Hydraulic system maintenance: Why it’s essential
Hydraulic systems are vital to the operation of many different businesses. Capable of generating significant force to aid in heavy lifting and moving, they are hugely complex systems made up of many individual components.
It goes without saying that for any business operating hydraulic machinery, keeping on top of maintenance is crucial to ensuring that operations continue to run smoothly and downtime is minimised.
The correct maintenance of hydraulic systems is essential for a number of reasons:
You don’t need us to tell you that the safety of your employees is of the utmost importance. Safety in the workplace is essential across all industries, but it becomes increasingly critical when workers are operating hydraulic machinery.
Improper maintenance of hydraulic components can lead to system breakdowns or malfunctions which can result in catastrophic consequences. For example, hydraulic fluid can reach explosive velocity if it escapes from the system which can cause serious injuries to anyone in its path.
Incidents like this can be easily prevented by implementing regular checks and maintenance procedures. Employers have a duty to comply with Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) and ensure that all equipment is suitable for the intended use and maintained in a safe condition.
Prevents costly repairs
Any business operating hydraulic machinery will know too well the cost implications involved in purchasing, building and operating such equipment. With that in mind, it’s in the business’s best interest to ensure that the longevity of its systems is maximised.
One of the biggest contributors to hydraulic system failures is dirt contamination in the fluid. Whilst this may seem like a minor issue, it can quickly escalate into major problems such as damage to components through corrosion, clogged parts and system breakdowns.
This can lead to having to pay for expensive repairs or replacement parts – which can be easily avoided with proper maintenance to ensure the system doesn’t get dirty.
System downtime is every business’s worst nightmare. Without working machinery, this has substantial impacts on everything from productivity to delivery times, eventually leading to delays in getting the job done and further costs incurred down the line for repairs and replacements.
In the grand scheme of things, hydraulic system maintenance doesn’t take too long – and it’s time spent wisely when considering the greater impacts of equipment breaking down. Repairs and replacements can take some time, and new equipment will need to undergo rigorous testing to ensure it’s fit for service before operations can resume.
How to maintain a hydraulic system
Now that you know how important hydraulic system maintenance is, how do you go about it?
To start with, it’s a good idea to put together a strict maintenance plan for all hydraulic equipment, ensuring that all employees are clued up on what to do and when. Keep track of this by creating a maintenance log that should be kept up to date by those responsible after each maintenance stage is complete.
Maintenance procedures can be conducted in-house for the most part, but any of the more technical aspects may need to be outsourced to qualified experts. To ensure your system is in correct working order, we would recommend scheduling frequent services from a third party throughout the year.
This hydraulic system maintenance checklist can be used to briefly guide you through the process, but all checks should be made in line with the manufacturer specifications of your exact components.
1. Oil maintenance
Regularly check the condition of your hydraulic fluid, ensuring it maintains proper fluid levels and is clear from contamination.
It’s a good idea to sample the fluid for colour, odour and any visible indications of contamination. To minimise the risk of contamination, ensure that all entry points such as dipsticks and filter plugs are clean and dust-free.
2. Regularly change filters
Filters are essential for keeping pollutants at bay, so they must be kept in check and changed when required. Contamination won’t always be visible, so frequently changing the filters will help to ensure the fluid is adequately filtered at all times.
3. Replace seals
If a leak in your hydraulic system is identified, this may be due to damaged seals. This can happen via friction, corrosion or excessive pressure, and therefore should be replaced immediately.
4. Visually inspect all hoses and fittings
Regularly perform visual inspections on all hydraulic hoses to ensure they aren’t frayed, stretched or kinked to avoid any restrictions in the fluid flow.
Tie into this a visual inspection of all pipes, fittings and couplers. You will want to look out for any dents or signs of corrosion, ensure the couplers are clean and secure the fittings to the appropriate tightness.
5. Monitor the system temperature
Preventing a hydraulic system from overheating is easily done by inspection with a thermometer or built-in temperature gauge, to ensure it doesn’t exceed maximum temperatures.
6. Visually inspect the hydraulic reservoir
The reservoir should be visually inspected to detect any signs of aeration. This may be indicated by bubbles forming in the fluid, foaming or loud gurgling noises which can be caused by incorrect fluid levels or temperature, faulty seals or air leaks.
Aeration can lead to overheating and should be rectified immediately.
7. Listen to the pumps
Keep an ear out for the hydraulic pump making any loud, unusual noises beyond its typical sounds.
Loud banging or whining sounds coming from the pump may indicate cavitation, which can restrict the flow of fluid and cause damage to other components.
8. Inspect the valves
Proper hydraulic valve maintenance includes checking the temperature of valves, to ensure they aren’t exceeding the maximum temperature which could indicate a problem. A change in operation at the valve points could be caused by contamination in the fluid.
9. Check the electric motor
Electric motors should be inspected regularly with a thermometer to check for any hot spots. Areas of high heat can develop on the housing or rotor bearings and should be serviced as soon as detected to avoid further issues.
Whilst hydraulic system maintenance is critical for ensuring the efficiency of your machinery and extending its lifespan, it all starts with choosing the right components and fittings for the job at hand.
Improperly sized components can cause a number of issues in a hydraulic system, so it’s important that they are selected properly from the get-go. If you’re looking for some hydraulic advice or a custom-built solution, get in touch with the team at Primary Fluid Power.