Hydraulic, hydraulic systems, maintenance, total cost of ownership
Every step you take to lower the total cost of ownership of your construction fleet directly benefits your bottom line. Regular inspections and maintenance are a big part of that, to keep machines in tip-top condition and operating productively on the job. Surprisingly, however, hydraulic systems are often overlooked when it comes to routine maintenance.
If hydraulic systems don’t work, machines can’t work
A daily walk-around is a great way to catch small leaks and double-check the oil level. But it takes more than that to ensure your hydraulics are ready and able to perform. To fully protect your system, you need to focus on oil and filtration, but you also need to consider the system as a whole.
Not just any oil
One of the worst ways to approach lowering total of ownership is by purchasing the cheapest parts and supplies you can find. You may save money in the near term, but you’ll pay down the road. For example, using poor quality hydraulic oil – or a product other than what the OEM recommends – can eventually damage your hydraulic system. Those few bucks you saved on products? They’ll be erased many times over when you have to replace the axial piston pump half-way through its expected lifespan.
A given piece of equipment may need different hydraulic oil depending on where (or when) it’s working, too. Just as with engine oil, viscosity matters, so the manufacturer may specify one oil for hot operating conditions and another viscosity for cold weather operations.
And don’t assume that one wheel loader will require the same hydraulic oil as another brand. Manufacturers’ engineers spec products based on each machine’s design. For this reason, additives matter as much as viscosity. Among other factors, the oil/additive package your OEM recommends is based on:
- The machine’s typical operating psi
- Shear stability (how well viscosity is maintained under operating stress)
- Oil and water resistance
Proper storage ensures hydraulic oil does not degrade or become contaminated before it even enters your equipment. Dust and moisture can enter the container any time you open it, so oil should always be stored in a clean, dry place.
Change that filter (and use the right one)
Manufacturers specify a particular oil filter as well as intervals for replacing the filter. Again, that can vary by OEM and by machine. Failure to follow the recommended timeline or using the wrong filter can drive up total cost of ownership in several ways. A clogged oil filter restricts oil flow, and it can allow contaminants to pass through. This reduces day-to-day jobsite performance, and it puts seals, spools, and valves at risk of failure. Repairs will be expensive, as will the downtime.
A holistic approach to hydraulic systems maintenance
Properly addressing your equipment’s oil and filtration needs puts you on the road to lower total cost of ownership. But there’s more you can and should do:
- Fix small leaks before they get worse. Even a tiny leak wastes oil, and multiplied by multiple “tiny” leaks, that can add up significantly. The system needs all its oil to operate efficiently without damage. Furthermore, anywhere oil can leak out, dust or other contaminants can sneak in. Low oil plus contaminants equals premature wear and tear. Because the machine has to work harder, operating temperatures can rise, reducing overall performance.
- Incorporate fluid sampling and analysis into your regular maintenance plan. Yes, this is a cost, but the return on your investment can be invaluable because you’ll be able to detect and head off costly problems before they put your equipment out of commission.
Make sure the human factor is working in your favor. When operators control the hydraulics smoothly and efficiently, they’re getting optimum performance with least wear and tear. Sloppy powering that allows cylinders to bang against the piston or stock is tough on cylinder pins, hydraulic pins, bushings, the release valve, and the entire pump system.
- Consider duty cycles when scheduling regular maintenance, because how the machine is working – and the frequency of repetitive cycles – affects its need for servicing.
- Keep your equipment clean. Grime conceals problems. And in the eyes of your customer and the general public, filthy equipment doesn’t reflect well on your construction firm, either. Keep your attachments clean, too, so they don’t introduce contaminants into your hydraulic systems.
Above all, set and keep an appropriate maintenance schedule for every machine in your hydraulic fleet. You’ll lower total cost of ownership, and if you ever have a warranty claim, you’ll be able to prove you’ve been doing your part to protect your equipment.