How to tell if your hydraulic equipment is sick

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My son Benjamin had glandular fever last year. He was quite sick and missed a month of school. At the height of the fever his temperature was 39C for 4 days straight. I know this because his very concerned mother was monitoring his temperature constantly. If you have children of your own you can imagine the relief on day 5 when his temperature finally started to go down.

When you think about it, it's really handy that our body temperature is a quick and effective indicator of general health. These days you (or somebody else) can stick an electronic gizmo in your ear, press a button and get an instant indication that everything is normal - or not.

And so we humans have something in common with hydraulic equipment: monitoring temperature is a quick and effective method of detecting abnormalities, as one of our members explains:

"Something I started doing a couple of years ago is taking and recording operating temperatures with a good quality heat gun. I just recently purchased 75 of them and handed them out to most of the guys running our machines. We are logging temperatures at meal breaks so we have a good baseline to work from. I find this intelligence to be very helpful when the operator calls in with a problem. My goal is for the operators to start using this information for themselves as they take the readings. Hopefully by doing this they will gain a better understanding of the machinery they operate."

This is a smart, proactive maintenance strategy for a couple of reasons. Heat, or more precisely, too much of it, is public enemy #1 of any hydraulic system. And like all other contaminants of the hydraulic oil, heat does most of its damage silently, without the operator being aware of it.

Too much heat cooks the oil and seals, accelerates aging of hoses and worst of all, results in loss of oil viscosity and therefore, lubrication. So early warning of an overheating problem can save a bucketful of money.

But perhaps the real stroke of genius with this member's strategy is that it involves the machine's operator. And a switched-on operator can prevent a lot of costly damage - or further damage - when things do go wrong. So any exercise which sharpens up the operator and increases his awareness of the hydraulic machine he's operating can be extremely valuable - to the bottom line.

And logging operating oil temperature is a very effective condition-monitoring technique. Because whenever hydraulic oil moves from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure without doing useful work, heat is generated. In other words, internal leakage creates heat. And so an abnormal increase in internal leakage will show up as abnormal heat-load and therefore, abnormal operating temperature of the hydraulic system.

So if you don't already own a heat gun, a.k.a. infrared thermometer, and know how to use it, you should fix this ASAP.

Related articles:

How to solve hydraulic system overheating problems
One type of hydraulic system you don't want
The top four causes of hydraulic seal failure in cylinders

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