Is your Hydraulic fluid up to the job?
Understanding the solutions for optimal hydraulic fluid performance in even the most severe conditions
In today’s competitive business environment, even the smallest details can provide a company with a competitive edge. Choosing what type of fluid to use in your hydraulic equipment can make the difference between productivity and inefficiency, between profit and loss.
Nowhere is this more evident than in areas such as construction, mining and forestry operations, where equipment is expected to perform in harsh environments, through extreme temperature fluctuations and where failure caused by fluid breakdowns can be expensive to fix, and even costlier in terms of project delays.
“Whether it's rugged working conditions or a relentless production schedule, companies need advanced protection to keep hydraulic systems up and running,” says Marc Bouchebl, Hydraulic Oil Category Portfolio Manager, Petro-Canada Lubricants.
Every sector is different, and every operation within each sector presents its own unique challenges. The one thing that will always remain constant across every business is the need for hydraulic fluid to do its job – transfer power and protect the many components of today’s hydraulic systems.
Choosing the right hydraulic fluid to meet your demands
Outdoor operating conditions can often be dirty and dusty, putting hydraulic fluids at risk of contamination. In addition, environmental conditions, particularly wide temperature swings and humidity levels, add to the overall strain on equipment.
"Outdoor operations always present more challenges," says Bouchebl. "And remote locations pose unique problems because of the limited resources to store product."
Kris Calverley, Owner and operator of Double R Repairs, knows what type of hydraulic fluid is needed to not only endure rugged and demanding conditions, but to maintain optimal performance.
"We service and sell all types of fold-up cranes, pickers and hydraulic systems,” says Calverley. “This equipment operates year round in harsh conditions including temperatures as low as -40 degrees C (-40 degrees F) in the winter, and as hot as 35 degrees C (95 degrees F) in the summer.”
Cold start-ups can be a major risk to equipment as frigid temperatures can slow the movement of fluids through hydraulic systems. Low temperature properties of a hydraulic fluid are essential to ensure the lubricant will flow to the critical areas within the equipment thus preventing metal-to-metal contact and equipment wear. But if you over-compensate by using a fluid with a lower viscosity, the protective fluid film can break down when the operating temperature increases and that can compromise protection. The regular starting and stopping of outdoor equipment only exacerbates these problems.
Darryl Purificati knows all about the hydraulic fluid demands of today's industries. As a Technical Services Advisor for Petro-Canada Lubricants, Purificati recommends a multi-grade fluid such as HYDREX XV as a solution to operating in these extreme temperatures.
"The right all-weather hydraulic fluid will provide both adequate flow properties at start-up temperatures and an appropriate viscosity at high operating temperatures to ensure sufficient boundary lubrication," says Purificati. "It can also allow a company to consolidate its seasonal fluids and minimize storage requirements, which can be an issue in remote operations."
“Any kind of mechanical failure could be detrimental,” says Calverley. "It’s nice to know that your hydraulic fluid can provide extra protection, even under severe wear periods."
Moisture is also a major challenge for the performance of hydraulic fluid in outdoor operations. Once moisture gets into the system, it can create foaming, which decreases the efficiency of the system.
"One problem with foam is that it can introduce air pockets," says Purificati. "The system then pumps air and foam instead of fluid, which may create gaps in the fluid film layer, leading to metal-to-metal contact and premature wear. Another outcome of excessive foaming is pump failure and that kind of breakdown results in costly downtime and expensive repairs."
Air and moisture can creep into the system through leaks in the pump and around seals. In addition to addressing the mechanical causes, a hydraulic system can be protected by using a hydraulic fluid with foam suppressant additives formulated to accelerate the break-up of foam and separation of entrained air.
Another way to protect against both particle contamination and moisture is to extend your drain interval on your equipment by using a hydraulic fluid that performs and protects longer.
"The less a reservoir is opened, the lower the chances of contamination entering the system," says Purificati. "Reducing the number of top-ups and change-outs reduces the number of times a reservoir is exposed to the surrounding atmosphere."
Time and intensity of equipment operation, pressures and application temperatures are just some of the many factors that can make or break a hydraulic fluid.
"Today’s equipment is being pushed farther and farther and with that comes elevated temperatures," says Purificati. "Fluids need to be able to take the heat or equipment could wear prematurely."
In the case of Double R Repairs, when a pump's shut-off valve failed, it convinced them that HYDREX XV was the best hydraulic fluid for their customers.
"With a pump running out of control for two straight hours, oil reaching high temperatures, rubber mounts melting and the filter disintegrating, I was amazed to see that the pump never seized," says Calverley. "No other hydraulic fluid could have stood up and protected the equipment like HYDREX XV did."
Not every hydraulic system will be put to that kind of test, but extreme working conditions, whether in the field or on the manufacturing line, demand extra protection.
It’s clear, extreme working conditions can bring a lot of unwanted heat to today’s hydraulic systems. Whether it's the intensity of the environment or the intensity of production, as the temperature of the hydraulic fluid increases, the rate of oxidation increases.
When the fluid breaks down under excessive heat, the entire hydraulic system is put at risk. Increased acidity in the fluid can accelerate corrosion. Oil thickening and the formation of varnish and sludge can interfere with valve operation, plug filters, reduce flow and eventually lead to poor performance.
While oil cooling rates are primarily dependent on the engineering of the hydraulic system and the residence time of the fluid in the reservoir, according to Purificati, a quality hydraulic oil with an advanced additive package will be better suited to tolerate extreme temperature extremes.
"A fluid with good thermal stability will resist degradation in high temperatures," says Purificati. "And it reduces the need for additive top up."
A high performance hydraulic fluid like Petro-Canada’s HYDREX Extreme makes it easier for heat to dissipate from the hydraulic system. That means the oil can also cool down quicker and better protect equipment from the damaging effects of oxidation.
Taking protection a step further
Dealing with dusty, dirty or unpredictable conditions, a lot of outdoor or remote operations need additional filtration for their equipment.
"Filtration is an area that is often overlooked, but it's very important in hydraulic systems," says Purificati. "The tolerances in hydraulic systems can be tight, and if you end up with particles in the oil, it will reduce the efficiency of the system."
Like any system, a good preventative maintenance schedule and proper maintenance practices are vital to the performance of hydraulic equipment.
“Filters can be inexpensive insurance,” says Purificati. “They can make a world of difference when it comes to protecting the entire hydraulic system as they can help to reduce the fine particle count, potentially extending fluid life.”
With equipment being pushed to the limit for hours on end, day after day, often in harsh conditions, it is becoming increasingly important that companies use top quality hydraulic fluids that can both persevere and perform.
"A regular review of hydraulic fluids is something many maintenance and purchasing managers often overlook," says Petro-Canada's Bouchebl. "Yet failure to evaluate can result in the use of a low-quality fluid with a short service life that requires frequent top-ups or change-outs. The resulting downtime and repairs can increase maintenance costs, slow production and ultimately reduce profit margins."
Oil monitoring programs, such as Petro-Canada Lubricants’ Lubri-Test, are low cost, preventative maintenance programs, used to evaluate the condition of lubricants and equipment on a routine basis. The program monitors oil properties such as viscosity, oxidation levels and metals content to help detect abnormal equipment wear and unwelcome contaminants like dust, dirt and water. Oil monitoring programs can be used to help extend drain intervals until they are actually necessary.
"By reviewing the performance of their hydraulic fluids, many companies have been able to reduce unscheduled downtime, improve equipment reliability and extend equipment life," says Bouchebl. "The results of reduced maintenance costs and improved equipment performance help build a stronger bottom line."
The tougher the job, the stronger your hydraulic fluid needs to be. If you haven't analyzed your oil in a while, now is a good time to assess whether you're getting the best performance and protection possible. It's a relatively easy way to meet the extreme demands on your equipment and your business.