The dos and don'ts of hydraulics servicing
With so much pressure on earthmovers, miners, construction and infrastructure, and transport operators in the current climate, many are working shifts well on into the day and night to meet their clients’ demands.
Such 24/7 service puts immense pressure on the hydraulic systems of static and mobile machinery essential to their tasks — including graders, diggers, trucks, forklifts, forest and agricultural harvesters, road and rail maintenance equipment, and fixed and mobile cranes.
“Virtually everything depends on hydraulics in the world of lifting, moving and heavy machinery. Properly functioning hydraulic actuation provides the muscle to do the job safely and quickly,” said Denis Matulin, Managing Director, Hydraulink Australia.
The importance of servicing
Done well, hydraulic servicing can save money and enhance safety on diesel-powered vehicles and machinery of all sizes. A poor job — such as just patching up machinery malfunctions, or ignoring warning signs — can lead to accidents and higher costs.
“If hydraulic service has been done poorly, often the first you may know about it is when hydraulic actuation stops dead. Or the machine may let you know something is wrong through abnormal noise, which experienced operators will immediately recognise as a sign of things to come,” Matulin said.
Such faults can often be caused by aeration or cavitation in the hydraulic oil system, which can be a sign of big problems to come. Aeration occurs when air contaminates the hydraulic fluid. Air in the hydraulic fluid makes an alarming banging or knocking noise when it compresses and decompresses, as it circulates through the system.
Apart from costly and extended downtime, a single fault can be deadly where earthmoving equipment is shifting tonnes of rubble in a single bite, harvesting tons of valuable produce in a narrow time frame, grading slopes on infrastructure, or lifting loads into heavy trucks and specialist vehicles.
This is a myriad danger because there can sometimes be hundreds of hydraulic hoses and connections upon which machinery depends. That’s hundreds of opportunities for things to go wrong in a single vehicle, and thousands when multiple vehicles are involved. It is the owner’s duty of care to ensure servicing is done correctly, and that the job meets compliance, traceability and safety requirements.
Building a service partnership
“One of the most important things to have is service staff or service partners who know your machinery, your sites, your work priorities and are available 24/7,” Matulin said.
These partners ideally need to know, before they arrive onsite, what’s likely to be expected and how to fix it. They should also know both the machinery and the site conditions — otherwise, every new issue is a big lesson at the machinery owner’s expense.
“If you have to spend half a day educating different people turning up each time, you are wasting your money and your time — then getting a bill for it,” Matulin said.
“And if the new service person doesn’t know the safety protocols for your industry, or is not continuously educated in this changing field, then you may be taking a culpable risk. That’s no exaggeration. It is the employer’s responsibility, the site owner’s responsibility, to ensure people coming onsite have the right qualifications for the job in hand.”
While experienced staff or partners are essential to predict and prevent failures — with associated time and safety costs and hazards — Matulin said there are some basic checks owners can undertake themselves.
These include checking for wear on the outer cover of hoses; leaks at the end of the hose; exposed wires; and removal of kinks or twists in the hose that will prevent flow and cause early failure. They are essential routine observations that a competent technician will check, so as to prevent breakdown or safety issues arising from failure.
Ask the right questions
Given that hydraulic service is a major safety, compliance and traceability issue, it is critical to ask the right questions of anyone coming onto the site.
- What are their safety compliances relevant to the site? These are absolutely top of the list, because all decent operators want to protect their workers — and it is the first thing a statutory body will ask for if there is an accident.
- What is their experience relevant to the machinery and industry? Familiarity with customer sites and very diverse machinery being worked upon is important. Typically, a skilled technician familiar with multiple machinery types within an industry can do a better job in less than half the time taken by a less skilled or DIY operator.
- What programs of continuing education are they involved in? Hydraulic machinery is a fast-moving field, and what was good enough 10 years ago might not be right today. An investment in education and training is the basis of competence, confidence and trust.
What backing does the individual have — are they continuously involved as part of a big team or are they more of a lone ranger? Can they come out 24/7 if needed? Do they have 4WDs to do the remote jobs when these come up, and do they have the workshop facilities to handle the bigger jobs needed for all big machinery from time to time?
“Outstanding hydraulic service is demanding. You have to have deep knowledge and great experience in this area to be able to see issues coming before they arrive. There are huge issues of safety, compliance, machinery knowledge, site knowledge, traceability and accountability involved in big machines,” Matulin said.
“When servicing hydraulic hoses, fittings and adaptors, mechanics need to be spot-on, every time. A faulty hose or incorrect fitting can have dire consequences when operating at high pressure (typically 3000–7000 PSI in mobile applications).”
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