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Preventative Maintenance in Hydraulic Systems: Dealing with Wear and Tear to Improve Safety and Increase Profit

By Ben Howard
Published: July 2, 2018 | Last updated: November 15, 2023 07:34:33
Key Takeaways

Preventative maintenance is safer and more cost-effective than reactive maintenance.

Downtime is a money drainer for any business, but downtime due to maintenance is essential to prevent a major fault occurring. Businesses often put off maintenance in favor of maximizing production and profit. What they may not realize is that preventative maintenance holds the key to reducing long-term capital costs, increasing long-term profits, and ensuring worker safety. Preventative maintenance has been shown to save around 12% to 18% in costs when compared to reactive maintenance (maintenance performed only when machines show fault).

If you’re involved in industrial manufacturing, you can’t afford to ignore signs of wear and tear, especially in the hydraulic components that drive these machines.


What Is Preventative Maintenance?

Preventative maintenance is the servicing of equipment and facilities to ensure they are operating in a satisfactory condition. This maintenance is carried out on a schedule where each machine and their components are observed through inspection.

Preventative maintenance falls into two categories:

  • Planned Maintenance: The proactive scheduling of machine maintenance where, for instance, every month the checklist for a machine is completed and a report is submitted
  • Condition-Based Maintenance: Maintenance that takes place not based on time but on certain conditions or indicators of the functioning of the equipment (learn more about the Benefits of Mobile Data Collection in Condition-Based Asset Management)

The best maintenance program will combine these two systems to ensure the continued functioning of the equipment.

It is extremely important to inspect each individual part as well as the overall performance of the machine to identify any signs of wear. It is, after all, easier and more cost-effective to replace worn parts rather than the whole machine. Developing a maintenance checklist for each machine will ensure that the maintenance procedures are comprehensive and the same every time they are performed.

Why Is Preventative Maintenance Important?

It really comes down to Benjamin Franklin's famous words: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Replacing equipment is expensive, especially when it's machinery that acts as the main driver for production. But industrial machinery has many hydraulic components which are often forgotten when regular maintenance checks are performed. This causes parts to fail and can bring the whole system down.

You can’t afford to be without that machine, so it makes sense to prevent any problems before they arise. Regularly inspecting and maintaining hydraulic systems will cause your production to come to a temporary halt, but this temporary stoppage will not be anywhere near as long as one brought on by machine failure or breakdown.

Benefits of Hydraulic System Maintenance

Continuous maintenance can reduce the downtime of a machine over the long run. Properly maintained hydraulic parts, moreover, run more efficiently and reduce the energy used. Small increments of downtime to check and repair these systems will prolong the lifetime of the machine and increase uptime which improves overall production.

Hydraulic components are part of an overall system, and when they fail they often cause other parts to malfunction as well, which can shut the system down completely.


Production Line Interruptions

When a machine does require an unscheduled repair or even replacement, this eats away at staff time. Not only do these repairs prevent workers from using the machinery, but employees further down the production line who depend on its output might also have to suspend their work tasks. Without preventative maintenance, then, a company increases its odds of losing a critical component of its production chain. And when that happens, it can result in back orders, cancelled orders, and an overall loss of profit.

Checking parts regularly can allow you to keep track of spare parts inventory. Knowing what part is coming to the end of its life cycle and ordering it before it is needed means less cost, less time sourcing the part, and less downtime.

Worker Safety

Probably the greatest benefit of preventative maintenance is that it’s safer than waiting for a problem to arise.

Hydraulic system failures can result in implosions that can harm employees operating the machinery and anyone else in close proximity. A tell-tale sign of a damaged hydraulic system is a high temperature, which causes the machine to become flammable and itself poses a risk to the employee.

If an accident does occur your business could be liable for compensation, not to mention the huge clean-up costs and increased insurance premiums. As always, the cost of preventative maintenance is much lower than waiting for something to occur.

Signs of Wear and Tear in Hydraulic Components

  • Drop in performance: the easiest observable sign of wear and tear is reduced output of a machine
  • Unusual noises, leaks, or smells: keep an eye (as well as an ear and nose) out for anything that is out of the ordinary for the machines. These can be early warning signs in detecting faults
  • Formation of sediment: flushing is part of the maintenance of hydraulic components. Flushing removes the sludge, debris and sediment that build up in the parts. It is the equivalent of changing the oil in a car. How often you should flush your machines depends on how frequently they're used

Causes of Wear and Tear

  • Abrasion: friction between the surfaces of components causes loss of lubrication and causes particles to enter the hydraulic fluid
  • Adhesion: materials are transferred between surfaces due to friction
  • Cavitation: surfaces are damaged through the collapse of air bubbles on or near metal surfaces
  • Corrosion: hydraulic fluids contain chemicals that can corrode metal surfaces, including pumps and valves, causing a breakdown of the machine (contaminated hydraulic fluid can have a similar effect)
  • Fatigue: general wear and tear can occur from the parts are simply being overused

Replacing or Repairing Hydraulic Components

If your system does need to be repaired or replaced, it will need to be done by a professional. Flushing hydraulic components to remove sediment is vital to keeping systems running but will need the right equipment, the right person and the right time.

Hydraulic service is typically the responsibility of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). However, in cases where the OEM is not be able to service the machinery, the end user is the one responsible of maintenance and upkeep.

Finding the Right Service for Each Component

A wide variety of products and their parts can be repaired. A repair is limited to making a failed component as close to its original shape and size as possible. Old parts theoretically can be repaired but may not provide the full and desired functioning, and repairing each part is crucial for the whole unit to function. .

Another option is a rebuild. Rebuilding means a used, failed product is first dismantled and the reasons for its failure are identified, then it is built and assembled again with new parts. This does not necessarily mean that it will be as good as new, however, and must go through the dynamic testing process to ensure it meets the same engineering specifications as a new one.

As a general rule, a repair or rebuild makes sense if the cost doesn’t exceed 60% to 70% of the cost of a new component. Beyond that, the user is typically better off with a new unit. However, if a replacement is not readily available and a critical machine or production line is down, a repair or rebuild can be the most practical option.

If you must repair or rebuild, reach out to your preferred professional who can guarantee a quality product in least amount of time reduce downtime.


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Written by Ben Howard

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Ben is a third-year mechanical engineering student at the University of Western Australia specialising in engineering design and fluid mechanics. Practical experience ranges from plant requisitioning, installations and testing for local engineering firms in Perth, Australia.

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