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Buffalo Marine Lowers Costs and Improves Reliability with Lubricant Upgrades

Buffalo Marine Service, Inc. of Houston, Texas specializes in bunkering ships along the Gulf Coast from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Corpus Christi, Texas. Buffalo Marine owns and operates nine tugs, has two under construction and has six more independent tugs under contract. It also owns and operates twenty bunkering barges and four line haul barges making Buffalo Marine the largest provider of bunkering services on the Gulf Coast. Buffalo Marines major position in this market has been lead by its commitment to service and its willingness to readily explore innovative technologies.

In 1990, Buffalo Marine, in conjunction with Stewart & Stevenson, built the San Gabirel, the 1st electronic controlled Tug which has revolutionized the industry. In 1993 it built the Buffalo Star, the 1st barge that could function as a floating terminal by blending fuels on delivery using a Waugh controller and Micro-Motion meter. Buffalo Marine was also the first company to use Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines in marine service and it has designed custom bunker booms that can deliver to products (both a clean and dirty fuel) simultaneously. Previously, it was necessary for ships needing both types of fuel to be serviced by two different bunker barges. Buffalo Marine has also been an innovator by equipping its barges with two engines and two pumps to expedite quicker turnaround times for the ships its serves (6 ½ hr. turnaround vs. 10-12 hours).

In 1994, Buffalo Marine sought to attain operations improvements by upgrading the quality of its lubricants. Based on the experiences reported by Eddie Howard with Field Services Equipment Company, Buffalo Marine elected to upgrade its engine oils to Royal Purple’s high film strength, long life lubricants. As part of this change, used oil analysis was begun on all engines to enable Buffalo Marine to collect enough data so that we could make an informed choice about safe oil change intervals with the new oil. Ultimately, it was determined that oil and filter change intervals could safely be extended from the existing 300 hours to an oil change every 6 months, regardless of the number of hours of operation. For some barges, this could be as long as 1,000 hours between oil changes. An exception would be made if the oil ever appeared to be dirty on the dip stick, in which case only the oil filter would be changed. Subsequent to changing the oil filter, the oil would again look clean on the dip stick. The use of used oil analysis was suspended immediately after establishing the 6 month oil drain intervals, which have been ongoing for the past 12 years.

The first observation after changing to Royal Purple’s SAE 40 motor oil was that engine operating temperatures dropped 5•F. An additional benefit was that fuel efficiency increased by 3 to 5%. About this same time a V12 twin disk gear on the tug St. Thomas was experiencing high wear. The service representative for the vendor advised that we change it out as it only had 6 to 30 days remaining life. Instead, we elected to change the oil to Royal Purple and leave it in normal service. After changing oil, the gear quit generating wear particles and remained in normal service for nine more months.

Occasionally a broken hose will cause a low oil pressure alarm on our twin disk gears. Whenever this used to occur, the gear set would be fried no matter how quickly the engine was shut down after the alarm sounded. Since upgrading the Royal Purple high film strength motor oil, low pressure alarms no longer result in gear failure. Repairs are limited to replacing the broken hose and refilling with new oil.

The most significant benefit achieved by changing the oil to Royal Purple was that engine repair costs dropped by 25%. In-frame repairs (replacing all pistons, valves and heads) on our engines were common. In-frame repairs have now been eliminated. Also where the service life of a diesel engine used to be about 3 years, diesel engines of all types are now able to run 5 to 7 years before replacement. These gains have significantly reduced costs and downtime and increased equipment availability.

Based on these experiences, Buffalo Marine Service has upgraded to Royal Purple lubricants in many other applications with excellent results. Maxfilm aerosol is used on all hinges, controls, wench systems, etc. which has provided excellent lubrication and eliminated rust, which is a common problem in coastal environments. Purple Ice additive in the engine radiators has provided additional engine temperature reductions. Syndraulic 46 is used in all booms and steering units while Synfilm 32 is used in all of the Falk reduction gears. Ultra-Performance grease is used for all grease points. Every upgrade has resulted in improved equipment reliability.

Buffalo Marine Services believes being an industry leader requires innovation and that innovation is necessary to meet the challenges of a highly competitive and ever changing world. Some innovation can be complex and capital intensive. Others can be as simple as purchasing and using innovative products in place of products you already use. These are the easy ones to implement. But it first requires accepting that meaningful choices exist and often looking past the higher initial purchase price in favor of the higher overall value the product brings to the table. This was certainly the case for Buffalo Marine Services when it elected to embrace a change in lubricants.

About the Author:

Pat Studdert is President of Buffalo Marine Service and has more than 30 years experience in the marine service industry. Studdert has been recognized as an industry leader by Ernst & Young, Kauffman Foundation, USA Today and NASDAQ, as well, the Propeller Club of the United States and the U.S. Coast Guard.