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Hydraulic problem solving – part 1 ben lee

Working with hydraulic machinery involves a certain degree of trouble shooting and problem solving, even people who operate the equipment and are not involved in maintenance and repair, should have some basic knowledge of what can go wrong and what to look out for.  When it comes to diagnosing and solving problems with hydraulic machinery there are several things that should be checked, and just as many tips and tools to help you do so.

Firstly, if a schematic diagram of the equipment is available this is a very handy tool for fixing problems.  It may be obvious that a seal has gone somewhere along the line, but without a schematic diagram it can be a long trial and error process of finding, then changing every seal in a process of elimination.  On very complicated and large hydraulic equipment with multiple hoses and cylinders it helps to be able to quickly locate each junction, especially if the presentation of the issue points to where the problem may be located.  The schematic diagram also allows you to identify the potential causes of a problem, and prioritise them by likelihood, meaning less time is spent speculatively replacing parts at random and more time is spent actually investigating the most likely causes and addressing them first.

A flexible powerful light is also very useful for finding faults in hydraulic equipment, as some labels and parts may be out of the way and hard to see or read.  Big torches are powerful but not so good for tight spaces, so a fibre optic light is a good investment.  Magnetic dropper tools are also very handy when disassembling complex parts in situ, as if a small part falls into a reservoir or cylinder it means taking the whole thing apart to retrieve it, and in the worst cases replacing that part entirely, which can be very costly.  A small magnet on a telescopic rod may be cheap and small, but can come in very handy indeed.

Once the potential problem has been diagnosed, the offending component needs to be removed and inspected for faults.  Compressed air and air guns are great for cleaning off parts and for inspecting the integrity of valves.  Similarly, automotive brake and clutch cleaner is an invaluable tool for cleaning greasy and contaminated components, without the need for pressure or rubbing that could otherwise damage the part.  If the suspected part turns out not to be the culprit then it needs to be clean and free from contaminants when it is replaced, otherwise further issues could arise from dirty parts being replaced in the machinery.

When disassembling parts it is imperative that all components are inspected and kept visible; a lost screw or other vital part can cause bigger problems than the initially broken part if it is hard to replace.  Using heavy white paper to lay out the components keeps them in sight, in order and makes it easy to see oil leaks, as well as keeping the oil off other things in the vicinity.  It is also handy to be able to make notes on the paper, circling components that are okay and crossing next to ones that are broken.

Having a small tool set to hand is vital for repairing faults, and it is worth getting any specialist tools that the hydraulic machinery may require so they are to hand when needed.  Spare seals are also vital to have on board, as these are often the cause of leaks but should be replaced when inspecting and repairing faults, even if they are not to blame.  It is a good practice to replace these if they are removed for fault finding, as they could be compromised and stretched from being removed.

Join us in part 2 for more hydraulic trouble shooting tips that are firmly in the 21st century.

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