have gone on to be approved by OEM’s, such as Auto 15ED, Synthetic Gear Oil 85/140 and latterly Q8Oils City Bus Engine Oil, a 15/50 high performance synthetic heavy duty engine oil with low sulphated ash, phosphorus and sulphur content (low SAPS) designed for lubrication of Euro5 and Euro6 diesel engines. It is intended for power units with DPFs or SCRs operating on low sulphur diesel fuel and under severe heavy duty conditions. It has been specially developed for hybrid city buses requiring Low SAPS Synthetic 15/50 engine oil, designed to limit bearing and valve train wear of diesel engines in stop/start applications.
Another development has been the recent move into new offices to cope with its growing team. When asked what is in store for Optimum’s future, Cliff said, ‘Our plans are to continue to offer the same level of service we do now and grow. People buy from us based on the expertise and value we provide, so we are not going to grow in a way that will dilute our level of service.’
This growth is already happening, with a number of apprentices currently being taken on. Cliff wants to give these youngsters a taste of all aspects of Optimum’s work before having them specialise in a single area. Such is the ambition and success of the company that Cliff reports a second upgrade to a larger office may well be on the cards.