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Temperature impacts the viscosity of many liquids but changes in salt

water viscosity are quite small and are difficult to observe. Generally, as
the temperature of a liquid increases, there is a decrease in viscosity and the liquid
becomes more easy to pour. This is true of most liquids but how does this relationship
stand with respect to the Viscosity of Motor Oil?

Viscosity of Motor Oil

Certain kinds of motor oils behave differently. Ideally, an engineer would prefer the
oil viscosity to remain the same when the engine is hot as when it is cold. Motor oil
includes additives developed to reduce changes in viscosity because of temperature.

Certain motor oils are designed to be thinner (less viscous) when cold and more viscous
(thicker) when hot. For instance, multi-grade or multi-viscosity motor oils show a
low viscosity at low temperatures and high viscosity at high temperatures.

The idea is to provide thin oil when the motor is started and to provide an oil of the right
thickness at the operating temperature.

These multi-grade or multi-viscosity oils can be identified by designations such as 10-


These numbers refer to specifications developed by the Society of Automotive

Engineers (SAE).

The "10W" in this example corresponds to the lower oil viscosity when the engine is
cold and not running. The "30" refers to the higher oil viscosity when the engine is hot
and running normally.
Temperature Stability of Lubricants and
Hydraulic Fluids
E. C. Fitch, Tribolics, Inc.
Tags: contamination control, hydraulics, industrial lubricants

Fluid temperature stability is essential to the success of mechanical systems. All hydraulic
and lubricating fluids have practical limits on the acceptable operating temperature range -
both high and low levels. The machine loses stability and experiences conditional failure
whenever the systems fluid temperature violates these limits. If left unabated, the
conditional failure ultimately results in both material and performance degradation of
machine components.

Temperature extremes have a pronounced effect on component materials as well as machine

performance. When temperature is too low, fluid viscosity is high. At low temperatures, the fluid often
reaches the point where it actually congeals and will no longer flow (pour point). High temperature also
accelerates wear, destroys hydrodynamic lubrication regimes, increases the oxidation rate, fosters
additive depletion and affects other critical aspects of the machine.

Fluid temperature instability is the result of various machine operating factors such as component integrity
(design, selection, manufacture, application and maintenance), duty cycle severity (load application,
magnitude and duration), environmental hostility and heat absorption/desorption. Operation and
maintenance personnel should thoroughly investigate an occurrence of temperature instability to
understand the effects on machine operation in order to optimize its performance and prolong equipment
service life.

Low-Temperature Effects
Low temperature can damage the temperature stability of a hydraulic fluid or lubricant just as much as
high temperature. Very low fluid temperatures usually result from exposure of some system part to the
external environment, particularly when operation takes place in arctic or high-altitude conditions. Such
low temperatures can cause petroleum-based fluids to increase in viscosity and eventually reach the
critical point where the fluid actually congeals and will no longer pour or flow. Such fluid immobility can
starve a pump, cause damaging vaporous cavitation and produce high fluid and mechanical friction, not
to mention lubricant starvation of bearing surfaces. Certainly, the usefulness of a fluid as a lubrication
medium at low temperature hinges upon its viscosity and pour-point characteristics.

For hydraulic circulating systems, high oil viscosity causes a drastic drop in the oils static pressure as
suction draws the oil into the pumps inlet. This pressure reduction results in the creation of vaporous
bubbles and causes air normally dissolved in the oil to be desorbed and become entrained as air bubbles.
When the pump compresses this bubbly oil, the bubbles violently implode on the high-pressure side,
creating loud noises, strong vibrations and wear of internal pump parts. Under these high-viscosity
conditions, other system problems arise, such as filters that go into bypass, and on occasion, even

High-Temperature Effects
As industry continues to design systems of higher power density, fluid temperatures well above the
current norms will become increasingly common. Such high-temperature conditions can disrupt the
stability of conventional working fluids, compromise system performance and significantly reduce the life
of operating components. In many systems exposed to hostile environments and severe duty cycles, the
need for supplemental heat transfer capability and/or synthetic fluids will become apparent.

Fluid exposed to high temperature can experience permanent deterioration. For example, a substantial
reduction in fluid viscosity normally accompanies asperity contacts (mechanical rubbing) and an increase
in temperature. In addition, irreversible viscosity change can also occur when a fluid having poor shear
stability encounters high temperature. Whether through rapid oil oxidation promoted by high temperature
with its accompanying sludge formation production, or simply accelerated component wear, the influence
of high temperature on oil properties is serious and generally deserves prompt consideration and

The reduction in fluid viscosity is one of the most obvious effects of high-temperature operation. Viscosity
decreases rapidly with increasing temperature because the mobility of the fluid molecules becomes
hyperactive as gas is desorbed and lighter fractions of the fluid vaporize. Engineers commonly express
the change in fluid viscosity with variations in temperature on an ASTM Standard Viscosity Temperature
Chart. This particular chart is popular because the associated relationship tends to plot as a straight line.
Deviations from a straight line most notably occur at both ends of the curve - at low temperatures where
certain constituents of the fluid begin to revert to a solid phase, and at high temperatures where lighter
fractions of the fluid vaporize. In general, measured values of viscosity are higher at lower temperatures
and lower at higher temperatures. Consequently, engineers should extrapolate on ASTM charts with
caution, keeping in mind the log2 nature of the viscosity axis.

Some fluids are very viscosity-sensitive with respect to temperature. To improve this situation, engineers
commonly add polymers called Viscosity Index (Vl) improvers. These improvers consist of long molecular
chains which increase the Vl of the blended oil over that of the base stock - that is, they flatten the
viscosity-temperature curve.
Because the effectiveness of a Vl-improved oil depends upon the chain length of the molecules, any
breakdown, scission or shearing of these critical molecular bonds destroys an otherwise favorable
viscosity characteristic of a VI-improved fluid. The high shear rates and turbulent flow conditions normally
existing in fluid systems can cause a continual but often tolerable reduction in fluid viscosity. However,
when such conditions exist in tandem with high temperature, fluid degradation greatly accelerates and
any artificial improvement in viscosity sensitivity to temperature of the oil is permanently sacrificed. The
shear stability of an oil is the property which reflects the susceptibility of a given blend to viscosity

Figure 1. Effect of Temperature and

Operating Time on Shear Stability of Fluid

Figure 1 illustrates this fundamental characteristic of a typical system fluid at two different temperatures.

Hydrocarbon fluids have an affinity for gases and tend to dissolve air and other gaseous substances. The
amount of gas an oil will absorb or dissolve is proportional to the partial pressure of the gas in contact
with the fluid. Note that gas solubility increases significantly with temperature for all petroleum products.
The increased level of oxygen resulting from greater air content seriously affects the oxidation rate of the
fluid and lowers its expected service life.

Surface tension is a critical property of a lubricating fluid; it helps establish the airtightness, leakage rate,
capillary flow and boundary lubrication conditions of a system. Surface tension decreases with increased
pressure. High temperature also significantly reduces surface tension.
Fluid temperature grossly affects chemical stability and particularly the oxidation rate of the basic
elements of the oil. The primary accelerator of all oxidation reactions is temperature. Like any other
reaction, the oxidation rate of hydrocarbons will approximately double for every 18 degrees Fahrenheit
increase in temperature. Below 140F, the reaction is comparatively slow, but engineers estimate that the
life of an oil is reduced 50 percent for every 18 degrees Fahrenheit temperature rise above 140F,
according to the Arrhenius equation for chemical reaction rates. Hence, for high-temperature applications,
the oxidation stability of an oil can have great significance and users should assess it carefully.

The thermal stability of a fluid is its ability to resist decomposition due to temperature alone. It establishes
the ultimate high-temperature limit for a tribological system fluid that will ensure continual unimpaired
service. The most significant change in fluid properties caused by thermal decomposition of organic
molecules is an increase in vapor pressure caused by the shearing of molecules into smaller, more
volatile fragments.

Modern formulations of lubricating fluids contain vital additive packages to help the fluid satisfy essential
operating functions. Unfortunately, high temperature operation can deplete all such additives, but
especially rust inhibitors, foam depressants, antioxidants and antiwear ingredients.

Another factor that deserves consideration in high-temperature operation is the resistance of the
component materials to oxidation. Under normal conditions, a metals resistance to oxidation is a function
of the thickness of the built-up protective oxide film produced. However, because the oxidation rate is
accelerated at high temperatures and any film built-up in fluid components is exposed to cyclic stresses,
the protective coat continually ruptures and flakes off. Thermal cycling also intensifies the situation by
causing severe compressive stresses due to differences in the coefficients of thermal expansion of the
film and the underlying material.

High fluid temperature can cause a chain reaction leading to total system destruction. High-temperature
operation has a pronounced effect on the wear of all bearing type surfaces in a system. Engineers can
evaluate this effect for a particular fluid by using the Gamma Wear Test System.
Figure 2. Antiwear Characteristics of New and Used Hydraulic
Fluids vs. Time and Temperature
For example, Figure 2 shows the antiwear characteristics of new petroleum-based oil at three different
temperatures (150F, 200F and 250F). Notice the impact of increasing temperature on gamma wear.
After the system uses the same fluid for a significant length of time, the wear curves at the same three
temperatures become seriously elevated (see Figure 2).

Close comparison of Figure 2 reveals depletion of the antiwear additive in the used oil, significantly
reducing its effectiveness. Also, the fluid viscosity may have been sheared down to the point where the
lubrication film thickness has become totally inadequate to prevent asperity contact wear. Notice that
when engineers add a special antiwear additive (identified as ER) to both new and used fluids and
perform the same wear test at the most severe operating temperature of 250F, the wear rate becomes

Heat Generation and Removal

Heat cannot be created, only derived from some other form of energy. Fluid systems generally produce
heat by converting mechanical energy or fluid pressure energy. Friction is the conversion process in a
fluid type system. Because molecular friction generates heat in a sheared fluid, the higher the viscosity,
the more heat this friction produces.

Many points in the system can add heat, particularly points with high frictional resistance. Good examples
include such sources as bearings, fluid being pushed through orifices and various restrictions, and
frictional drag on the fluid as it courses through restricted passages. The larger the pressure drop, the
greater the amount of heat generated. Pressure-activated piston seals create high contact pressures to
minimize internal leakage. The result is that friction is high, thus creating a massive heat generator that
elevates fluid temperature. Low-viscosity fluid can also contribute to heat generation because it inherently
fails to maintain a crucial lubrication film between moving surfaces. This failure to separate the running
surfaces results not only in wear (abrasion and adhesion of the two surfaces) but also in excessive
leakage. Both factors reduce the efficiency of the system and the lost energy is converted to heat.

Engineers often overlook compression heating of aerated fluid as a heat source. Because temperatures
as high as 2000F will occur when the pump compresses air bubbles passing through it, compression
heating can have a major impact on the fluid temperature of a mechanical system. The solution in this
case is to reduce the amount of air entrained in the fluid.

Intense heat sources can be devastating to hydraulic systems required to operate in their immediate
vicinity. A fluid system located near an external heat source or in a place where it cannot receive good
ventilation must rely on some artificial means of dissipating system heat. Such a situation is not only a
heat source problem but also a heat dissipation problem.

No matter how careful designers of fluid systems are, excessive heat generation sometimes occurs. If a
machine like a hydraulic system has an overall efficiency of 80 percent, rough approximations would
indicate that the amount of generated heat for an average fluid system is equal to 20 percent of the
connected shaft power. This heat must be dissipated to the surroundings in some way, otherwise the fluid
temperature will keep rising until the system either stabilizes (where the heat dissipated to the
environment balances the heat generated by the system) at some undesired elevated temperature or
destroys itself.
The first avenue of escape from generated heat is by natural dissipation. With natural cooling, heat in the
system fluid dissipates into the surrounding air, primarily by conduction and convection. All metal surfaces
in contact with the fluid serve as heat-transfer surfaces. If engineers design sufficient heat transfer
surface area into the machine and expose the external surface to ambient air sufficiently cooler than the
required system temperature, then much or all of the heat the system generates dissipates by natural

Systems utilize heat exchangers or oil coolers to relieve the system fluid of excess heat and lower its
operating temperature. Basically, the amount of heat a system must remove and transfer to a cooling
medium is equal to the difference between the power input to the hydraulic pump and the power output of
all the system actuators. This implies that the ambient temperature is not adding more heat than is
dissipating by natural cooling and that environmental conditions are not adding or subtracting heat from
the fluid, which is seldom the case.

Figure 3. Vicious Cycle of Thermal Failure

Under extreme cold and hot environmental conditions, heat exchangers may be necessary primarily to
counteract environmental conditions rather than to satisfy operating conditions needed to maintain the oil
temperature within operable limits. For example, when systems operate in northern climates, users
frequently add heat to the fluid to decrease its viscosity. In hot climates or in systems operating near
furnaces, users must subtract heat from the fluid to increase fluid viscosity and reduce the temperature.
Oil-to-water heat exchangers require a source of cold water and a means of disposing of the water after
the system fluid warms it. This type of exchanger routes the less viscous fluid (water) through a bundle of
tubes and the thick fluid (hydraulic oil) through the shell or housing. This type of heat exchanger requires
some means to regulate the water flow, perhaps a valve controlled by a sensing element in the reservoir.
The controller keeps the fluid temperature nearly constant, thus reducing the cyclic variation in
performance and water consumption.

On mobile equipment, hydraulics or in other applications where water is not readily available, the use of
oil-to-air heat exchangers with a suitable radiator and fan may prove a good choice. As a coolant, air
offers several advantages over water. Piping and sewer charges are saved and air is unaffected by
freezing weather. It can also be located on the machine without regard to water supply or sewer
connections and is suitable for mobile equipment.

Air-cooled heat exchangers require that oil temperatures be at least 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit above
the cooling air temperature. They are most effective when the operating fluid temperature is in the vicinity
of 200F. Oil-to-air heat exchangers are least effective when they are needed most, at high ambient
temperatures where their efficiency is lowest.

Mechanical refrigeration systems have found broad application where the amount of space available and
the heat generation are not compatible with either water-cooled or air-cooled heat exchangers. In
addition, for those applications that require limited cooling for short periods, refrigeration type heat
exchangers have proven particularly useful. The refrigeration system employs a standard liquid chiller
that combines the compressor, evaporator, condenser and circulating pump into a completely self-
contained unit that is compact and portable.

Serious damage to a fluid system can occur if the system does not achieve fluid temperature stability
within an appropriate range and maintain it throughout the operating period. The importance of
conducting a heat balance on troubled systems is great. Strange conditions such as high ambient
temperatures, high altitude, low suction line pressure conditions, localized external heating, etc., can fool
experts. Machines routinely assigned to various climatic and geographic conditions should have a
dedicated heat balance program that users can consult in order to anticipate conditional failure

When oil gets hot and breaks down, it looks dark and smells burnt. Thermally degraded oil placed
between the thumb and forefinger feels definitely thinner and much less slippery than new oil. The dark
color is varnish - that is, oxidized particles. Even when a filter has removed the burned particles, the oil
will still smell slightly burnt and feel thinner and less slippery. Oil analysis provides advance warning of
and quantitative data on the extent of, and mechanism resulting in the damage to the fluid.

The temperature of the reservoir oil is not a true representation of the actual oil temperature. In reality, the
fluid temperature on the discharge side of the pump is a much better guide. Even then, some regions are
generally hotter due to local oxidation, dieseling, compression heating and/or areas having high operating
friction forces. The most important action required when overheating occurs, localized or generalized, is
discovering the cause. This requires that someone trained to recognize aberrations in system operation
analyzes the system. After heat dissipation practices have been applied, users may finally have only one
simple solution - to go to a higher temperature system. Such an option is feasible today but often proves
expensive, because such a system requires heat-resistant materials, elastomers, fluids and components.

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How Temperature Affects Lubricants

Noria Corporation
Tags: industrial lubricants

The primary physical

characteristics of lubricants that are affected by temperature include viscosity, viscosity
index, pour point and the base oil. Let's deal with these individually.
The viscosity of an oil has been said to be the most important consideration when selecting
a lubricant. The viscosity of an oil is its ability to flow or its internal resistance to flow.

For example, when an oil film forms between a bearing and a shaft, some of the oil's
molecules are attracted to the surface of the shaft, while other oil molecules are attracted to
the bearing surface. This is called the shear rate and is directly affected by the oil's viscosity
and operating temperatures. A multi-grade oil with a lower (thinner) viscosity will generally
have a higher potential shear rate, while a single viscosity oil will generally have a lower
potential shear rate.

Since oil with a lower viscosity and high potential shear rate must still maintain a sufficient
oil film, it is quite apparent that as temperatures rise, the oil film may fail and metal-to-
metal contact may occur. If the oil's viscosity is too high with a low potential shear rate, the
internal resistance to flow will increase the temperature dramatically, causing an overheated
condition, which can also cause a breakdown of the oil film and may cause oxidation of the
oil. Therefore, it is critical that oils be selected by always taking the operating temperature
of the equipment into account.

The most common term describing viscosity is kinematic viscosity, which is measured in
centistokes (cSt) at 40 degrees C and 100degrees C, respectively. These specifications are
always listed on oil company data sheets.

Pour Point
The pour point of an oil is defined as the lowest temperature at which a lubricant will flow. It
is frequently and erroneously used as the oil viscosity selection criteria.

For example, let's say an oil has a pour point of minus 30 degrees C. Most people assume
that this means that the oil will flow to the bearings of the equipment even when the
ambient temperature is at minus 30 degrees C. This is a fallacy. At best, this oil with a pour
point of minus 30 degrees C and operating in an ambient temperature of minus 30 degrees
C will merely churn at the oil pump until the churning causes an increase in the oil's
temperature. This in turn allows the oil's viscosity to thin sufficiently so that it slowly begins
to flow through the oil passages to the lubricated components.

Frequently, this process takes 5 to 10 minutes or more, during which severe damage can
occur at various components, because the oil is actually too thick to flow. Do not select
lubricants based on pour point alone.

Viscosity Index
The viscosity index (VI) of an oil is the term used to express an oil's "resistance to viscosity
change as the temperature changes." For example, an oil that thins out (reduced viscosity)
significantly as its temperature increases is said to have a low VI. An oil whose viscosity
does not change significantly as it is heated up is said to have a high VI.

This temperature/viscosity relationship is the most critical and important consideration when
selecting oils that will be operated in temperatures that change dramatically. Viscosity index
is of particular importance when selecting oils for northern U.S. and western Canadian
winters or high arctic operations.

Most industrial mineral lubricating oils that might be used in a manufacturing plant or
production facility with controlled temperatures need only have VIs of 55B100. However, in
an Alaskan mine facility or transportation operation, oils with VIs as high as 175 are
available and may be necessary. Viscosity-index specifications are not always listed in oil
company data sheets or specifications but should be.

Base Oil
The base oil should also be considered when selecting lubricants. Mineral-based (non-
synthetic) oils have various bases depending upon their molecular and chemical structure.
Base oils can be paraffinic, naphthenic or aromatic, and the selection process should take
into account the type of base oil.

For example, naphthenic base oils have low natural VIs and may be selected for equipment
where extreme temperatures do not affect operation. On the other hand, paraffinic base oils
have natural VIs that are considerably higher than naphthenic types, making them desirable
base stocks for lubricants used in outdoor applications. Fortunately, many of the natural
mineral oils produced in North American oil fields are of the paraffinic type.