Filter hydraulic fluid, even if it’s new. New fluid isn’t necessarily clean fluid.
Hitachi Filter hydraulic fluid, even if it’s new. New fluid isn’t necessarily clean fluid.

As manufacturers of heavy construction equipment continue to address the demand for better efficiency, reliability, and durability, the importance of hydraulic oil maintenance is becoming increasingly vital.

Keeping hydraulic oil clean is essential for producers to keep their vehicles and other equipment operating reliably. In fact, most hydraulic component failures can be traced to hydraulic oil problems. However, clean oil can be a challenge for vehicles and other construction equipment, which is constantly exposed to dirt and water.

Of all the oil-lubricated assets found on construction sites, hydraulic systems are the most sensitive to contamination. When kept clean, they run reliably, but when dirt takes over, problems can occur. Hydraulic systems contain components that are sensitive to dirt over time. From pumps to valves, cylinders or motors, clearances are tight, making even the smallest particle or water droplet a potential problem.

Shawn Riley, manager of Parts Marketing Operations for Hitachi’s construction product line, offers five tips to help ensure your fluid stays clean and your system operates at maximum productivity.

1. Filter hydraulic fluid even if it’s new. New fluid isn’t necessarily clean fluid. Usually, the hydraulic system of your machine cleans the fluid to a higher level once in use. But this could be risky if the cleanliness of the initial fluid is unknown. Generally, the best practice is to filter caddy the fluid while topping off your machine.

2. Invest in a filter caddy. A filter caddy can remove excess contamination after a repair and reduce contamination levels on machines that are having trouble maintaining the right balance of contaminants in their hydraulic systems. A filter caddy can extend the life of fluid by keeping it clean and boosts the life of components. For practical purposes, the filter caddy should have the ability to read particle counts, humidity, and in some cases, viscosity of the fluid.

3. Conduct oil analysis. Oil analysis can detect changes in the physical properties of the fluid that diminish its protective properties. Fluid analysis can detect the wear metals inside the machine that are being lost little by little from its components. Remember, an oil change alone is not a guarantee machines will survive longer; it does not replace the need for oil analysis.

4. Avoid mixing different types of hydraulic fluids. By mixing types and brands of fluids, you create a new product with differing ratios of additives and even base oils. Machines are very sensitive to these changes and can have negative reactions.

5. Avoid intrusive repairs in the open. If the repair is necessary, always filter caddy the machine afterward. Take a fluid sample after a repair to make sure the machine complies with particle-count specifications. Also, don’t leave hoses uncapped and cover disassembled components properly.

Hydraulic system reliability is directly linked to contamination levels. When kept clean and dry, well-designed hydraulic systems should be relatively trouble-free. Combating contamination is possible, even in the harshest working environments. With just a few basic concepts, keeping your hydraulic fluid clean is as easy as 1-2-3.

This article originally appeared in Hitachi’s BREAKOUT publication, 3rd issue, 2014.