Tagged: strategic reliability solutions

Why are there so few Registered Female Engineers in Trinidad & Tobago?

sanya in front of factory copy

Sanya Mathura, explores the question of why there are so few Registered Female Engineers in Trinidad & Tobago with the Board of Engineering Trinidad & Tobago

 

Engineer Sanya Mathura, BSc. MSc. MLE, FLCAT I, MAPETT, R.Eng.

 

For more info on the BOETT check out their website: www.boett.org

As International Women in Engineering Day approaches, we reflect on the number of female registered engineers in Trinidad & Tobago, what may hamper their decision to move forward with this registration and ways to get more women involved in this industry.

With the recent announcement of the expected 11-year lifespan of the oil & gas sector in Trinidad and Tobago, there is a looming question of what the economy will look like in the next two decades. Trinidad and Tobago is not a newcomer to this sector and in fact has over 100 years’ experience in this space. However, with the reserves dwindling and the job security of thousands of people at risk, it is important to plan for the future where all of our citizens can contribute to, and enjoy the benefits of, a thriving economy.

Engineering plays a critical role in the economic development of any country. It underpins the public infrastructure that we utilize daily: roads, water, the Internet and more. It is also the means by which medical and other instrumentation is designed, built and maintained. Engineering can be viewed as one of the foundational pillars of a society. Without a doubt, the integrity of the engineering profession and engineers themselves is therefore critical to our safety and well-being.

Registration with a certifying body, in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, the Board of Engineering, BOETT, validates claims made by engineers regarding their credentials, and that they have satisfied a rigorous assessment of professional commitment as well as competency in accordance with recognized professional standards. Engineers registered with the Board of Engineering of Trinidad & Tobago are accountable to conform to a legislated Code of Ethics in their interactions with the public, employers, and clients; are obliged to protect the public health, safety and welfare; and are called to demonstrate competency, objectivity and confidentiality in all of their professional work.

According to the BOETT, as of 2024, there are 1026 registered engineers, 16% of whom are female. This low percentage is not an anomaly, as there are countless studies which have demonstrated the critical need for gender balance in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In this article, we will examine the potential sources of the marked gender imbalance among registered engineers in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as strategies that can be employed to encourage greater levels of registration.

Figure 1: Snapshot of the percentage of overall Registered Female Engineers by discipline as per the BOETT (2024)
Figure 1: Snapshot of the percentage of overall Registered Female Engineers by discipline as per the BOETT (2024)

A closer look at the BOETT registration gender split by engineering discipline shows how that 16% or 166 female registered engineers have been distributed.

While the highest number of female registered engineers reside in the Civil Engineering discipline (83), this only accounts for 19% females in that field. On the other hand, Chemical engineering shows a higher percentage of female registered engineers at 37% but this translates to 26 female engineers as shown in Figure 1.

Engineering has been a traditionally male populated industry globally and this trend is also seen in our twin island country. Since the BOETT registration requires 4 years of engineering experience and evidence of further learning equivalent to a Master’s degree, it is critical to examine the trends in propagation from the Bachelor’s to Master’s Degrees.

According to The University of the West Indies[1], the Engineering Faculty has seen a steady instream of undergraduate enrolments over the last five years averaging around 1100 students.

However, not all these students go on to the postgraduate level. In fact, the enrolment values of postgraduates are almost half of the undergraduate students. This trend is evident for the year 2023 where only 31% of the number of undergraduate students who leave the University pursue and attain a postgraduate degree in Engineering as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Propagation rate of Undergraduate to Postgraduate Engineering students at The University of the West Indies
Figure 2: Propagation rate of Undergraduate to Postgraduate Engineering students at The University of the West Indies

Upon a deeper dive into the data for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, we notice that the number of female undergraduate students generally remains above a 15% threshold for the past 5 years. This is particularly interesting as the percentage of female students continually increases and almost doubles (except for the year in which COVID commenced) as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Overview of the percentage of female vs male undergraduate students in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, The University of the West Indies over a five year period (2018-2023)
Figure 3: Overview of the percentage of female vs male undergraduate students in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, The University of the West Indies over a five year period (2018-2023)

Interestingly enough, when we look at the data for the enrolment of students into Postgraduate Engineering programs it is encouraging to see that there is a higher percentage of women enrolling into these postgraduate programs compared to the undergraduate level as shown in Figure 4 below. Unfortunately, the percentage declines as the postgraduate program continues resulting in a lower overall number of students (both male and female).

Figure 4: Enrolment of Female vs Male Postgraduate Engineering students for the period 2018-2023 in The University of the West Indies
Figure 4: Enrolment of Female vs Male Postgraduate Engineering students for the period 2018-2023 in The University of the West Indies

There are similar trends in UK and US based Universities. As per the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES)[2] there has been an increase in female students pursuing Engineering degrees in the last 10 years at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels in the United States of America as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Comparison of female students at undergraduate and postgraduate engineering degrees from 2011 to 2020 in the United States
Figure 5: Comparison of female students at undergraduate and postgraduate engineering degrees from 2011 to 2020 in the United States
Figure 6: Comparison of female students at Undergraduate vs Postgraduate Engineering degrees in the United Kingdom for 2020-2023
Figure 6: Comparison of female students at Undergraduate vs Postgraduate Engineering degrees in the United Kingdom for 2020-2023

In the United Kingdom according to the Higher Education Student Statistics[3] the percentage of female undergraduate engineering students remained around the same for the last three years (2020-2023), averaging around 17% while the postgraduate female engineering students increased to roughly 27% as shown in Figure 6.

When looking at the actual numbers for the UK, it is quite surprising that the number of undergraduates remains fairly constant with a typical drop off around 300-500 female engineering students to postgraduate studies. However, there is a larger drop with the male students pursuing their postgraduate engineering degrees as per Figure 7 below.

Figure 7: Number of female vs male students in the UK for undergraduate and postgraduate engineering degrees
Figure 7: Number of female vs male students in the UK for undergraduate and postgraduate engineering degrees

What are some of the challenges faced by women in engineering?

While the numbers for registered female engineers may seem a bit dismal, we need to examine why there’s such a drop off between obtaining an undergraduate degree and becoming a registered engineer. Typically, one qualifies to become a registered engineer only after they have gained an evidential level of engineering competency through work experience in the field. Is this the area where we are losing our female engineers?

 

Globally, it has been observed that after 5 years within the industry, female engineers usually either leave the discipline entirely or transfer to another non-technical role. There are a number of reasons why this occurs. Based on interviews with many female engineers some of the reasons cited include; lack of basic needs (such as clean bathroom facilities, lactating rooms for new mothers), the presence of microaggressions, lack of safety (especially regarding ill-fitting PPE) and even the basic concept of remaining unheard or unrecognized for their contributions.

Figure 8: Some main challenges faced by women in male populated environments
Figure 8: Some main challenges faced by women in male populated environments

Figure 8 shows an overview of some of the main challenges for women in male populated workplaces. This includes:

Societal expectations and beliefs about women’s leadership abilities – in these scenarios, women’s voices are almost left unheard, and their contributions are ignored. When trying to lead a team, it may be difficult for them to gain respect of the other team members if the team members do not fully believe in their leadership strategies.

Pervasive stereotypes, such as that of the “caring mother” or office housekeeper – often, women are assigned these duties in addition to their own job responsibilities which detracts from their time to perform the work assigned to them. Due to these “stereotypes”, they are also not taken seriously in their roles as leaders or when they try to add value to the team as their team members only perceive that they can add value in the stereotypical roles.

Higher stress and anxiety compared to women working in other fields – women constantly feel the need to always be at their best in these industries. They spend more time working on projects to ensure that they are familiar with every detail as they will be questioned on it and may even have to do the “prove it again” concept where they are asked to prove their findings multiple times before they are believed. In non-male populated environments, women can freely assume leadership roles without the stress or anxiety of whether their work will be questioned.

Lack of mentoring and career development opportunities – women are often passed over for promotions without the help of sponsors in their organizations. Mentors can also help in creating introductions for women in these fields and aid in their networking to help them in their career development. Mentors play a critical role for women in these fields as they can establish bonds and stronger networks to be considered for other opportunities (within and outside of the organization).

Sexual harassment – unfortunately, this occurs in the workplace too often especially for women and depending on the circumstances of its occurrence, it can leave the victims fearful of coming to work, which negatively impacts on their performance in the workplace. Additionally, there is also the fear of reporting a senior manager or supervisor for their inappropriate behaviour. The women in these situations may be victimized and even have trouble in reporting the incident as the report would not be taken seriously.

While the list above is not exhaustive, these are just scratching the surface of some of the issues women face in such a male populated discipline.

Coping mechanisms

Quite often this leads to women finding coping mechanisms to deal with some of the challenges listed above. As shown in Figure 9, these include:

Distancing themselves from colleagues, especially other women – if you realize that this is occurring with one of your female or male colleagues, then check in on them. Find out what you can do to support. Very often, they just need to be supported or not to feel alone in the situation they are facing. Your support could mean the difference between them leaving the industry entirely.

Accepting masculine cultural norms and acting like “one of the boys,” which exacerbates the problem by contributing to the normalization of this culture – becoming part of the “boys’ club” is not the answer when trying to fit in. Eventually, women lose their authenticity and the unique perspective that they can bring to different situations. It is very important for women in these fields to remain true to themselves and bring their personality to work, that’s what will help us to evolve. This change in the “norm” will help to bring a diverse sense of thinking to create more solutions.

Leaving the industry - Women sexually harassed at work are 6.5 times as likely to change jobs[4] often to one with lower pay. We are losing our workforce because we’re not standing up for our women who have had this experience. These women feel that they need to leave the industry to be in a safe environment where they are not harassed. We should not have such an unwelcoming environment for women or men.

Figure 8: Some main challenges faced by women in male populated environments
Figure 8: Some main challenges faced by women in male populated environments

The aforementioned list is just a few of the coping mechanisms that women have used over time to handle challenges within this industry. If you see one of these mechanisms being used, then take some time to chat with the person.

These coping mechanisms are not just strategies that women use; they can also be used by men. As our brother’s / sister’s keeper, we should look out for each other and continue to support each other.

Finding solutions

Women are entering these male populated fields and changing them for the better. We cannot continue to do things the same way and expect different results. Evolution can only occur if there are significant changes.

Traditionally, jobs were associated with particular genders as these required certain characteristics. For instance, some jobs required physical strength which assumed a male candidate. However, with the advent of technology and tools which can be used by both men and women, many of these jobs now have level playing fields because of these. But society has not caught up with these changes.

As such, women are still faced with challenges in these male populated environments. It is our duty to all work together to create safer environments for women, recognize when there is an issue and come together to solve the issue as a team. This is the only way we can all move forward in these industries.

Currently, we are on the brink of having a major skills gap shortage that the future generation will be responsible for filling. How are we preparing them for these roles? We need to be the change that the future generation sees. If they can “see” more registered female engineers, we can have more female engineers in the future.

Board certification is the only legislated professional credential for engineers practicing in Trinidad and Tobago. For that reason, this credential is most valuable in that it represents, among other things, a commitment to a legislated code of ethics which serves to protect the public interest, elevate the level of professionalism in engineering practice and brings more value and benefits to engineering stakeholders, including the public, clients, employers, and practicing engineers themselves.[5] 

The accreditation and verification of experience, knowledge and skills which accompanies registration with the BOETT has the potential to reduce some of the barriers faced by women in these fields.

Generally, with more female engineers, we can expect more inclusive workplaces and an increase in the diversity of thought to create better solutions. Registration strengthens the credibility of practicing engineers especially female engineers.

It is important to the profession and to enable the growth of a community where registration is encouraged, and its value emphasized. Various strategies are required to purposefully empower more women to allow them to drive change in our workplaces and by extension, our lives.

We need to change the conversation towards having a more inclusive workplace for both men and women in engineering. This is the only way we can truly move forward with developing our country and ensuring that our greatest resource (our people) can be a part of that. Let’s get more women and men to become registered engineers in our country.

End notes

[1] (The University of the West Indies | St Augustine Campus, 2023)

[2] (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), 2023)

[3] (Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2023)

[4] (Blackstone, McLaughin, & Uggen, 2017)

[5] (Lezama, 2024)

 

References

Blackstone, A., McLaughin, H., & Uggen, C. (2017). The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women. Sage Journals. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243217704631

Higher Education Statistics Agency. (2023). Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2021/2022 - Subjects Studied SB265. Cheltenham, GL50 1HZ: HSEA.

Lezama, V. (2024, June 04). Are you a Board-Registered Engineer? Your career success may depend on it. Trinidad & Tobago.

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). (2023). Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities 2023, Special Report NSF 23-315. Alexandria, VA: National Science Foundation. Retrieved from https://ncses.nsf.gov/wmpd

The University of the West Indies | St Augustine Campus. (2023). Student Statistical Digest 2018/2019 to 2022/2023. St Augustine: Prepared by the Campus Office of Planning and Institutional Research.

 

About the author

Sanya Mathura is the Founder of Strategic Reliability Solutions Ltd based in Trinidad & Tobago and operates in the capacity of Managing Director and Senior Consultant. She works with global affiliates in the areas of Reliability and Asset Management to bring these specialty niches to her clients. She holds her BSc in Electrical and Computer Engineering, MSc in Engineering Asset Management and is an ICML certified MLE (Machinery Lubrication Engineer) – the first person in the Caribbean. Sanya was also the first female in the world to achieve the ICML Varnish badges (VIM & VPR) and again the first female globally to attain the Mobius FL CAT I certification (as per their public records). She is also the first engineer to be registered with the Board of Engineering of Trinidad and Tobago in the specialist category of Machinery Lubrication Engineer.

She sits on the Editorial board for Precision Lubrication Magazine and is a digital editor for Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE)’s TLT Magazine for 2024 and columnist for Equipment Today Magazine. She also sits on the board for the Lubricant Expo North America.

She is the author and co-author of six books; Lubrication Degradation Mechanisms, A Complete Guide, Lubrication Degradation – Getting into the Root Causes, Machinery Lubrication Technician (MLT) I & II Certification Exam Guide and “Preventing Turbomachinery ‘Cholesterol’ – The Story of Varnish.” She has also been assigned the Series Editor of the book series, “Empowering women in STEM” with the first book being launched in Dec 2022, Empowering Women in STEM – Personal Stories and Career Journeys from Around the World and the second in March 2024 called, Empowering Women in STEM – Working Together to Inspire the Future. When not writing or managing the business, you can find her supporting projects to advocate for women in STEM.

An Engineer, Entrepreneur, Author and Activist: – Expertise in reliability and lubrication engineering and advocacy for women in STEM

sanya in front of factory copy

A Chat with Engineer Sanya Mathura, one of the New Faces of Engineering in Trinidad and Tobago with the Board of Engineering Trinidad & Tobago

 

Engineer Sanya Mathura, BSc. MSc. MLE, FLCAT I, MAPETT, R.Eng.

 

For more info on the BOETT check out their website: www.boett.org

Sanya is a young Engineer, entrepreneur and author with a distinguished record of achievement and with many first associated with her accomplishments. She is the first engineer to be registered with the Board of Engineering of Trinidad and Tobago in the specialist category of Machinery Lubrication Engineer and before that, the first female in the Caribbean to become an ICML certified Machinery Lubrication Engineer (MLE) and sits on the board for this exam. Sanya was also the first female in the world to achieve the ICML Varnish badges (VIM & VPR), and again, she was the first female in the world to achieve the Mobius Institute FL CAT I (Field Lubrication Analyst) certification. Sanya is the Managing Director of Strategic Reliability Solutions Ltd, a consulting firm which she founded and which specializes in helping clients improve their asset reliability and maintenance practices across a wide range of industries, including oil and gas, manufacturing and transportation, locally and across the globe.

 

Sanya holds a Bachelor's degree in Electrical & Computer Engineering as well as a Masters in Engineering Asset Management and has over 15 years’ experience in industry. She has been recognized for her exceptional work in the field of reliability and lubrication engineering and her expertise in developing and implementing asset management strategies, risk assessments, and root cause analysis has earned her a reputation as a subject matter expert. Apart from being the author and co-author of six technical books in her area of specialty, when not writing or managing her business, she is an activist supporting projects for women in STEM and has been assigned the Series Editor of the book series by CRC Press, Taylor & Francis, “Empowering women in STEM”.

 

Sanya is an active member of several professional organizations, including the International Council for Machinery Lubrication and writes technical papers for several organizations. She is also a sought-after speaker and has presented at various conferences and seminars on the topics of reliability engineering and lubrication. She is part of the editorial board for Precision Lubrication Magazine and writes a lot of technical articles on various platforms. She is also part of the Advisory board for the Lubricant Expo North America & The Bearing Show North America. Sanya is also a digital editor for the STLE (Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers) TLT magazine and writes a column for the Equipment Today magazine.

 

Sanya's passion for excellence, coupled with her expertise in the field of engineering and reliability, has made her a respected and highly sought-after professional in the industry. Her dedication to providing exceptional service to clients and her commitment to staying up-to-date with the latest industry trends has earned her the respect of her peers and the admiration of her clients.

Q1. Can you provide an overview of your academic and professional background, including relevant training related to machinery lubrication engineering?

I am a proud graduate of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus where I completed my BSc in Electrical & Computer Engineering and afterwards, my MSc in Engineering Asset Management. After getting my Bachelors, I worked in the industry for 2 years before joining Shell Lubricants as their Technical Advisor for Trinidad & Tobago. This is when I fell in love with reliability as I realized that lubrication is the lifeblood of machines and essentially affects every part of the operation.

It was during my time with Shell that I decided to pursue my MSc and wrote my thesis on lubricant degradation. While writing my thesis, I realized that I wasn’t producing the quality of work that I should be and decided to quit my job (with no back up plan!).

During that time, I reached out to several global experts to assist with some research that I was doing for my thesis, and they all knew someone who knew something. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be great, if there was a hub in Trinidad & Tobago where people could go to for Reliability Solutions from trusted experts…but it had to be Strategic. That’s how Strategic Reliability Solutions was formed, and the vision has never strayed.

We continue to provide quality information, consulting, and training services globally with trusted affiliates in the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK to our clients within the Caribbean and across the globe.

Q2. As a newly Registered Engineer in the specialist category of Machinery Lubrication Engineering, what motivated you to pursue a career in this field, and what specific skills or experiences do you bring to this role?

While I’m newly registered with the BOETT, I’ve been in machinery lubrication for the past decade. I’ve received training in Houston, the Caribbean and got to work with globally recognized product application specialists in this field for several years. After writing my first book, “Lubrication Degradation Mechanisms – A Complete Guide” published by CRC Press, Taylor and Francis, I decided to earn my MLE (Machinery Lubrication Engineer) certification from ICML (International Council for Machinery Lubrication).

This is one of the highest levels of certifications that they offer and while it is advised to build your way up to this badge by earning the other badges (MLT, MLA, LLA) because of my extensive work with supporting customers in lubrication related issues globally, I was sufficiently prepared to pursue this certification and got it.

Afterwards, I wrote a couple more internationally published technical books such as:

With my background in engineering and extensive knowledge of machinery lubrication, I am equipped to help customers with their challenges in this arena.

Q3. Could you discuss a challenging lubrication problem you encountered in your work experience? How did you approach and solve it?

We had a client in Qatar who began experiencing some issues with their hydraulic lifters for a particular machine. These lifters got jammed at an ad-hoc rate and caused a lot of unplanned downtime for them. They had to keep stopping the equipment, cleaning the system, and then restarting the equipment which caused some losses in production. They were not performing oil analysis as they did not recognize this component as being critical to their operation hence they did not monitor it.

We worked with them to re-evaluate all their components throughout the plant (determining which ones were critical, semi-critical and non-critical). Then, evaluated the lubricants being used, ensured that they were all meeting the required standards and specifications. Next, with the information gathered, we curated an oil analysis program which aligned with their plant and all its equipment.

From the data collected through oil analysis, we were able to spot when the issue with the hydraulic system began to appear again. The condition of the oil drastically changed after their technician performed a top up. The results also revealed that there were some additives specific to gear oil which were appearing in the hydraulic oil samples.

Apparently, the technician kept topping up the hydraulic systems with gear oil (used in another area of the plant). They thought that any oil should work and used the closest oil to their location (which in this case was the gear oil). We did some training and reorganization of their storage and handling practices, so now, their system is working without any more delays due to the incorrect oil being used.

Q4. In your opinion, what are the most important properties or characteristics to consider when formulating a lubricant for a specific application? How do you prioritize these factors?

There are a lot of things to consider when formulating a lubricant. The most important characteristic is viscosity. One of the main purposes of a lubricant is to reduce friction between two surfaces. It can only do so if it provides an adequate reduction in the coefficient of friction. When formulating lubricants, it’s all about balance.

There should be enough additives to enhance, suppress or add new properties to the base oil. Various types of oils have different ratios of additives to base oil, for example turbine oils usually have only 1% additives while motor oils have 30% additives. That means 1% of additives in turbine oils need to be formulated to have the right amount of oxidation resistance, wear protection, viscosity index improvers and many more which do not counteract each other.

When formulating oils, we must look at the application, the load, the speed, and the environment before even thinking about the formulation. There are complex calculations to determine the correct viscosity (largely based on the load, speed and in some cases temperature).

Understanding the metallurgy of the components is also helpful in the formulation of the lubricant as this can dictate which additives can and cannot be used.

Lubricant formulators also work alongside OEMs to ensure that the lubricant is meeting their specifications as it relates to the efficiency of the machine as well as any regulatory standards.

Q5. How do you stay updated on advancements in lubricant technology and industry best practices? Can you provide examples of any recent developments or trends that have caught your attention?

I read a lot, especially content from OEMs, Global lubricant suppliers and attend a lot of webinars where experts are sharing their knowledge. Being a part of the Precision Lubrication Magazine Board, STLE (Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers) Digital TLT magazine and a columnist for Equipment Today magazine also mean that I have access to this type of content.

I am also the co-chairperson for the Lubrication & Reliability Virtual Summit which features speakers from across the globe within this area. I help to organize and facilitate and participate in some of the discussions for the various regions, AMER (Americas), APAC (Asia-Pacific) and EMEA (Europe- Middle East & Africa).

I was also on the advisory board for the Lubricant Expo North America and facilitate workshops across the globe especially in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UK, USA and other regions.

Additionally, I work with a global group of consultants specific to the lubrication industry with its headquarters in Australia. We all work together on challenges from our customers and have knowledge sharing sessions which helps to keep each other informed about the latest trends.

Q6. Describe your experience with conducting tribological testing and analysis. What methods or techniques have you used to evaluate the performance of lubricants under different operating conditions?

I am not a lab personnel nor do I have access to a lab. My expertise lies in interpreting the reports and relaying this information to the customer along with recommendations on how to solve some of the challenges they may be experiencing. I work with global labs to help my customers to understand what is happening inside their equipment and develop a solution for these challenges.

Q7. Lubricant selection is critical for maximizing equipment performance and lifespan. How do you approach the process of selecting the most suitable lubricant for a given application?

This varies for every piece of equipment. The first part is to understand what the OEM requires of the lubricant, what the lubricant should be able to tolerate before pushing it outside of its operating envelope.

Most OEMs have tolerance limits based on environmental and/or operating conditions as well as industry standards. For instance, if we’re looking at turbine oils, many people make a comparison of their spec sheets (TDS – Technical Data Sheet) with the values given.

Often, they look at the RPVOT value (Rotating Pressure Vessel Oxidation Test) which gives a value in minutes (estimating the lifespan of the turbine oil). This should not be done, especially since the RPVOT is not a repeatable test in that, if it is performed 10 times, it will yield 10 different results.

Additionally, the result is given in minutes (the length of time for the oil to attain a particular characteristic in the test) which is not easily related to the field. Instead, for a better comparison of oils (in particular turbine oils), it may be a wise decision to perform the TOPP (Turbine Oil Performance Prediction) test where the oil is stressed for 4-6 weeks (with catalysts for oxidation such as heat, temperature, oxygen) and then their characteristics are compared. This is one of the best ways to compare oils before determining which of them to purchase in the turbine oil realm.

When evaluating oils for maximizing your equipment performance, most OEMs suggest a range of oils both mineral and synthetic and provide the operating characteristics in which these perform best. Depending on your environment, the oil can be selected accordingly.

For instance, there may be no critical applications which require the components to keep moving with minimal stressors or extra loads. In those cases, mineral oils would be the most effective and possibly last longer just because of the application.

In other instances, such as a harsh environment or high temperatures, synthetics may perform better but may still not have a longer lifespan because they can degrade quickly because of the environment. Essentially, it all depends on the application being evaluated.

Q8. Can you discuss a situation where you had to troubleshoot lubrication-related issues in machinery and the steps you took to resolve them?

We had a customer in Italy who was having some issues with the cranes on their ship. The oil was degrading quickly and continuously causing them lots of downtime. We ran the oil analysis for the oil and discovered that the viscosity was breaking down too quickly and there were lots of deposits being produced.

The crew were able to remove one of the filters and we sent it for testing but upon removal, they noticed that there were areas of the filter membrane which were burnt. This is one of the effects of ESD (Electrostatic Spark Discharge).

We were able to immediately identify this and worked with them on finding a solution to this issue. They could not make any adjustments to their current operations, so we decided to change their filters to antistatic filters. This dramatically helped to reduce the buildup of static in the oil and they do not have deposits in their oils anymore.

Q9. Effective communication and collaboration are essential in lubrication engineering, especially when working with cross-functional teams or external stakeholders. Can you provide any example of how you've successfully communicated technical concepts or recommendations to non-technical stakeholders?

Typically, when I get called into an organization it’s because something went wrong. This means that I need to be able to communicate with all the stakeholders from the CEO to the people working at the plant. I remember one high-level meeting where both the technical and C-suite members were present.

The trick to being able to deliver technical information to a mixed audience is to find common ground, for everyone. For this meeting, I started off with using an analogy of the human body to the manufacturing plant and then proceeded to explain the importance of the oil, its functions as likened to the blood in our bodies.

Then, for explaining the oil analysis results (which the technical team needed to see but the non-technical team did not fully understand), this was likened to performing blood tests and the results that we got were likened to tests for diabetes, either you are pre-, post or need to monitor.

This was a great way to get everyone in the room to understand what went wrong, and how we intended to fix it. Although, some have now referred to the plant as having type II diabetes after the meeting, they still got the message.

Q10. Finally, where do you see opportunities for innovation and improvement in the field of lubrication engineering in Trinidad and Tobago? How do you envision contributing to advancements in this area in T&T?

Trinidad & Tobago has a rich history of Oil & Gas and manufacturing. Nothing moves in these industries (or any other industry) without proper lubrication. I think it’s a concept that not many are familiar with as they are in other parts of the world. But this is where we can grow and evolve.

It’s been my mission to bring Trinidad & Tobago to the forefront in this industry. Through my internationally published technical books, presence on technical boards, articles and certifications, we are showing other Caribbean islands that we are not “too small” to partake in the conversations happening in this industry. Just recently I attained my FL CAT I (Field Lubrication – Category I) from the Mobius Institute becoming the only female in the world to attain this (as per their published records).

This is not a new accolade as I was also the first person in the Caribbean to attain the ICML MLE certification and the first female in the world to attain the ICML VIM & VPR badges.

I’m bringing the T&T name to the forefront and letting others know that we have talented people here who are willing to do the work and advance the industry through their insights.

I may write a couple more technical books in the future (having already published 4 technical books and 2 non-technical), I can safely say that it is a strong possibility. I will continue my work in advocating for more women in STEM (especially in this industry) and though my series of books, “Empowering Women in STEM” published by CRC Press, Taylor and Francis.

The first two books are already out and feature women from various parts of the globe in different industries in STEM. The third book will be out before the end of the year and the fourth is already in progress.

I firmly believe that if we all work together that we can create more opportunities for others to also shine brightly in this space and inspire the future generations.

What Happens When Defoamants, Dispersants & Detergents Are Used Up?

For the three additives we spoke about earlier, each of them is sacrificial in one way or another.

Defoamants get used up when they are called upon to reduce the foam in the oil. On the other hand, detergents and dispersants use their characteristics to suspend contaminants in the oil.

In all of these scenarios, each of these additives can be considered to become depleted over time. While performing their functions, they will undergo reactions that reduce their capability to perform them more than once.

Hence, it can be concluded that these additives become depleted over time even though they may not have physically left the oil but now exist in a different form.

The air release property of the oil is affected by the loss of defoamants. This value will see a significant rise, indicating that it takes longer for air to be released from the oil. As such, air remains in the oil in either a free, dissolved, entrained, or foam state.

Consequently, this impacts the ability of the oil to lubricate the components properly and can even result in microdieseling and increased oil temperatures in the sump.

On the other hand, as the detergents and dispersants are reduced, the capacity of the oil to hold contaminants also decreases.

Therefore, one will begin noticing that deposits may start forming on the equipment’s insides, leading to valves sticking (especially in hydraulic systems) or a general increase in the system’s temperature as these deposits can trap heat.

With the introduction of an increased temperature, the oil can begin oxidizing, leading to more deposits being formed and possibly even varnish.

Essentially, these additives are essential to the health of the oil in your system. The detergents and dispersants can help to keep your system clean (free from contaminants such as soot).

The defoamants can even reduce the risk of wear, increased temperatures to the lube system, the potential to form varnish, or the possibility of succumbing to microdieseling.

References

1 Bruce, R. W. (2012). Handbook of Lubrication and Tribology – Volume II Theory and Design – Second Edition. Boca Raton: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis.

2 Mang, P., & Dresel, D. (2007). Lubricants and Lubrication – Second Edition. Weinheim: WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co KGaA.

4 Mang, P.-I., Bobzin, P.-I., & Bartels, D.-I. (2011). Industrial Tribology Tribosystems, Friction, Wear and Surface Engineering, Lubrication. Weinheim: WILEY-VCH Verlag & Co KGaA.

3 Mortier, D. M., Fox, P. F., & Orszulik, D. T. (2010). Chemistry and Technology of Lubricants – Third Edition. Dordrecht Heidelberg: Springer.

Do Detergents Really Clean?

Traditionally, detergents were given their name as it was assumed that they provided cleaning properties to the oil, similar to laundry detergents. However, these metal-containing compounds also provide an alkaline reserve used to neutralize acidic combustion and oxidation by-products.

Due to their nature, these compounds disperse particulate matter, such as abrasive wear and soot particles, rather than removing them (in a cleaning action). There are four main types of detergents: phenates, salicylates, thiophosphate, and sulfonates4.

Calcium phenates are the most common type of phenate. They are formed by synthesizing alkylated phenols with elemental sulphur or sulphur chloride, followed by neutralization with metal oxides or hydroxides. These calcium phenates have good dispersant properties and possess a greater acid-neutralization potential.

Salicylates have additional antioxidant properties and a proven efficacy in diesel engine oil formulations. They are prepared through the carboxylation of alkylated phenols with subsequent metathesis into divalent metal salts. These products are then overbased with excess metal carbonate to form highly basic detergents.

Thiophosphonates are rarely used today as they are an overbased product.

Sulfonates generally have excellent anticorrosion properties. The neutral (or over-based) sulfonates have excellent detergent and neutralization potential. These neutral sulfonates are typically formed with colloidally dispersed metal oxides or hydroxides.

Calcium sulfonates are relatively cheap and have good performance. On the other hand, magnesium sulfonates exhibit excellent anticorrosion properties but can form hard ash deposits after thermal degradation, leading to bore polishing in engines. Barium sulfonates are not used due to their toxic properties.

Detergents in ATFs are used in concentrations of 0.1-1.0% for cleanliness, friction, corrosion inhibition, and reduction of wear3. However, these values are a bit higher in manual transmission fluids, at 0.0 – 3.0%. On the other hand, no detergents are required for axle lubricants!

Why Are Dispersants Important?

Quite often, detergents and dispersants are grouped together mainly because their functions can complement each other. As noted above, the significant difference is that dispersants are ashless, while detergents are more metal-containing compounds.

However, some ashless dispersants also offer “cleaning” properties, so the two are not mutually exclusive.

A large oleophilic hydrocarbon tail and a polar hydrophilic head group can categorize detergents and dispersants. Typically, the tail solubilizes in the base fluid while the head is attracted to the contaminants in the lubricant.

Dispersant molecules envelop the solid contaminants to form micelles, and the non-polar tails prevent the adhesion of these particles onto the metal surfaces so that they agglomerate into larger particles and appear suspended.

Ashless dispersants are, by definition, those that do not contain metal and are typically derived from hydrocarbon polymers, with the most popular being polybutenes (PIBs).

For example, dispersants are typically required in concentrations of 2-6% in ATFs and are used to maintain cleanliness, disperse sludge, and reduce friction and wear3. These values in manual transmission fluids and axle lubricants vary from 1-4%.

Are Defoamants Necessary?

Defoamants, also called antifoam additives, are found in many oils. Most oils need to keep foam levels to a minimum, and it is very easy for foam to form in lube systems due to their design and flow throughout the equipment.

When foam enters the oil, it can affect its ability to provide adequate surface lubrication. This can lead to wear occurring at the surface level, damaging the equipment.
Many oils require defoamants to provide various functions and in differing ratios depending on their application. In automatic transmission fluids (ATFs), defoamants are usually needed in concentrations of 50-400ppm to prevent excessive foaming and air entrainment3. On the other hand, for manual transmission fluids and axle lubricants, defoamants are required in slightly lower concentrations, between 50 and 300 ppm.

However, OEMs must verify these concentrations. If the concentration of defoamants is too high, this can actually increase foaming. Additionally, defoamants must be properly balanced with the other additive packages to ensure they do not negatively counteract another additive.

There are two main types of defoamants: silicone defoamers and silicone-free defoamers. Silicone defoamers are considered the most efficient defoamants, especially at low concentrations of around 1%. These defoamants are typically pre-dissolved in aromatic solvents to provide a stable dispersion.

However, there are two significant disadvantages associated with silicone defoamers. Due to their insolubility, they can easily transition out of the oil and have a powerful affinity to polar metal surfaces.

On the other hand, silicone-free defoamers are another alternative, especially for applications that require silicone-free lubricants. Such applications include metal-working fluids and hydraulics, which are used close to silicone-free ones, and even those involved in applying paints or lacquers to these pieces.

Some silicone-free defoamers include poly(ethylene glycol)s (PEG), polyethers, polymethacrylates, and organic copolymers. Tributylphosphate is also another option for defoamers4.

Defoamants, Dispersants, and Detergents in Lubricants – What’s the Difference?

Additives can enhance, suppress, or add new properties to oils. Defoamants, dispersants, and detergents are no exceptions. This trio of additives can be found in most finished lubricants, albeit in varying ratios.

Let’s discuss the main differences among these three, why each is so important, and ways to confirm their presence.

What’s the Difference?

While they are all additives (which begin with the letter D), their functions are distinctively different. They all work to protect the oil from various types of contaminants.

For instance, defoamants reduce the air bubbles in the oil. At the same time, detergents keep the metal surfaces clean, and dispersants encapsulate the contaminants so they are suspended in the lubricant.1 This is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Defoamants, detergents and dispersants explained.
Figure 1: Defoamants, detergents and dispersants explained.

From our last article on Lubricant Additives – A Comprehensive Guide, here are some detailed descriptions of how each of these additives functions.

Defoamants

When foam forms in the lubricant, tiny air bubbles become trapped either at the surface or on the inside (called inner foam). Defoamants work by adsorbing on the foam bubble and affecting the bubble surface tension. This causes coalescence and breaks the bubble on the lubricant’s surface1.

For the foam that forms at the surface, called surface foam, defoamants with a lower surface tension are used. They are usually not soluble in base oil and must be finely dispersed to be sufficiently stable even after long-term storage or use.

On the other hand, inner foam, which is finely dispersed air bubbles in the lubricant, can form stable dispersions. Common defoamants are designed to control surface foam but stabilize inner foam2.

Dispersants

On the other hand, dispersants are also polar, and they keep contaminants and insoluble oil components suspended in the lubricant. They minimize particle agglomeration, which in turn maintains the oil’s viscosity (compared to particle coalescing, which leads to thickening). Unlike detergents, dispersants are considered ashless. They typically work at low operating temperatures.

Detergents

Detergents are polar molecules that remove substances from the metal surface, similar to a cleaning action. However, some detergents also provide antioxidant properties. The nature of a detergent is essential, as metal-containing detergents produce ash (typically calcium, lithium, potassium, and sodium)1.

Testing Methods for Detecting Antioxidants in Lubricants

Since we now have more information about the various types of antioxidants and how they function to suppress oxidation, the next step is to determine whether they are indeed present in our finished lubricants.

The industry tries to identify the presence of antioxidants in a couple of ways. The first way is to measure the rate of oxidation, which does not give the exact value of remaining antioxidants. Instead, it gives the user an idea of how much oxidation has taken place based on other lubricant characteristics.

Then, the user must make an informed decision on the remaining life of the oil. On the other hand, there is one direct test to determine which antioxidants are present in the oil and provide their remaining quantity.

Some common tests in the industry that measure the oxidation rate include RPVOT (Rotating Pressure Vessel Oxidation Test), Oxidation via FTIR, Viscosity, and TOST (Turbine Oil Oxidation Stability Test).

While none of these actually quantify the remaining antioxidants in the oil, they all provide the user with an indication of the rate of oxidation currently occurring in the oil. We will dive deeper into these to understand how they assess oxidation rates.

RPVOT

In the industry, RPVOT has been used for decades to provide users with an idea of the rate of oxidation occurring in their oils. However, this test is performed where the sample is placed in a sealed container with pressurized pure oxygen and rotated at a high speed in a bath with a higher temperature to promote the oil’s oxidation8.

As oxidation occurs, there is a pressure drop in the vessel, and the rate of this pressure drop is compared to that of new oil. The final result is given in minutes. Typically, if the value falls below 25% of the original value, the oil is on its way out or almost at the end of its remaining useful life.

But what happens if the value is at 75%? Since the final result is given in minutes, it isn’t easy to correlate that value to a value in the field.

For instance, if the RPVOT result was 800 minutes, we cannot easily correlate that to a particular number of years or months of life remaining for the oil. Hence, this method does not truly measure the remaining antioxidants in the oil.

Oxidation via FTIR

Another way of measuring oxidation is by identifying its presence through FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared) Spectroscopy. In this type of test, each element produces a unique fingerprint.

As such, oxidation produces a particular peak between 1600-1800 cm-1. There is no absolute reference for oxidation peaks; therefore, these are usually compared against the new oil samples9.

This test (ASTM D 7414) is usually used for engine oils rather than industrial oils. However, it still does not provide the user with the remaining antioxidants in the oil. Instead, only that oxidation has already occurred.

Viscosity

In the past, viscosity was usually cited as a method for detecting if oxidation was occurring in the oil. However, due to more recent discoveries and technological evolution, we have noted that the oil’s viscosity only increases after oxidation has occurred.

Therefore, it is not a valid test to identify if oxidation is happening in the oil, as there can be several reasons for the increase in viscosity. In the case of oxidation, the presence of varnish and sludge would account for this increase; however, this test still doesn’t indicate the remaining antioxidants in the oil9.

TOST

This test, developed in 1943, evaluates the oil after it is subjected to very specific conditions. Typically, the oil is stressed with high temperatures (203°F / 95°C), gross contamination (17% water), and substantial air entrainment in the presence of iron and copper catalysts5.

The oil’s life is measured by the time the sample takes to achieve an Acid number of 2 mg KOH/g.

As such, this test measures the amount of acid produced by an oil under extreme conditions. Again, it does not give us a quantifiable correlation to the oil’s actual field life. It must also be noted that this test is not suited for hydraulic or gear oils but is more tailored to steam turbine oils, which may undergo those simulated conditions.

RULER® test

The RULER test utilizes linear sweep voltammetry to detect the quantity of antioxidants remaining in the oil. It produces a graph showing peaks at the detected antioxidants. Typically, the used oil results are compared against the baseline data to determine the quantity of antioxidants in the oil (Fluitec, 2022).

This method allows users to specifically quantify and trend the decline of antioxidants in the oil over a period of time, as seen in Figure 2. This is very valuable as users can now provide a better estimate of the remaining useful life based on the trend of the decline of antioxidants, and by extension, this helps them to understand the health of their oil.

Figure 2: RULER graph of a standard bearing oil vs. used bearing oil.
Figure 2: RULER graph of a standard bearing oil vs. used bearing oil.

Oxidation occurs worldwide on almost every item (food, the human body, and lubricants). It is not going away anytime soon. Hence, there will always be a need for antioxidants to help protect the base oils for finished lubricants.

However, the formulations of these antioxidants may evolve over time as scientists find new, more sustainable alternatives for creating antioxidants.

OEMs also have a role to play as they advance machines and their capabilities; lubricants will have to be engineered for these new applications with varying environmental conditions. As such, there may be a greater need for more advanced antioxidants to help protect the oil.

References

  1. Bruce, R. (2012). Handbook of Lubrication and Tribology Volume II Theory and Design. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
  2. (2022, July 20). Why Choose RULER? Retrieved from Fluitec: https://www.fluitec.com/why-choose-ruler/
  3. Livingstone, G. (2024, February 15). Varnish Deposits in Bearings, Causes, Consequences and Cures. Retrieved from Precision Lubrication Magazine: https://precisionlubrication.com/articles/varnish-deposits-in-bearings-causes-consequences-and-cures/
  4. Mang, T., & Dresel, W. (2007). Lubricants and Lubrication. Weinheim: WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA.
  5. (2016, April 17). Oil Oxidation Stability Test. Retrieved from Mobil: https://www.mobil.com/en/lubricants/for-businesses/industrial/lubricant-expertise/resources/oil-oxidation-stability-test
  6. Mortier, R. M., Fox, M. F., & Orszulik, S. T. (2010). Chemistry and Technology of Lubricants. Dordrecht: Springer.
  7. Pirro, D. M., Webster, M., & Daschner, E. (2016). Lubrication Fundamentals, Third Edition, Revised and Expanded. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
  8. (2024, March 06). Oxidation, the oil killer. Retrieved from SKF: https://www.skf.com/us/services/recondoil/knowledge-hub/recondoil-articles/oxidation-the-oil-killer
  9. Spectro Scientific. (2024, March 06). Measuring Oil Chemistry: Nitration, Oxidation, and Sulfation. Retrieved from Spectro Scientific: https://www.spectrosci.com/en/knowledge-center/test-parameters/measuring-oil-chemistry-nitration-oxidation-and-sulfation
  10. Stachowiak, G. W., & Batchelor, A. W. (2014). Engineering Tribology. Butterworth-Heinemann.

Types of Antioxidants

Different additives have successfully suppressed the degradation of finished lubricants6, 10. These include:

  • Radical scavengers/inhibitors, also called propagation inhibitors
  • Hydroperoxide decomposers
  • Metal deactivators
  • Synergistic mixtures

Each of the above listed performs in a particular way to reduce the oxidation process in the lubricant.

Radical Scavengers

Many applications use radical scavengers as their preferred antioxidant. Radical scavengers are also known as primary antioxidants, as they are the first line of defense in the oxidation process. These are phenolic and aminic antioxidants.

They neutralize the peroxy radicals used during the initiation reaction to generate hydroperoxides4. These neutralized radicals form resonance-stabilized radicals, which are very unreactive and stop the propagation process.

Some examples of these additives are1: diarylamines, dihydroquinolines, and hindered phenols. While they may be known as simple hydrocarbons, they are often characterized by low volatility, used in quantities of 0.5-1% by weight, and have long lifetimes10.

These primary antioxidants are usually very effective at temperatures below 200°F (93°C)7. At these temperatures, oxidation occurs at a slower rate. These primary antioxidants are typically found in applications involving turbines, circulation, and hydraulic oils intended for extended service at these moderate temperatures.

Hydroperoxide Decomposers

The role of hydroperoxide decomposers is to neutralize the hydroperoxides used to accelerate oxidation. Radical scavengers (primary antioxidants) neutralize the free radicals, and these hydroperoxides are formed after the initiation stage. As such, hydroperoxide decomposers are known as secondary antioxidants.

These decomposers convert the hydroperoxides into non-radical products, which prevent the chain propagation reaction. ZDDP is one example of this type of decomposer, although organosulphur and organophosphorus additives have been used traditionally.

Metal Deactivators

Metal deactivators are usually derived from salicylic acid10. These function by entraining a metal such as copper or iron to inhibit oxidation acceleration. However, when the operating temperatures exceed 200°F (93°C), this is the stage at which the catalytic effects of metals begin to play a more important role in accelerating oxidation7.

Therefore, during these conditions, an antioxidant that can reduce the catalytic effect of the metals should be used, such as metal deactivators. These react with the surfaces of metals to form protective coatings. One such example is zinc dithiophosphate (ZnDTP), which can also act as a hydroperoxide decomposer at temperatures above 200°F (93°C).

Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid is another commonly used example of this type of antioxidant.

Synergistic Mixtures

As explained above, there are different types of antioxidants, but one thing remains the same: They can work better when they work together. Some antioxidants can work in a synergistic manner to provide added protection to a finished lubricant. There are two types of synergism: homosynergism and heterosynergism.

Homosynergism occurs when two different types of antioxidants can be classed under the same category. One example is the use of two different peroxy radical scavengers. These both operate by the same stabilization mechanism but differ slightly in formulation.

On the other hand, heterosynergism is more common and often seen with aminic and phenolic antioxidants. Aminic antioxidants are primary antioxidants and radical scavengers, while phenolic antioxidants are secondary antioxidants and hydroperoxide decomposers.

In this case, the amnic antioxidants react faster than phenolic antioxidants, and as such, they are used up when the lubricant undergoes oxidation. However, the phenolic antioxidant regenerates a more effective aminic antioxidant, which helps suppress the rate of oxidation.

How Antioxidants Combat Oxidation in Lubricants

As the name suggests, antioxidants prevent oxidation; thus, it is no surprise that they are also called Oxidation inhibitors. During the refining of the base oil, the natural antioxidants are typically stripped away.

Thus, additional antioxidants must be added to the finished lubricant to ensure it does not oxidize as quickly. It is important to note that antioxidants can reduce the amount of oxidation that occurs but will not stop it completely.

Some of the natural antioxidants in base oils include polycyclic aromatics and sulphur and nitrogen heterocyclics6.

During oxidation, acids, and peroxides are typically produced. Antioxidants added to finished lubricants usually contain hindered phenols and ZDDPs (zinc dialkyldithiophosphates). These will suppress the formation of the acids produced in these reactions.

Dedicated antioxidants are amines, phenols, and sometimes ZDDP, which also function as an antiwear additive. Antioxidants account for 3-7% of European and North American diesel and gasoline additive packages for finished lubricants6.

As mentioned earlier, antioxidants are not the only additives that have a role to play in protecting the equipment. Antioxidants often work together with detergents to help prevent corrosive wear, especially in engines.

Some moisture and acidic combustion by-products can enter the engine during oxidation and form acids. Detergents can help to reduce corrosive wear caused by these acids. Alkylphenols are often used as a substrate in the preparation of detergents; as such, they also exhibit some antioxidant properties.

It must also be noted that extreme pressure additives containing sulphur or phosphorus may also suppress oxidation. Contrarily, these additives decompose at very moderate temperatures, so their strength as an antioxidant is not generally promoted10.