Hot, humid, or very dry, dusty environments, with a few chemicals such as resins and release agents, make a toxic mix. That is the environment in which complex and expensive machinery has to work for long hours without expensive stoppages.

If you want oil for your car engine or gearbox, they are ‘standard’ oils and Klüber is not the supplier for you. The company’s products are all designed for very specific industrial applications, which do include the automotive industry but only in specialist areas, as the company does not process many purely mineral based oils, but mainly synthetics.

Founded in 1929 by Theodor Klüber, the company moved into speciality lubricants in 1950 and adopted the name Klüber Lubrication in 1959. Seven years later, the company was bought by Freudenberg & Co KG and in 2004 became part of the business group Freudenberg Chemical Specialities.

Klüber rebuilt and extended its research and development (R&D) centre at its Munich headquarters in 1995 and that facility, with constant updating, remains the beating heart of the company’s business, with continual testing of new products, in new situations, either on its own specially-developed test rigs, or DIN approved ones.

In 2008, Klüber established a new production site in Qingpu, Shanghai, with one production line, R&D and sales. It employs over 100 staff, covering all Klüber’s speciality markets in China and the rest of Asia.

This is just the newest of 13 production sites worldwide, in North and South America and Europe, including Turkey. Klüber also has many more wholly-owned subsidiaries in 30 countries and sales partners in another 40.

One of the areas in which Klüber’s speciality lubricants are very likely to be found is in the continuous presses made by the wellknown German OEMs.

"Our lubricants are used in those companies’ factories as the ‘first fill’ lubricant and wherever there are continuous presses, all over the world, you will see our black and yellow drums," said Thomas Krammer, head of the business unit dedicated to the wood based panels industry. "We are the market leader in speciality lubricants – and not only for this industry."

He backed up that claim with turnover figures for 2011 of €465m for the group.

Klüber employs 1900 people worldwide, with 590 in Germany alone, and Mr Krammer said that the company has a highly educated, technically oriented sales team.

"Our involvement in the wood panel industry is mainly in continuous presses, but we are also involved in lubrication of other machinery in panel plants and in woodworking machinery and pellet production," said Mr Krammer. "Lubricants are part of the engineering."

Growth markets for wood panels, such as China and Brazil, are increasingly important to Klüber Lubrication.

"We develop specific solutions for our customers. For example, we have worked with our customers since the eighties to develop oils and greases. The demands on their presses are always for faster speeds and higher temperatures, so we have continual cooperation and development.

"As a company we have over 2,000 products," said Mr Krammer. "But we are not only selling our products – we focus on service, monitoring, documenting, carrying out oil analysis in our laboratories; and on customer training (‘KlüberCollege’).

"That is the difference between us and other suppliers – we carry out training in lubricants for maintenance workers in panel mills and we have more than 120 inhouse test rigs in our R&D department. We even have a test rig for the lubrication of switches, as the sliding parts of switches must work in all environments and temperatures. Our R&D is not just about examining lubricants, but the materials involved in bearings, gears and so on as well."

Klüber also networks with several universities and external research institutes in its R&D work in developing oils, greases, pastes, waxes and corrosion protection.

"For the wood based panels industry it is mostly oils for gears, chains, compressors etc, while greases are for valves, gears, bearings, electrical contacts and plastics. We also develop and supply lubricant dispensers.

"Our chain waxes with special additives are very good lubricants, especially in the presence of wood fibre."

Klüber’s customer support is covered by the ‘KlüberEfficiencySupport’, which comprises four areas:

KlüberEnergy offers services for optimum energy efficiency of your lubricant application.

KlüberMonitor recommends optimisation strategies to increase your productivity on the basis of tribological analyses of your application and bench tests.

KlüberMaintain offers professional support for your lubrication management and maintenance programme.

Finally, KlüberRenew offers services to increase the lifetime of your cost-intensive components such as large gear drives and chains, including appropriate training.

"For continuous presses, you need good high-temperature resistance, low evaporation losses and residue formation and long relubrication intervals," said Mr Krammer.

"I have 20 colleagues around the world specialising in the wood based panels industry and we network globally all the time because this kind of global operation is expected by the big panel producers and the press manufacturers.

"Our focus is on the continuous presses, running at up to 2m/sec, with a lot of moving parts. This is a very tough situation for lubricants.

"All panel producers with continuous presses know Klüber and we have a high market penetration."

Klüber also supplies lubricants to the oldgeneration Küsters chain mat presses. Excluding that press type, typical oil consumption is 10-15 tons/year on average for a continuous press.

Continuous presses operate at up to 250oC and require special oils as well as special hightemperature greases containing special base oil and thickeners, but chippers, refiners, drum dryers, cut-to-size operations, cooling stars, sanders, chain conveyors and air compressors all provide challenging environments for lubricants.

Of the high temperature oils, the most important are the ‘belt oils’ for the roller rods and ‘pins’ that carry the stainless steel belts of a continuous press.

"You also have fibres, release agents and glue involved, so we developed a unique oil which cleans and lubricates at the same time," said Mr Krammer.

In 2011, Klüber developed a completely new belt oil – its fifth generation – called Klübertherm CH2-260. This was still undergoing field trials at the time of my visit to Klüber in September 2012.

In 2012, Klübertherm CH2-100 was developed for chains and is also under test.

The R&D facilities at Klüber’s Munich HQ are very comprehensive, from testing bicycle chain lubricants to large gears. I discovered that tribology is the study of oil in a tribological system or application (ie the study of friction, lubrication and wear).

There are several separate rooms in a sound-proofed and secure building, with one or more test rigs set up in each. For instance two rooms have five test rigs for bearings. Every product has its own test plan and parameters.

The analytical department examines chemical changes to elements of the grease after each test and all parts of the bearing are weighed before and after the test and areas of wear located.

One of the many test rigs developed inhouse is for chain and pin-oils for continuous presses and this new rig can now operate at up to 220oC.

In the production area, Klüber has several reactors, or kettles, in which oils, greases and pastes are cooked to exacting recipes.

A visit to Klüber Lubrication’s premises is certainly an eye-opener to anyone who, like me, had not really thought about what goes into producing lubricants for extremely exacting environments and heavy load situations.