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Providing all the necessary diagnostic tools to a hydraulic system technician almost guarantees that the source of an issue will be discovered and remedied rapidly. However, as with any ill, prevention is better than cure. Using the diagnostic tools on a regular basis can identify any trends that could result in the failure of a component.
Hydraulic system fluid contains many answers
Quite often, it’s the hydraulic fluid that reveals the answers as to where potential problems will arise. For example, taking a fluid sample can provide a multitude of measurements including how much of the following are in the fluid in addition to any signs of oxidation which is typical of being subjected to too much heat:
There are some tools which can make taking samples easier such as a ply and sampling valve. It also means that you won’t further contaminate your machine by adding more contaminants to it.
The value of sampling fluid regularly twinned with the fact that hydraulic equipment is usually caked in some form of dirt or dust, does not make an easy marriage. It’s essential to keep that dirt out of your system and your sample. Engineers know that sampling from hydraulic systems is a risk that engineers have to take. It’s a risk to take the sample as there is a good chance that something from the surrounding environment could enter either the system or the sample. Nobody wants dirt, particles or even water in their hydraulic system.
The risk increases when it’s necessary to draw the fluid from the hydraulic motor. Unfortunately a tube must be inserted through an open port that is accessible once an access plug has been removed. This makes it possible for contaminants to enter the system or even to stick to the tube and then be inserted directly into the fluid.
Of course, being careful will prevent contaminants from entering the hydraulic system, but it’s very important to be very careful, otherwise the fluid could be compromised.
If the environment that you keep your hydraulic system in is far from clean and dry, then you may prefer to use a sampling kit. It cuts down on the potential for contaminating the hydraulic fluid. It is not funny when you go out of your way to ensure that everything will be ok, but then realise that something must have gone wrong when you find a large particle in the system.
The sampling system is inserted into the access plug that the pump came with. Once the plug is in place, then I won’t protrude more than 1 inch, which makes it a very easy system for those who are limited to smaller space.
Then once the tap is in place, it’s easy to just unscrew the cap which will expose a cavity where you can easily take a sample from. There is then a sampling probe which will connect to the sampling valve. You’ll then find a length of clean sampling tube that connects to the vacuum pump and a clean sample bottle. Just pull on the handle to draw out fluid for adding to the sample bottle.
Taking clean samples is essential in order to take a balanced view of what’s going on with any hydraulic system. It’s possible to attain this by using one of the sampling valves that are available on the market. They create a closed loop circuit which will prevent any contamination from entering the oil sample. The sample can only be taken once the probe is fully engaged with the valve. Once the sampling probe is disconnected the sampling valve will reset.
By taking clean samples, you can discover what is going awry with your hydraulic system, and even predict potential future issues. However, if it’s not clean or you introduce further outside dirt or muck, then it’s not going to be at all helpful and you’d be better off not doing it at all. Ensure that you keep your sampling clean to promote the ‘health’ of your hydraulic system.
As we sympathise regularly with our readers, running hydraulic systems can be very costly. Not only can costs build rapidly from replacing damaged or worn components, but there is also system downtime to consider and to add to the expense.
If there is one deadly enemy for hydraulics, it’s contamination. In fact, contaminated fluids can be connected to more than 80% of all hydraulic failures. This includes all the related failures that can result including those of hoses, fittings, pumps and valves.
In fact, there is such a strong correlation between contamination of fluid and the lifespan of components that manufacturers of hydraulic and filtration products actually publish charts with the consequence predictions of not having inadequate filtration installed. Those systems that undergo rises in pressure will suffer from even more damage as contaminant particles make their way around the system.
Unfortunately the particles involved in hydraulic system contamination are usually far too small for the naked eye to see them. This is why it’s essential to use instruments specifically designed for contamination monitoring, otherwise a high system reliability cannot be expected to be maintained.
Although the operators and engineers who take care of industrial hydraulic systems are well aware of this problem, it’s only really coming to the fore of the mobile hydraulic system now. In this microcosm of the hydraulic world, there is still some time-based fluid maintenance going on. However, it’s becoming more apparent that this and spin-on filters are no longer enough to keep mobile hydraulic systems operating at their peak performance levels.
Quantifying contamination in hydraulic systems
Ideally every hydraulic system should have absolute filtration to capture both micro particles and those that are larger.
A Beta ratio of filtration will usually capture 99.5% of all particles that could contaminate a system. Alternatively the 1000 measurement will capture 99.9% of the particles. This will support the hydraulic system in enjoying a maximum service life. However, in addition to the Beta ratio, there are other considerations to ponder over when looking to keep the system clean.
How much dirt a filter can hold and how stable Beta ratio is will determine how well the filtration works out for the system. The best filters are usually cartridge-type that use a number of layers to help to maximise performance for all areas. Each layer will help the filter to either capture the dirt, hold it or to deliver the beta stability.
Another unexpected benefit of the cartridge-type filters is their ability to reduce how much loss of fluid there is when the filter is changed. This can keep go towards keeping costs down, whilst also lowering the impact on the environment. Although the cartridge type filter may cost more to buy, they deliver when it comes to protecting the system and cutting back on fluid loss.
With industrial hydraulic applications, cartridge filters are now considered to be the standard. They are also becoming more popular and widespread in the mobile market, which is becoming more sophisticated when it comes to components in addition to enduring rising costs.
Mobile Filtration Challenges and Solutions
Another area of concern with mobile hydraulic systems is that of space in the system to add filters and other components such as sampling valves. Quite often manufacturers will produce tank-top filters that can be integrated into the hydraulic reservoir, but sit out of the way. With global emission requirements becoming tighter, this trend is likely to accelerate in the coming years.
One issue that is unique to the mobile world is that of the cold start. It’s well known that any hydraulic fluid will thicken when sat at lower temperatures. This can increase the pressure drop for the filter element. The performance will take a downturn until the fluid begins to gain temperature and reaches the operating temperature level. Quite often the comment from an engineer will be ‘I started up and when I hit the level, nothing happened’.
Although it’s possible to install a large filter, it can add to the bulk and the cost of the system. Another work around is bypass the filter by adding in a pressure relief valve until the fluid is warmer. However, this can send contamination downstream. An approach that is less troublesome is to return the fluid to the reservoir as opposed to allowing it to circulate throughout the system.
In summary, as an engineer, the best move you can make is to identify and implement a fine filtration strategy that will enable your hydraulic system to run at its ultimate performance.
Hydraulic filtration is a vital component of keeping a system running smoothly.
For example, did you know that up to 75% of failures with fluid power can be attributed to contamination? With the use of hydraulic filters, contamination damage can be significantly lowered which can not only cut down on expense but lower that 75% drastically.
If you’re looking to save costs from less downtime then it’s also time you looked into what a difference hydraulics filtration can make for extending the life of your equipment. Running your system optimally is essential when it comes to cost saving, but protecting its longevity is also a critical element in running any business efficiently.
Muck and dust can destroy a hydraulic system, that’s why it’s essential to make the best use of hydraulic filters. You wouldn’t even be able to remove that dirt yourself, as it’s likely to be dust that is so fine that you won’t be able to see it without the use of a microscope. Dirt has the same detrimental effect as sandpaper or gravel and not only will generally deteriorate the system, but it could even destroy it.
However, through the use of a hydraulic filter system you will be able to maintain control over the level of contamination and by doing so reduce the failure of systems by as much as 75% just be removing that dirt.
Hydraulic parts are expensive. Combine that with down time and having to keep engineers on hand to fix worn components and that’s a lot of expense to deal with. Putting filters into place can even save costs by increasing how long the hydraulic fluid will last.
Degradation of fluid – hydraulic fluid that contains fine metallic particles can degrade rapidly through chemical breakdown. Without protecting against this, there could be issues such as slippage, internal leakage, corrosion or sticking parts.
Scoring of surfaces – this can occur when particles get trapped between surfaces of seals
There’s no doubt about it, but …
· System performance is affected by dirt levels
· Hydraulic filters can control levels of dirt. Without using this management method, the system will get dirtier and dirtier until it fails.
In fact, hydraulic filters are the only way to control how much dirt is in fluid. Without them you will be forced to change out the hydraulic fluid regularly, which can be a time consuming and costly event.
Hydraulic system dirt particles are incredibly small. In fact, they are so small that they cannot be seen by the human eye – and 98% of hydraulic fluid has some dirt in it.
Engineers have found that when it comes to size of particles in samples taken from operating systems, the smaller the particles, the more dirt there is in the system.
So where do these particles come from that we have to work so hard to deal with?
In order to have an idea of what goes on inside the closed system, let’s examine where these particles come from.
Instead of enjoying the typical 20 gpm that is the measurement of a pumped flow from a 2000 psi system, you can expect to see something in the region of just 10 gpm. Although your pump will still produce for you, you’ll discover that the degradation results in just 50% efficiency and you should als be prepared to experience extra heat and other unwanted issues.
As with any hydraulic system, there is an optimum level of cleanliness, but there is a point where you cannot get any better performance out of the system by improving the quality of the fluid. However, with the use of hydraulic filters you should be well set to extend the life of your machinery.
Recently we’ve been looking at ways to troubleshoot hydraulic systems and today we’re going to explore the area of excessive vibration.
When it comes to hydraulic systems, excessive vibration is a common issue. Although it’s not always a hydraulic issue, but normally a mechanical one, the design of a hydraulics system comprises of many mechanical parts and components which can also need to be considered.
For example, there are cylinders that may not be moving in a linear fashion, pumps and motors rotating at speed and even the oil itself can all contribute to a mechanical imbalance that could result in vibration.
As a maintainer of a hydraulic system, it will be down to you to discover what’s causing this issue and to remedy it.
1. Check whether the vibration is originating from the pump. It could be that the flexible coupling is not balanced. If the alignment is not correct, then realign the drive shafts.
2. In a case like this you’ll need to either align, repair or replace it. If this is not the case, check the pump mounting for issues. Also check whether there is air in the system. If there aren’t issues with these areas, then you may need to remove the pump and examine it.
3. Other areas to check are the pipework. Check whether there is adequate support for it. If there isn’t then you may need to install clamps or tighten the ones already in place.
4. Sometimes the vibration is occurring because the unit needs to be adjusted.
One of the patterns of thought that all of us as engineers can be affected by is doing our best in resolving an issue to give an immediate result. However, there are also longer-term consequences that should be considered with any resolution. Although replacing a pump may well fix something, having a design that makes it almost impossible to remove that pump can cause serious problems. Although the designers may have manufactured the unit without any issues relating to this, once the other components are added to the machine, repairing, maintaining and replacing that pump can cause a lot of stress. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to reach the malfunctioning unit due to the positioning of other components.
One of the best practices of any maintenance staff should be to communicate any issues with management. Management need to review any issues and suggestions for resolution so that future equipment purchases can be made with these issues in mind.
When replacing hydraulic fluid, it is tempting to believe that the new oil will be clean and free of contaminants, and that it can be put straight into the reservoir without any problems. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If you use hydraulic oil from a large drum, there is a high chance that it already contains some water and dirt particles; new hydraulic oil typically has a cleanliness level of ISO 4406 23/21/18, which is more than most hydraulic systems will tolerate. If the system has a rating of say, 20/18/15, then the new hydraulic oil is already too contaminated, as a single digit increase in any of those numbers is effectively a doubling of the contamination level for each micron size.
We can see, therefore, that it is a good idea to filter new hydraulic oil before it enters the system taking with it contamination that will potentially lead to problems with the system. Most hydraulic system failures can be traced back to contaminants in the oil causing friction, high temperatures and a loss or build-up of pressure that can cause serious damage to the components within. Avoidable problems should not be encouraged by cutting corners when replacing hydraulic fluid as it is a false economy.
If you usually replace the hydraulic oil straight into the reservoir, you can add a filtration cart or a kidney loop system to clean the fluid before it gets into the system itself. Even if you have a filter downstream it is a good idea to still keep a filtration system in the reservoir too, to ensure that the downstream filter does not have to work too hard and retains the lifespan it is expected to have, cutting down on element changes. A kidney loop system is ideal for filtering hydraulic fluid in the reservoir and runs independently of the equipment itself, meaning it can still be cleaning the oil even when the equipment is not being used. This means that the fluid can be filtered thoroughly before the machinery is switched back on and also offers a higher level of filtration throughout the life of both the hydraulic fluid and the equipment itself.
Dual filter elements are usually used in kidney loop systems to filter out particles of different sizes and ensure that the filter does not become clogged too early. This also allows for better element change schedules as they can both be done at the same time, rather than replacing the first, then the second, then the first again and so forth more frequently. The dual filter elements in a kidney loop system also perform better than in-system filters, as they are not exposed to any pressure and can retain contaminants more effectively.
Alternatively, new hydraulic fluid can be filtered into the system via the return filter. If the application is very sensitive, it may be best to stick with a kidney loop filter, but if this is not possible due to the nature of the hydraulic equipment, the return filter route is a good option. A tee needs to be installed in the return line above the filter, and one branch connected to a drum pump discharge hose via a quick connector. When it is time to filter the new oil in the drum pump, it is attached to the return line and the oil gets pumped through the return filter and into the reservoir.
Not filtering new hydraulic oil into a system basically opens the door wide to dirt and water getting in, and undermines maintenance activities and careful user behaviour designed to keep the equipment in full running order. If you need to change how you replace the hydraulic fluid or add a filtration component into the system, the cost of doing so should be weighed against the savings in unnecessary maintenance and repairs due to contamination related damage.
Electrostatic charge builds when there are two bodies moving and creating friction. The fact is that this also occurs in hydraulic systems from the friction caused by system components with moving fluid.
Although we haven’t had a lot of situations that have involved electrostatic discharge, it is still something that every engineer should be aware of.
When an electrostatic discharge occurs, there is a clicking noise as charge increases and is then released. This is something that will often occur in a filter – leaving burn marks and potentially other damage.
With the increasing preference of using non-metallic additives in hydraulic oils the electrostatic charge could be on the increase. Those hydraulic oils that contain anti-wear additives that are zinc-based have considerably high conductivity.
Conductivity in hydraulic oils helps when it comes to moving electrostatic charge around the system. Although zinc-based additives will rarely collect enough charge to cause a big problem, synthetic oils can. This is because they have less conductivity and therefore will potentially accumulate more charge before discharging it.
Another change that could lead to an increase in electrostatic discharge is that there has been a change made to the materials that filter elements are made of. In order to make them easier to dispose of them in an eco-friendly way, they have more non-metallic material in the design, which lowers conductivity and therefore increases the capacitance.
The manufacturers of hydraulic filters are aware of these issues, and are looking into how they can minimise or even eliminate these issues.
However, if you come across a situation where there is electrostatic discharge in the meantime, then consider this:
By adding larger filter elements you can reduce flow density and therefore the amount of charge that is being generated. You might also want to consider increasing the tank size so that the time between charge generations increases.
This is one of the reasons why you shouldn’t skimp on tank size or on filter capacity.
Hydraulic pumps, one of the more common mechanical applications of hydraulic technology, use fluid to push an arm a set distance forwards and backwards (or up and down). One example is the mechanical arms of a digger or other ground-working machinery. A hydraulic pump is perfect for this use, as the machinery works using the set distances between the components of the arms.
A hydraulic gear motor uses fluid to power movement for a much longer distance (or to put it another way, for an unspecified length of time). The motor works by running fluid through a chamber containing two cogs. One is linked to the drive shaft and transfers the power to the component that needs to move, and the other is idle, existing only to complete the mechanism. The same fluid is pumped through the motor chamber for as long as the power is needed, and it works in a similar fashion to an electric motor, but is much smaller and can be used in places where electricity is not safe or viable to use. It is a natural development of the waterwheel that was commonplace in the UK during the Industrial Revolution, powering cotton mills, woodworking and even bellows for blacksmiths forges.
A hydraulic gear motor is more appropriate than a pump for any piece of machinery that needs continuous power in a simple mechanism; a series of hydraulic pumps, arms and cogs can be used to create continuous power, but the resulting apparatus is bulky and made up of several components, which increases the likelihood of mechanical failure. A hydraulic motor, by comparison, can be very small and portable, meaning it is ideal for any application that is a long distance from traditional power sources and remote areas of the planet where other forms of energy are not viable. They are also reasonably simple in construction, so parts and maintenance are not an issue.
Hydraulic motors are ideal for use underwater and in dangerous places like mines and gas works, where the spark from an electric or petrol motor poses a serious fire risk. They are also good for any task where the motor is operated remotely, as the fluid can be pumped a long distance to the motor using comparatively little power and the only connection needed is piping, compared to more expensive electrical cable for running a remote electric motor. What is the most ingenious application of a hydraulic motor you have ever seen? Let us know in the comments below.
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