Oct 1, 2012 12:00 PM
Collection operations for Universal Lubricants' innovative used-oil “re-refinery” get a boost from eccentric disc pump technology
Over the past decade, companies in virtually every industry have taken some steps to make their operations more “green,” as in more friendly to the environment. These measures can take many forms, from simple fixes like changing the type of light bulbs used to complex plant upgrades featuring more energy-efficient equipment.
Relatively few companies, however, have gone more “all in” with regards to the green movement than Wichita, Kansas-based Universal Lubricants LLC. Founded in 1929 as a compounder, packager and distributor of petroleum products, Universal Lubricants has grown to include 36 distribution facilities across 16 states, from Ohio to New Mexico and Wisconsin to Texas. Universal Lubricants' oils, greases, and other fluids have helped keep equipment working, motors running, engines turning, and machines operating from the farm to the industrial park to the family garage.
As the 20th century closed, Universal Lubricants' management realized there would be a growing emphasis on renewable energy sources that would also prove friendlier to the environment. With that in mind, Universal Lubricants formed its Industrial Services Division, which places an emphasis on collecting used oils that can be “re-refined” and reused. The new division opened an innovative, state-of-the-art oil “re-refinery” in Wichita in 2009, the same year Universal Lubricants celebrated its 80th birthday.
This is a facility where used motor oil is re-refined and blended with additives to make premium motor and engine oils that meet all industry performance specifications. In fact, these oils perform as well or better than motor and engine oils newly manufactured from crude oil.
Today, approximately 1.3 billion gallons of used oil are generated each year in the United States, and Universal Lubricants' re-refinery is one of a handful of such operations in the country that is designed to take that used oil and other vehicle fluids and re-refine them into high-performance end-products. In Universal Lubricants' case, the re-refined products sold under the Eco Ultra brand include premium engine oils, hydraulic oils, transmission fluids, tractor fluids, and automotive coolants.
“In the past, before our re-refinery opened, used oil was predominantly used as an alternative fuel, such as number 4 fuel oil, where it was burned in asphalt plants, which destroys the fuel,” says Guy Miller, fleet manager for Universal Lubricants. “Now, when we collect the used oil, we bring it back to the re-refinery and refine it to strip away the old, used additives and separate them from the base oil. Used as a lubricant, the base oil virtually never wears out. The additives get dirty and once you split those out you can reuse the base oil many times. So we've created a closed-loop system where we can collect the used oil, re-refine it into high-quality base oil, blend it with quality additives, and then resell it back to the customer as a premium semi-synthetic product.”
Universal Lubricants' Closed Loop process consists of four stages: collection, re-refining, blending, and servicing. The company uses its own trucks to pick up used oil and then distribute the re-refined products. With more than 200 trucks, the fleet includes collection trucks, box trucks and van trailers, and bulk delivery tankwagons.
Sixty tankwagons are dedicated to the used-oil collection process. They travel to Universal Lubricants' customer sites — locations like Jiffy Lube oil-change centers or large retailers like Walmart that provide automotive services, as well as other smaller operations — to collect the used oil and fluids and transport them back to the re-refinery in Wichita.
The trucks run regular routes that are roughly 200 miles in length. Drivers make 10-20 stops a day to pick up the oil. The typical pick up is 200 gallons of used oil, but some customer locations generate up to 500 gallons at a time.
Universal Lubricants runs a mixed truck fleet with vehicles that were added through acquisitions of other companies, according to Miller. “Over the past few years, we bought out three to four other used-oil processors,” he says. “We run the chassis about eight to 10 years, and we typically refurbish and move the cargo tank to a new chassis.”
Cargo tanks are refurbished in-house at the Universal Lubricants maintenance shop in Wichita. “We have three mechanics in the shop, and our goal is to refurbish a tank a month,” Miller says. “Currently, we are refurbishing six to eight tanks a year. We bring these tanks and all of the hardware and product handling system back to like-new condition. Our mechanics do a thorough job.”
For the oil collection process, the most recent new-truck purchases have been Kenworth T800s with the Paccar MX engine rated at 350 horsepower and a 10-speed Eaton Fuller manual transmission. Mounted on the T800 — in most cases — is a 4,000-gallon, non-code, two-compartment cargo tank. Hardware includes a two-inch inlet for picking up used oil and a three-inch discharge outlet, both with butterfly valves. Also part of the used oil collection system are an eight-inch canister filter for removing particles and 30-feet of two-inch hose with a stinger for sucking used oil out of various storage systems.
The transport pump is a key component in the used-oil collection operation. Pumps are used to facilitate the transfer of the used oil from the tote, barrel, or storage tank where it is kept, into the tank truck, and then out of the tank truck and into the storage tanks at the re-refinery. These used oils often feature high viscosities that also include a significant amount of abrasive particles that can negatively affect the operation of any transfer pump.
Until recently, Universal Lubricants was relying on gear-pump technology on its tank trucks. While gear pumps are generally available at a bottom-line-friendly purchase price and, when operating properly, can provide the product flow rates and suction that Universal Lubricants requires, they also have a number of operational shortcomings.
Most notably, the pump's shaft seal is packed, meaning that it is designed to “leak” in order to lubricate the shaft. This leakage can contaminate the product being pumped and also compromise the reliability of the pump's leak-prevention characteristics. Additionally, the internal wear inherent in the meshing of the gears causes reduced flow rate and increased product slippage, as well as creating the need for the pump to work harder just to meet the required flow rates.
“Gear pumps may pump fine and perform very well, but the packing is prone to leaking which makes them more labor- and maintenance-intensive,” says Miller. “With used oil you get lots of viscosities, there's also the presence of some fuels, like diesel, in the oil and with that you get leaking. So, you have to constantly adjust them and perform maintenance on them to keep them from leaking. When you're picking up used oil at lube centers like Jiffy Lube or places like Walmart, which are very image-conscious, you obviously don't need to be dropping oil. A leaking pump becomes a big deal.”
Additionally, keeping oil off the ground — or out of the groundwater — helps avoid environmental-compliance issues. This is a major objective for handlers of any type of oil-based product and knowing that a pump will not leak provides an elevated level of peace-of-mind.
Eliminating a challenge
Realizing that the constant need to repair or replace the fleet's gear pumps was creating challenges for Universal Lubricants, Miller was primed to consider an alternative. Into the picture stepped Werts Welding & Tank Service, Wood River, Illinois. Founded in 1957 as a repairer of tank trucks and distributor of truck pumps and other equipment, Werts has grown to include seven distribution centers that are spread across the country from Tampa, Florida, to Billings, Montana. This distribution network has helped Werts Welding build a reputation as a top-line distributor of fuel trailers, dry-bulk trailers, fuel trucks, lube trucks, heating-oil trucks, and vacuum trucks, along with their respective parts and equipment.
“We've done business with Universal Lubricants for a number of years and I go back about 30 years with Guy,” says Bruce Cornelius, sales manager for Werts Welding & Tank Service.
For a number of years, Werts Welding has been a Master Distributor of hydraulic coolers and vane compressors from Mouvex for use in the US market. Mouvex was founded by French engineer Andre Petit, who invented eccentric-disc pump technology in 1906, and in 2008 the company became a founding member of the Dover Corporation's Pump Solutions Group (PSG), which is based in Oak Brook Terrace, Illinois.
At the same time Miller began his search for an alternative to the gear pumps his fleet was using, Mouvex made the decision to introduce its CC20 Series eccentric disc pump technology to the US market. CC20 pumps have been incorporated successfully in European used-oil hauling applications for nearly 60 years thanks to a design that features excellent self-priming capability, constant and smooth delivery, a small footprint, lightweight construction, simple installation and — most importantly — leak-free operation.
The cast-iron CC20 pump offered through Werts has a built-in safety bypass, which is adjustable with a regulating screw, compensates for low-pressure pumping situations. Truck-mounted CC20 pumps can be driven via the vehicle's power take-off, by universal drive, or hydraulic motor. Pump speeds are rated up to 500 rpm with flow rates to 88 gpm (333 L/min), and the pump has the capability to handle viscosities ranging from 75 to 750 cSt (400 to 3,630 ssu).
So, knowing that Miller was on the lookout for a reliable replacement for the gear pumps used in the tank truck fleet, Cornelius suggested testing a CC20 pump on one of the company's used-oil tankwagons.
“Mouvex asked us to test them and Universal met the criteria for the type of customer they wanted to test the CC20s,” said Cornelius. “As soon as I got the pumps, I contacted Guy and explained to him what we were trying to do, what the benefits would be for his operation and I asked him if he would test one and he said sure.”
Since installing the CC20 test unit on one of his trucks in July 2011, Miller has treated it as he would any other pump that Universal Lubricants would use: He pushed it to the limit. In fact, from January 1 to July 10, the CC20 helped collect and deliver 211 used-oil loads, with an average load of 2,101 gallons, for a total pumped volume of 886,742 gallons — 443,371 gallons picked up at collection sites around the Wichita area and delivered to Universal Lubricants' re-refinery. On the collection side, the vehicle's inlet hose is approximately 30 feet long with the used oil flowing through a 1.5-inch barrel stinger and through an 8 inch by 26 inch mesh basket with approximately 1/8 inch holes before entering the pump. Vehicle discharge at the re-refinery is over the top of the storage tank through a hose 20 feet, 3 inches in length at pump speeds up to 500 rpm.
“The CC20 is a little smaller and a little lighter, installation is easier, and the performance side has been very close to the gear pumps,” Miller says. “We also haven't had to rebuild the CC20, so if we can go longer without having to perform that maintenance, that's a major deal, as well.”
The only reason the CC20 was removed from the Universal Lubricants truck on July 10 was so that Mouvex engineers could take it apart and inspect it for signs of wear to determine if it needed any type of maintenance. (That pump was replaced with an identical CC20 model.) That inspection delivered good news for Mouvex and the CC20 as there was virtually no wear in the pump, despite the harsh operating conditions it had experienced for more than a year, according to Scott Jackson, product manager-Americas for Mouvex. In its used-oil handling experience in Europe, Mouvex has come to expect its CC20 pumps to operate for at least five years before needing to be replaced.
When it comes to the performance of the Mouvex CC20 Series eccentric disc pump when used in used-oil hauling for one of the country's preeminent used-oil re-refiners, it's been “so far, so good.” While the initial cost for a CC20 may be higher than that of a traditional gear pump, the total cost of ownership, when you factor in the CC20's reliability, reduced breakdowns and need for maintenance, makes it the much more sensible choice, as does the pump's environmentally friendly operation and product containment.
Most importantly, perhaps, the CC20 has earned the plaudits of Universal Lubricants' Guy Miller.
“The big selling point on the CC20 is the pump did not leak for more than one year,” Miller says. “What gear pumps can do that? So, we get basically the same performance with no leakage and no maintenance. I'm extremely satisfied with the performance of the CC20s. In fact, we're already planning to buy some CC20s for the six truck-mounted tanks we plan to refurbish next year.”
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