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Specifications and Standards within the Oil Industry

Specification

A description of something that is sufficiently detailed to provide someone with all the information necessary to manufacture it.  See also standard.

Standard

Something established for use as rule or basis of comparison in measuring or judging capacity, quantity, content, extent, value, quality, etc.

In South Africa we rely on the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), who regulate and control the SANS (South African National Standards).  These are developed in conjunction with the input from industry, interested and affected parties and their accredited bodies through the various technical committees.  Standards are typically based on international standards and or best practices and are then adapted for the South African conditions and requirements.

The lubricants industry is no different and it is common knowledge that they rely on internationally accepted automotive standards such as the API (American Petroleum Institute), ACEA (Automobiles Constructor Europe Association), JASO (Japanese Automobile Standards Organisation), SAE International and other original equipment manufacturers.  Industrial standards are usually quoted against ISO (International Organisation for Standards), DIN (Deutsche Industrie Normen) and original equipment manufacturers standards.  These standards are regularly quoted on the products in the South African lubricant market.  There is however very little chance of testing these products completely against the quoted standards, due to the cost and complexity in doing so.  So, this begs the question, how does the end user, i.e. the consumer know that what they are paying for is what they are getting?  Sure, the label and packaging might state that this product meets certain performance specifications such as API CH4/SJ, but how can the consumer be sure that this is indeed the case. Obviously if the manufacturer is an ISO 9001 accredited company there can be some assurance that the blending is conducted consistently and correctly to the tested formulation and that the product is appropriately certified.  Complete engine testing for these products is rather cumbersome and expensive, and this opens the door for unscrupulous blenders of lubricants to make fancy packaging and labels claiming international performance standards on their products.  Due to the fact that the majority of the end users in the automotive field are Joe Public and not familiar with these standards, comebacks on product performance against these suppliers would be limited.

It is time for action in this regard as the implementation of the Consumer Protection Bill, later this year, will bring about interesting challenges with regard to compliance for the lubricant marketer and recourse from a consumer's point of view.

Andrew Kirk

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