Meeting ISO 14001 requirements

Leveraging advanced forming lubricant technology

November 6, 2003
By: Brad Jeffery

As of July 2003 all 5,000-plus Ford Motor Company suppliers were required to be ISO 14001-certified. In 2002 General Motors required all of its suppliers to implement environmental management systems (EMS) that conform to ISO 14001. The trend will continue for the auto industry and others.

First published in 1996, ISO 14001 specifies the actual requirements for an environmental management system. It applies to those environmental aspects an organization can control. Achieving ISO 14001 requires documented improvement. First, you must document your current environmental conditions and then have a system in place to document your targeted annual environmental improvements.

Metal forming lubricants can impact a metal forming company's environmental health significantly and provide enough opportunities for environmental improvement to allow you to obtain ISO 14001 registration without added expense. Lubricants touch almost every major process, from the press operator's health to your wastewater treatment status. By leveraging the environmental benefits of safer forming lubricants, you can avoid the added expense required to treat or handle your current lubricant.

Lubricant chemistry varies greatly, and sometimes it's difficult to see how the differences impact your environmental status and your cost of doing business. Through a deeper understanding of these differences you can determine the most environmentally safe option.

Are Synthetic or Water Solubles Safer? Maybe.

Most metal forming companies have switched from straight oil lubricants to some type of water-dispersible (often inaccurately called water-soluble) or synthetic product. Though this is a step in the right direction environmentally, many issues still need to be considered. Just because something mixes with water doesn't mean it is safe. Some of the most toxic chemicals in the world are water-soluble. It's important to understand the qualitative differences among lubricant technologies to assess your improvement options properly.

Three major types of water-dispersible lubricants are available, and they all have very different attributes. The most common are water-dispersible or emusifiable oils. This technology—which adds an emulsifier to traditional straight oils to enable them to mix with water—has been around since the '60s. Although these lubricants can be diluted with water, they aren't necessarily safer or easier to clean.

A vegetable oil-based dispersible oil is biodegradable but difficult to clean.

Synthetics are growing in popularity. Their benefits include improved parts cleaning, welding, and compatibility with high-solids paints (e-coat or powder paint). Some contain highly alkaline soaps and traditional extreme pressure (EP) additives (such as sulfur or chlorine), making them more toxic than oil. Others are made with nontoxic polymers and have received high environmental marks, while still providing tool protection and good welding, paint, and wastewater performance.

By understanding the environmental effects of your current lubricant, you can document your baseline environmental status and outline an improvement strategy, meeting both ISO 14001 registration requirements. Remember, ISO 14001 doesn't require that you achieve a certain level of environmental quality, only that you document where you are and have a plan for continuous improvement.

Measuring Disposal Hazard – the Toxicity Factor

The impact your lubricant technology has on your wastewater or disposal quality is significant. Wastewater typically is evaluated in four major areas:

1. BOD/COD (biochemical oxygen demand/chemical oxygen demand)
2. Oil and grease content (Freon® or hexane extractables)
3. Regulated compounds (constituents restricted by state or federal agencies, such as SARA III)
4. Aquatic toxicity
Figure 1 1

Although items 1-3 are well-known in the industry, aquatic toxicity, which is very important to water treatment authorities, seldom is discussed. To achieve a favorable aquatic toxicity number, greater raw material screening is required by the lubricant manufacturer. Also, the cost of lower-toxicity raw materials can be higher, resulting in a higher price per gallon for the user. For companies selling on price, this creates a market acceptance hurdle they would prefer to avoid. However, a higher price per gallon doesn't necessarily mean higher cost. Polymer-based products perform better at lower volumes, resulting in reduced lubricant use of as much as 50 percent, which lowers overall cost and lessens environmental impact.

Your ISO 14001 Improvement Options

The chart below outlines how each lubricant technology impacts each major manufacturing process environmentally. The type of lubricant your company uses determines the degree to which you can improve. Each area is rated from poor to excellent. If you currently use straight oil, you have the greatest opportunity to improve. As you move to the left, the technologies provide greater environmental improvement opportunities. According to the chart, the most environmentally attractive product type is a polymer synthetic.

Figure 2

Getting Your Baseline Toxicity Number

Some laboratories will test your lubricant toxicity and provide your EC50 Microtox® value. This number will give you a valuable current-process benchmark and a target for ISO 14001 improvement.

Why Be Concerned With ISO 14001?

More and more companies are requiring their suppliers to be ISO 14001-certified. Armed with the knowledge of your business's current environmental health and the latest lubricant technology options, you can determine where you are and where you can improve. Your lubricant supplier can work with you to leverage current advancements.

1. Microtox testing data supplied by Greenleaf Technologies' lab.

Lubricant toxicity testing companies:

Greenleaf Technologies, 800-323-2933
Texas Research Institute for Enviro Studies, 936-294-3715
AquaTOX Research, 800-836-5809
Brad Jeffery

Brad Jeffery

Contributing Writer
2117 Greenleaf St.
Evanston, IL 60202
Phone: 847-864-0255
Fax: 847-864-0012
IRMCO develops and manufactures dry, fluid, and gel lubricants; performs laboratory testing; and provides consulting services to the metal forming and fabricating industry.

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