It’s no secret that hydraulic systems are sensitive to contamination from fluid or oil. Those that are kept clean and protected against the introduction of dirt or water, can run reliably. However, if any contamination is allowed to slip then there will be problems ahead. Clearances are tight in hydraulic systems and the components such as cylinders, valves and pumps are markedly sensitive. Even a small foreign particle is likely to cause a problem. Although the layout of hydraulic systems differs from system to system, there are of course the basic elements that are common across the board. For example, the hydraulic reservoir can become home to contaminants or there can be a filtration system employed to clean the fluid. There is also the pump. Depending on whether a gear pump is in use or a vane or piston pipe that generally have tighter clearances is installed will depend on how much contamination your machine will withstand. Finally, the flow control valves range in sensitivity, with servo-controlled systems being the most particular. The simpler setups that involve directional or check valves will handle more contamination before failing. Developing a contamination control strategy The smartest way to handle the risk and fallout from contamination is to develop a contamination control strategy. This should be built around: · Control targets determined by your system design · Detailed actions to ensure that your contamination control targets are met or exceeded · Measurement by analysis of your oil to check if cleanliness targets are met Let’s explore these further: Cleanliness target development Hydraulic systems suffer most from particular contamination and water contamination. However, heat and air can also have detrimental effects on them. Particles within the range of 1 to 10 microns ideally need to be captured. To put this into perspective, 3 microns is around the size of a human hair thickness, but this sized particle can bring down a hydraulic system fast. Clearances between moving parts in systems are typically made for between 1 and 5 microns to pass, but it’s not always going to be the case. How to exclude particles and moisture Once a target for cleanliness has been identified, then it’s important to take action to ensure that these goals can be achieved. The most important areas to look at now are the exclusion of contamination and its removal. Exclusion is focused on ensuring that contamination doesn’t get into the system and removal is built around the use of filters. Keep in mind that removing contaminations can be very expensive, so a strong focus should be put onto exclusion. Looking at how to exclude particles and contamination involves checking every step of the lubrication oil process. This includes when you receive the oil, how it’s handled, stored, dispensed and its use in the system. It’s a surprising but disappointing fact that many oils that come into a plant can actually be too dirty to use without initially going through a filtration process. Some engineers recommend that new hydraulic oil should go through a filtering process at least 5 times before they are used. Ongoing measurement Now that you have your exclusion system and other contamination control systems in place, it’s important to measure how effective your process is. Use the ISO 4406:99 system to check to what degree your hydraulic fluid is contaminated with particles. Take samples from the machine, preferably from the actuator return lines. You may also take them from the reservoir, but taking them from there will not provide you with information as to what’s going on in the rest of the system. In summary, the reliability of any hydraulic system is dependent upon its levels of contamination. By keeping it clean you can decrease problems. Once any hydraulic system is contaminated it will lead to trouble and expense. It’s possible to control contamination in the most challenging of environments by using this simple three step process.