In today’s highly competitive lubricants business, marketers are continually looking for ways to differentiate products and services to add value to their offerings. We see it with lubricants that offer longer drain intervals, wear protection and other performance advantages, innovative packaging, digital technology to stream line supply logistics, oil purification and system flushing services, predictive and preventative maintenance programs, and a number of other valued product and service enhancements.
One such product that JobbersWorld has been hearing a lot about recently is Chevron’s VARTECH® Industrial System Cleaner (ISC). VARTECH is a system cleaning product specifically formulated to effectively remove varnish from gas turbines and centrifugal and screw compressors.
According to Chevron, when paired with its GST Advantage® lubricant, consumers gain the added advantage of using a turbine oil that’s also engineered to minimize varnish deposits after the system is cleaned.
In an effort to understand more about VARTECH, JobbersWorld spoke with Zach Sutton, Industrial and Services Sector Specialist at Chevron, and Paul Sly, Global OEM Industrial Sector Specialist, and here is what we learned.
First off, to fully appreciated the benefits of VARTECH ISC, it’s important to understand what varnish is and how it can impact the cost of operating turbines and compressors.
Simply stated, varnish is an aggregation of small particles of insoluble contaminates (by-products of oxidation) primarily formed when lubricant is exposed to high-temperatures in the presence of oxygen. When formed, these deposits attach themselves to equipment surfaces and build up over time, forming a coating of varnish on system components. The process is unfortunately a self-fueling cycle, since the coating of varnish reduces heat transfer, which in turn drives up operating temperatures, further creating an environment within in the machine components that is prone to continued varnish build up.
Although varnish can form in many types of lubricated machines, gas turbines, centrifugal and screw compressors are especially vulnerable due to the sensitivity of hydraulic servo valves and other components to such contaminants. Beyond shortening the usable life of the lubricant, even a small amount of varnish can result in failure to start a turbine or compressor, erratic operation of valves, poor heat exchanger performance, and bearing failure.
“The cost of repairing varnish related damage can be extraordinarily high,” says Sutton. “In addition to the direct cost of replacement parts and the labor required to affect the repairs, the cost of unscheduled downtime and, in some cases, penalties, must also be taken into account,” Sutton adds. To underscore the potential magnitude of such costs, Sutton gives an example that a single merchant power plant fail to start event can cost $1.5 million/day.
While some operators believe varnish is beyond their control and simply accept it and its high cost as a way of life, “it doesn’t have to be,” says Sutton.
In a two-step process, Chevron takes a holistic approach to reduce the threat from varnish, and according to Sutton, testing has shown it’s significantly more effective than the most commonly used cleaners.
The first step is to remove existing varnish from components and elsewhere in the lubrication system. The most widely used approach to accomplish this are detergent or solvent-based chemical cleaners. Such cleaners are temporarily added to the in-service oil at the end of the oil’s service life and circulated throughout the system for a period of time. The cleaning chemicals dissolve varnish that has built up on internal components. Notably, with these cleaners the system must be flushed and purged to remove any residual cleaner prior to charging the system with new oil. This is because residual cleaner left in the system after cleaning will compromise the performance of the new oil and the equipment it services. The cleaning and flushing cycle can take days to complete and must be closely monitored to assure the system is clean of varnish and clear of residual cleaning chemicals.
While chemicals and varnish removal systems have been in the market for years, Paul Sly notes that the solvent-based products have a propensity of swelling and damaging seals and plugging system filters. In addition, they present potential health and safety risks due to their low flash point. Similarly, cleaners based on synthetic esters and PAGs can have a negative effect on seals. Further, if some of these cleaners are not removed in a timely manner, they can redeposit the varnish in the system and seed a new cycle of varnish buildup.
Unlike traditional chemical cleaners, Sly says, “Chevron’s VARTECH ISC is a unique and very effective non-solvent-based alternative that significantly improves upon existing varnish dispersant and detergent products.” To this he adds, “Through both exhaustive lab testing and real-world experience, VARTECH ISC has proven to outperform competing products on several key measures – it cuts and captures varnish and is found to be compatible to reduce the need for flushing at system cleanings.” In addition, VARTECH does not need to be used in conjunction with a varnish filtration system and, if traces remain in the system after cleaning, it minimally impacts the performance of the new oil.”
Following removal of existing varnish from the system, the next step in the Chevron process is to control varnish formation with the latest GST Advantage formulated oils (R&O and EP) formulated with VARTECH technology. Chevron shared data with JobbersWorld demonstrating that this technology inhibits varnish formation, bench testing demonstrating a 75% deposit reduction with VARTECH technology in turbine oil. In addition, Chevron Lubricants with VARTECH reportedly improves oxidation, reduces oil degradation, and provides optimal performance when delivered ISOCLEAN Certified to the OEM’s ISO 4406 specification for fluid cleanliness.
In summary, preventing and controlling of varnish is a major challenge for operators of gas turbines and centrifugal compressors. And VARTECH is one example of how challenges can be turned into opportunities for both lubricant suppliers and their customers. While some argue that the lubricants business is becoming commoditized, and in some sectors that may very well be the case, there is still plenty of room for product innovation and value-added services in the diverse industrial sectors.
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