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10 Nov

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Selecting the most appropriate lubricant for aerospace mechanisms requires a selection of the most lightweight and most functional lubricant. This is because additional costs are incurred for every pound in total weight added during aerospace operations. Moreover, utilizing heavier lubrication would only cause significant financial consequences on top of possible mechanical or technical concerns.

Research on lubricants used in the aerospace industry would show that solid lubricants were traditionally used for aerospace machinery. However, the advent of technology, globalization, and modernization has brought about significant innovations in the field. New formulations of lubricants with the same, or even higher, quality performance have been developed and are now being utilized widely in many aerospace applications.

What are Aerospace Lubricants?

Lubricants that are used in aerospace applications such as, space travel, commercial airlines, and defense, are like other lubricants, but face more critical performance demands. In order to be classified as an aerospace lubricant, products must pass tests that are created by the Department of Defense (DoD) known as “MILSPECS.” To ensure safety and performance for aerospace applications, the MILSPECS create standardization to meet DoD objectives. These MILSPECS test different performance factors such as: corrosion protection, shear stability, compatibility, and water sensitivity.

What Differentiates Aerospace Lubricants?

In addition to meeting various MILSPECS, aerospace lubricants are engineered specifically for aircraft engines and fuel systems. The key difference between aerospace lubricants and non-aerospace lubricants like it has been mentioned before, is weight. In space operations, weight is crucial because more fuel is needed, which can become costly. It could also put a strain on how many other supplies could be included in the launch. As the safety of astronauts and functionality of equipment are vital, these lubricants cannot fail.


In aerospace applications, lubricants face the most demanding tests. With temperatures in space at near Absolute-Zero and reentry temperatures reaching 5000 F, lubricants must perform in a wider-range of temperatures than their Earth-bound equivalents. Additionally, lubricants must be able to operate in a vacuum environment. This is on top of all of the crucial navigational and life-supporting machines that make space travel possibly. These machines cannot suffer any breakdowns or down time as they support life and other functions both in space and on Earth. Aerospace lubricants must have a long life to maintain these critical operations.


In defense operations, completing the objective is key and your lubricant must perform to ensure the objective is met. These lubricants have to: withstand extreme-temperature jet engines, cargo aircraft landing gears, precise navigational tools, and other wide-temperature components. By selecting lubricants that meet the right MILSPECS, you can ensure proper performance and success in your aerospace operations.

Considerations in Selecting Aerospace Lubricants

In order to select the most appropriate lubricant, companies would usually conduct field tests using a variety of lubricants that are available in the market. Lubricants are evaluated based on their viscosity grade, machine operating contexts, volatility, sump cleanliness control, and rate of long-term use. Apart from this, companies would also determine compositional differences among available lubricants in order to determine their individual implications in costing and other operational concerns.

Studies have also found a general selection criterion for aerospace lubricants, as presented below. On top of the previously presented evaluative aspects, the following are the major considerations in selecting the most appropriate lubricant or solution in operations:


-Operating environment

-Fluid-film lubrication and viscosity

-Boundary lubrication performance


-Fire resistance


-Toxicity and biodegradability

-Susceptibility to additives

Aerospace Lubricants that are Available in the Market

Presented in the following sections are an overview of the lubricants commonly used in the aerospace industry.




Perfluoropolyether Lubricants (PFPEs)

The perfluoropolyether lubricant line saw its beginnings in the commercial market in 1965 when it was marketed as a lubricant with low thermal stability and low vapor pressures at low molecular weights. Composed mainly of oxygen, carbon, and fluorine, PFPEs are the least preferred lubrication solution in civil and military aerospace applications due to their complexity and relatively expensive costs. Apart from this, PFPEs are solid lubricants, implying possible weight issues during operations.


Most perfluoropolyether lubricants in the market utilize monomers acquired from crude oil, suggesting a labor-intensive process of developing even its raw materials. Companies that primarily produce PFPEs invest millions, or even billions, in capital in order to meet the necessary regulatory and operational standards required from perfluoropolyether lubricants to function appropriately in aerospace applications. Companies, however, are developing variations in PFPE components in order to make the product more marketable and less complex. For example, a prominent company that markets PFPEs utilize hydrofluoric acid from calcium fluoride to produce new monomers.


Generally, perfluoropolyether lubricants could be used in the following applications:


Rocket engines and support systems in ground operations

Engine oil and gearbox

Couplings (e.g. engine, oxygen system)

Bearings, ballscrews, and leadscrews

Aerospace instruments, gimbals, and gyroscopes

Research on PFPEs has shown that the material has a poor boundary that would be unable to solubilize newly-formulated additives. In addition, the lubricant was also found to be prone to autocatalytic degradation. These reasons further render PFPEs as an unpopular choice in addressing aerospace industry solutions.


Multiply Alkylated Cyclopentane (MACs) Lubricants

These lubricants have replaced traditional mineral oil-based lubricants due to their low volatile properties and superior candidate additives that are comparable with the performance of lead naphthenate additives and phosphate additives that are currently being utilized in aerospace applications. Moreover, a number of researches suggest that MACs yield better outcomes than PFPEs in room temperature conditions in vacuum environments. This suggests better application outcomes for MACs lubricants. General functions of multiply alkylated cyclopentane lubricants also encompass that of PFPE applications.



Current researches on MACs lubricants and other liquid-based lubricants are examining the use of more exotic products, such as ionic liquid lubricants, in furthering the capability of lubricants in addressing aerospace concerns.

20 Oct

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When most people think about safety, they usually consider their personal responsibility for staying safe. At any plant I visit, safety typically is among the first topics discussed, and it’s almost always targeted toward what individual actions must be performed.

This includes which personal protective equipment (PPE) to wear, what areas to avoid, which sirens or alarms to be aware of, what the fire or severe weather plan is and other related items. Many sites even have employees and contractors wear a visible sticker or badge that shows a proper safety briefing has been completed.

However, when it comes to the specific tasks associated with a lubrication program, the general safety training and knowledge in most plants is insufficient. Safety should be the top priority on a jobsite, and the lubrication program’s design should be part of this safety prioritization.

When establishing a culture of safety around your lube program, there are six main elements to consider: general safety, training, storage, handling, worksite monitoring and disposal.

General Safety

Work within the existing safety programs at your site. Take advantage of the rules and regulations currently being enforced and decide how they apply to lubrication practices. Your company has already committed to employee safety and well-being, and determining how your actions fit into these existing practices will go a long way toward your success.

For example, many oil sampling or fill points can be in hard-to-reach locations. Guidelines likely are in place for how to properly gain access to those spots, such as fall protection for working aloft or how to position a ladder to reach over a run of piping. Incorporate the current safety framework at your jobsite, from PPE to cleanliness and anything else the health, safety and environment (HSE) team has set in place to ensure overall company safety.

You should also work with your HSE team to contribute lubrication knowledge to existing safety standards. Help them identify hazards and assess risks in specific lubrication matters.

Lubrication is used to help equipment move, and by definition, moving equipment is dangerous. Perform a comprehensive survey to examine hazards in the workplace, such as the work area layout, as well as activity hazards like the specific machinery being used and environmental hazards like combustible dust. Create written procedures for lubrication activities in the same way you would for other maintenance or HSE-related work.


Train on safety regularly. Along with incorporating current HSE practices into your lubrication program, you also should train all personnel in the particulars of lubrication safety. For many, this will just be general awareness training and can be added to the annual queue of refresher training that the HSE team rotates through, similar to confined space or hearing conservation. 

For those who are more actively involved in performing lubrication actions, a more robust safety training will be needed. Specific knowledge of the location and identification of lubricants using the safety data sheet (SDS) program will be vital. Consider including hands-on training sessions for sampling and drain/fill evolutions.

 Some good rules of thumb for when to provide training would be for first-hire employees (general safety and job specific as needed), when an employee is changing positions or responsibilities to include more lubrication, or when a change or implementation in processes is being made, such as a new lubrication type being added, a new piece of lubrication equipment being used, or some other hazard or condition being introduced. Refresher training should also be offered based on the company or group need or by regulation (at least annually).


As the old adage states, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Properly storing and containing oils and greases will go a long way toward making your lubrication program safe. There is no single right way to store lubricants safely, but there are many wrong practices for managing lubricant storage. Common factors that contribute to stored lubricants being unsafe are as simple as weather exposure or storing lubricants in high-traffic areas. Precipitation and direct sunlight can corrode barrels and other metal connections. Corrosion may result in leaks or escaping fumes from barrels or other storage totes.

Exposure to the environment can also damage the lubricants. Damaged oil being pumped through your systems can lead to earlier machine failure and possibly catastrophic failure, which is far more alarming for most workers than spotting a sheen of oil heading to the environmental drains.

Design your lubricant storage to help prevent spills or leaks by keeping lubricants inside and away from high-traffic areas or pipes that are known to leak or vent, such as steam traps. Store tools and smaller lubricants like greases in specially designed lockers to prevent fire or contamination. Additional ventilation or atmospheric monitoring may be needed to meet air-quality regulations.

Follow all guidelines established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concerning the storage of lubricants, including oil breaks, approved drains, stacking and positioning of containers, and fire suppression or ventilation systems. Work closely with your HSE team to ensure any changes to your lubrication program take these regulations into account.

In the illustration above, you can see many of these safe practices at work. The lights and electrical are rated as explosion-proof, a ventilation system has been installed in the ceiling, a fire-suppression system is employed, the floor is sealed to prevent seepage from leaks into the ground, and there’s a proper waste-disposal receptacle for rags and other rubbish.


While many lubricants are nontoxic, some may contain a trace mineral or ingredient that can cause a reaction or injury if mishandled. Read the SDS for the lubricant in question and keep copies readily available for workers who use the area.

Some common lubricant classification types are listed above with approximate toxicity concerns. Additionally, the American Petroleum Institute (API) has classified all lubricants into one of five groups with specific warnings. Group I lubricants have been identified as having sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity to humans.

The carcinogenetic component is called a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), also referred to as an aromatic. If your facility handles Group I lubricants, be sure to take extra precautions, such as large placards or other warning signs to keep unknowledgeable team members away.

Similarly, Group II lubricants have been identified as having possible carcinogenicity to animals. While not as dangerous as Group I, these lubricants require the same types of precautions and warnings. Group III and IV lubricants have been treated in such a way as to remove most aromatic compounds, but some components may still be of concern.

Lastly, Group V lubricants are chemically engineered esters, polyglycols and silicone based. In this group, attention should be paid to any phosphate esters, as these compounds have the most potential to harm humans. Allergic reactions are also common for triphenyl-​phosphate compounds.

Keep the appropriate PPE nearby, such as gloves, goggles, face shields or other safety gear. Practices that help to prevent spills, leaks or overuse should be employed, such as using a metered filter cart with quick disconnects for transferring or filling oils from storage. When sampling, use a pressure reducer if the oil is normally more than 100 pounds per square inch gauge (psig).

Greases have a few unique handling precautions as well. These lubricants tend to settle in the tube when stored at lower temperatures and may need to be warmed before applying. Grease shouldn’t be manually warmed above 75 degrees F and should never be warmed with any sort of flame. Also, never hold a grease gun coupler with your hand during application, and consider using grease guns with an installed pressure relief or avoiding pneumatic types for high-risk situations.

Worksite Monitoring

After any lubrication activity, such as draining, change outs or filling, always recheck the worksite and equipment. Look for leaks or spills. It’s possible a seal or cap wasn’t properly reinstalled. Dust or debris may have settled on a small spot that wasn’t noticeable during the maintenance task and now presents a potential hazard.

You may wish to schedule monitored lubrication evolutions. Observe how the lubrication activity is planned and carried out by the maintenance or operations personnel who deal with it each day. This allows for process improvement and helps shore up weak areas of safety training and practices.

Include the lubricant storage area as part of any group cleaning of the plant to encourage personnel to become familiar with the equipment as well as how tools and lubricants should be used and stored. This not only serves to keep the area safe because equipment is properly maintained, but also ensures safety for other concerns like slips and trips.


Used lubricants that are awaiting disposal are just as important to store properly as new oil, if not more so. Used oil may have contaminants or expired additives and present different chemical properties than new oil. Used lubricants often are mixed and may have different flash points than the base oil. Store used oil in a separate area from new oil and follow local HSE rules for combining different types of discarded oil or other products, such as oily rags.

For used filters, the best practice is to separate the metal portion for recycling, compress the media to remove the oil and dispose of the oil in a used-oil container. This reduces the fire risk from discarding the entire filter in the trash. Dispose of greasy or oily rags in proper disposal cans and don’t allow them to accumulate or become a hazard. When cleaning equipment, use approved solvents or soaps and ensure any runoff goes to an approved environmental drain.

In short, store your lubricants correctly, handle them well, dispose of them properly, double-check your jobsite, follow all site-specific safety guidelines, and train to the standard by which you want the program to live. In most companies and worksites, safety is priority one. Performing lubrication tasks should be no different. Deliberately adopt a safety-first mindset to plan, execute and evaluate all the lubrication efforts at your plant.

13 Oct

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When comparing multiple products these days, you might read about the different ways in which they might affect the environment. Many companies are even highlighting through their advertisements that their products are green or eco-friendly. Terms such as Vegan certified, biodegradability, Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EAL), or Environmentally Friendly Lubricants (EFL) might be used to describe a lubricant’s effect on the environment. When reading about terms like these, you might wonder; are they all referring to the same thing, or do they each have their own meaning? Plainly, they are distinct, and each term has a specific definition. To get a better perspective on the meaning of the above-mentioned terms, we will examine the standards that must be met for lubricants in regards to aquatic environments . Since extreme care must be taken when using lubricants over water.

Vegan Society Trademark Standards


 For a lubricant to be Vegan certified, there has to be no animal derivatives, no genetically modified organisms involved in the manufacturing process, and no animal testing on products or ingredients. Besides, the vegan materials are to be prepared separately away from their counterpart non vegan products for food producers.

Vessel General Permit


The Vessel General Permit (VGP) is a Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit that authorizes, on a nationwide basis, discharges incidental to the normal operation of non-military and non-recreational vessels greater than or equal to 79 feet in length. This permit covers 26 distinct types of discharges that could potentially pose a threat to the aquatic ecosystem. The VGP includes a set criterion that lubricants must meet to help reduce this threat. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds on this permit, but it does go into detail about describing the above-mentioned terms and how they relate to lubricants. 

Environmentally Acceptable lubricants & Environmentally Friendly lubricants


In the VGP, EALs are described as lubricants that have been shown to meet standards for biodegradability, toxicity, and bioaccumulation potential that minimize the adverse consequences they are likely to have on the aquatic environment compared to normal lubricants. While EFLs are often defined as lubricants that may be expected to have desirable environmental qualities, they have not been proven to meet these standards. In short, EALs are lubricants that have passed the test to establish that they meet certain defined requirements while EFLs are lubricants that might have some good environmental qualities but may or may not meet the standard. Now that we know the difference between EALs and EFLs, let’s examine some of the standards that must be met to qualify a lubricant as an EAL.


To lower the threat in an aquatic environment, the chemical compound the lubricant started out as must be able to be broken down. Biodegradability is the measure of this breakdown by microorganisms, and it plays a big part in EALs. There are two types of biodegradation: Primary and Ultimate. Primary biodegradation is breaking off a piece of the chemical compound’s make-up. When this happens, the chemical compound can no longer perform the function it was created to do. Ultimate biodegradation is the complete breakdown of a chemical compound into carbon dioxide, water, and mineral salts. Primary and Ultimate biodegradation together can be classified as the physical breakdown of the lubricant. The method in which the breakdown occurs is classified as Inherent biodegradation and is determined by the compound’s ability to break down in any number of biodegradability tests. In addition, a lubricant is said to be Readily biodegradable where a part of the compound is biodegradable within a specific time using a specific test method. To be classified as an EAL, a lubricant must contain a certain percentage of readily biodegradable material.


Due to the potential for harm to plants and wildlife in the water, an EAL must have low toxicity. There are a few distinct types of aquatic toxicity tests that can be performed, some are done to determine the lubricant’s toxicity to fish while others are used for plants. These tests range in length from 48 -96 hours Rather than a passing or failing grade, the results of the test are typically displayed as either high or low toxicity. If we were going to look at toxicity levels of different lubricating base oils from high to low it would be as follows; mineral oils, Polyalkylene Glycols (PAG), synthetic esters, and vegetable oils.

Bioaccumulation is the gradual accumulation of substances like a lubricant’s constituent chemicals in an organism. In EALs it is desirable to have an extremely low bioaccumulation potential, as this will enable the lubricant’s compounds to break down at a faster rate. Compounds like mineral oils that have a higher potential for bioaccumulation can cause more harm. Because they don’t readily break down, the compounds in these lubricants stack up over time and create a cumulative threat to the environment. Also, worth noting is that water solubility and bioaccumulation are inversely related; if the water solubility of a lubricant is high the rate of bioaccumulation will be low.


While the use of lubricants on vessels is unavoidable, the VGP helps reduce the negative effects that can be posed to the aquatic environment. By examining the chemical makeup of the allowable lubricants and identifying a set of standards that these lubricants must meet, their potential for harm has been lowered. The VGP was created to help govern vessels over water, but it also serves as a good reference point to learn more about EALs in general. 



03 Nov

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For food and beverage producers, pharmaceuticals manufacturers, and producers of containers used to package food-related products, there’s no more important lubrication issue than the use of what is typically referred to as “food-grade lubricants”.


In the United States, lubricants intended for use in food production are registered with the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) as either H1, H2, or H3, depending on the intended application and formulation. Registration is voluntary and simply requires a review of the product ingredients with a list of compounds known to be “safe” for incidental food contact at low levels.


Of the three, H1 is by far the most important classification and is typically referred to as a lubricant designated for “incidental food contact”. This relates to applications where it is possible for the lubricant to touch the product (food, beverage, pharmaceutical, etc.) in low concentrations due to leakage or over-lubrication.


Recently, a new terminology has entered the vernacular of food-grade lubricants: ISO 21469 certification. ISO 21469 is not a new standard; in fact, it came into effect in February 2006. Like many voluntary standards, it has taken a while for mainstream adoption.


However, a number of major suppliers of food-grade lubricants recently have been successful in obtaining ISO 21469 certification, which is why the timing for an article such as this is now appropriate.

What ISO 21469 Addresses

Like the pre-existing NSF H1, H2, and H3 designations, ISO 21469 is all about trying to ensure that consumers are protected from the deleterious effects of contaminating food and food-related products with the lubricant.


However, the first important distinction is that ISO 21469 only addresses products intended for “incidental contact” (so-called H1 products in the old terminology). It does not cover the NSF H3 category of lubricants where product contact is inevitable (e.g., a meat hook), nor does it address H2 lubricants.


Second, unlike the NSF H1 designation, which simply addresses the potential toxicological, carcinogenic, and mutagenic effects of the lubrication by comparing a list of the lubricant’s “ingredients” with a list of approved food-safe products (per 21.CFR 178.3570), ISO 21469 addresses the whole process of lubricant design, manufacturing, packaging, and transportation.


Key to achieving ISO 21469 certification is conducting a thorough “hygiene risk assessment” to address not just the chemical safety of the lubricant (non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, non-mutagenic) but also the potential for physical risk from the ingression of dirt, dust or metals, or biological risk due to the formation of pathogens or other biologically active agents from long-term storage, spoilage, etc.

Steps to Certification

Achieving ISO 21469 certification is a six-step process.

Step 1 is simply an administrative step whereby the manufacturer submits details such as product name, manufacturing locations, container size, shelf life, etc., along with the completed risk assessment documents.


Step 2 requires a review by the assessing body (e.g., NSF) of product details, including a list of ingredients (e.g., additives), their suppliers, and the acceptable range of those ingredients in the finished product. Products are classified based on related product families (e.g., anti-wear fluid, gear oil, etc.).


Grouping products into classes based on their chemical constituents helps to reduce the amount of compliance testing required as part of obtaining and maintaining ISO 21469 certification. Just like the H1 classification, ingredients must come from the list of known food-safe products according to an appropriate listing such as Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation 21.CFR 178.3570.


Step 3 is an onsite audit of the lubricant manufacturing facility to look at recordkeeping, quality control policies and procedures, overall “good manufacturing processes” (GMP), and to allow for representative product samples to be collected. As part of the onsite audit, the manufacturer’s hygiene risk assessment protocol is reviewed and verified. The onsite audit is conducted by a qualified representative of the assessing body such as NSF.


Step 4 requires that a representative baseline be established using Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) analysis. Samples are taken from different manufacturing batches as well as any repackaged products to verify that the supplier has appropriate control over the manufacturing process.


Sample baselines are used to compare with future samples to ensure continued quality control compliance and formulation stability.

Step 5 allows for the issuance of accrediting certification. In the U.S., certification is provided through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) based on the findings of the assessing body such as NSF. A list of certified suppliers and products can be found online at http://www.nsf.org/Certified/iso_21469.

In order for a manufacturer to retain ISO 21469 certification, it is required to update its risk assessment policy. Each facility also is subjected to an annual unannounced audit, at which time product samples are collected that must match the product baselines established during the initial certification process (Step 6).

The Bottom Line Since ISO 21469 is a voluntary standard, it is not required that a manufacturer of food-grade lubricants goes through this process; in fact, many have yet to do so. NSF continues to provide the conventional H1, H2, and H3 designations for food-grade lubricants; and indeed, both ISO 21469 certification and H1 registration can be held by the same lubricant.


So, what’s the benefit of ISO 21469? Both the NSF H1 and ISO 21469 designations help to ensure that the ingredients in any lubricant are “safe” in the event of incidental food contact. But with ISO 21469, there’s an added layer of oversight that looks not just at the makeup of a given product but the manufacturing process and level of quality control applied to the formulation, manufacturing, distribution and storage of the lubricants.


Because of this, it’s likely that manufacturers of food-grade lubricants will continue to strive to attain ISO 21469 certification as an added measure of comfort to both the end-users of food-grade lubricants and, most importantly, to all of us as consumers!

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