Hydraulics and Lubrication—Critical Factors to Keep Equipment Humming

June 11, 2018

California’s wildfires and other natural disasters that have occurred in recent months in the US have tested the endurance not only of those responding during the disasters and in the post-disaster cleanup, but also of the equipment being used in these adverse conditions.

To that end, hydraulics and lubrication are critical factors in keeping the equipment humming in response efforts, many of which entail a race against time with no room for downtime to have to address equipment maintenance issues.

In general, equipment used in mining and construction pushes lubrication needs to their limits due to excessive payloads, continuous operations, extreme ambient temperatures, and dusty environments, says Eric Lancaster, Phillips 66 industrial products director.

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However, when working in adverse conditions, there are several key issues to keep in mind.

Lancaster notes that hydraulic oils for equipment used in firefighting efforts need to be able to tolerate heat, contaminants, and water.

Fighting fires exposes equipment to smoke containing a mixture of chemicals, he points out, adding that water and dust also are present.

“The equipment’s oil filtration system should keep the majority of these contaminants out of the hydraulic systems,” he says. “However, hydraulic oil can invariably get contaminated.”

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Phillips 66 product line

A fluid such as Phillips 66 Powerflow NZ HE Hydraulic Oil or Syndustrial Hydraulic Fluid is designed to be high quality and recommended in this type of application, says Lancaster.

Both oils have a high viscosity index (VI) to handle wide temperature fluctuations and are formulated with antioxidants to help combat oxidation/oil deterioration caused by heat, water, and contaminants.

Additionally, the Syndustrial Hydraulic Fluid is readily biodegradable, which can minimize environmental harm in case of a hose leak or other spill, notes Lancaster.

Disaster relief and cleanup work conducted after storm damage due to fire, floods, ice, tornado, hurricanes, and the like can involve outside temperatures ranging from very cold to very hot, Lancaster points out.

“Water and salt water damage is common,” he adds. “Debris removal is a very big task including clearing, removing, and disposing of trees, damaged buildings, vehicles, dirt, and mud. Lubricants need to be high quality to handle extreme temperatures and contaminants such as salt water and dirt.”

To that end, Phillips 66 premium hydraulic oils such as Power­flow NZ HE offers a high VI and low pour point for use over a wide temperature range.

“It has excellent oxidation stability to minimize deposit formation and protects system components against rust and corrosion,” says Lancaster. “In addition, it has a high dielectric strength for use as an insulating oil in electrical service bucket trucks.”

If emergency demolition is required as a result of adverse conditions such as disaster cleanup, the owner of the equipment used by those winning the bid for services would need to ensure the lubricant needs of the equipment, relying on recommendations set forth by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), a service department, or previous owner, points out Ken Tyger, D-A Lubricant vice president of technical services.

“It should be noted that not all lubricants are formulated the same, as today’s synthetic lubricants are much different animals than their earlier predecessors, which are conventional and mineral-based,” says Tyger.

As applications have evolved over the decades, so have the needs of said applications, Tyger says, adding that all aspects of equipment needs and surrounding environment and conditions should be considered before selecting lubricants.

“For example, with older grading and excavation equipment service, owner’s manuals often referenced the same lubricant as suitable for use in multiple systems,” says Tyger. “Conversely, the needs of today’s grading and excavation equipment require stand-alone lubricants for each separate lubricant system—systems which include engine, transmission, differential/final drive, and hydraulic. Clearly, much has to be considered before selecting the appropriate lubricants.”

Case in point: fire-resistant fluids.

“If firefighting response requires immediate utilization of equipment in a high temperature environ, a ruptured lubrication line could spell an immediate safety concern to the operator and others directly involved,” says Tyger.

In a normal scope of application, grading and excavation equipment is particularly susceptible to contaminant ingression, typically in the form of dirt particulate and moisture, points out Tyger.

“Most passenger car motor oil and heavy-duty diesel engine oil possess the additive technology to combat the typical byproducts of internal combustion, such as acids, soot, varnish, and moisture,” says Tyger.

“Because of that, service personnel of such equipment should operate under a more frequent, carefully selected drain interval with all lubricant systems, essentially more of a proactive, preventative, and predictive maintenance and especially when executing tasks in harsh, adverse ambient conditions which would include high temperatures and extreme cold.”

Hydraulic fluids are no exception and are highly sensitive to contamination, Tyger adds.

“A prime example is the utilization of equipment in extremely cold conditions,” he says. “Carefully selected lubricants with a high VI are critical to performance. The higher VI will provide the oil the ability for its viscosity—fluid’s resistance to flow—to stay in grade longer than one possessing a lower VI.”

Some equipment needs fluids monitored for adverse conditions more than others.

“Any hydraulic system that is continually under heavy load or operating under harsh conditions would benefit most from a condition monitoring program,” says Lancaster. “Hydraulic systems that are under load and exposed to heat, contaminants, and water may result in a sluggish hydraulic system operation from the formation of sludge and varnish and reduced clearances in valves and lines.”

Tyger points out that in adverse conditions, equipment of primary concern with emergency fire response is the tower and extrication equipment, especially in extremely cold ambient weather.

“If lines start to get cold, it takes much longer for equipment to react and run properly, which means for the tower, it could take longer to reach trapped victims in a high-rise incident,” he says.

Another example of adverse conditions is fluid possessing a high dielectric strength value, indicating that fluid possesses a high electric insulating property, says Tyger.

“This is very desirable and necessary for any electrical service equipment lifts when working around live power lines,” he adds.

Tyger cautions that it would be “irresponsible to utilize environmentally-harmful lubricants in equipment designated for disaster cleanup. Most popular, widely-utilized hydraulic oils today contain additives that are metallic or zinc-based, commonly referred to as AW or anti-wear hydraulic fluids.”

Such additives are generally used to protect against component wear and inhibit rust and oxidation, critical to both AW and antioxidant performance, he adds.

“However, zinc hydraulic oil additives are considered by the EPA to be a primary pollutant,” points out Tyger. “Ashless hydraulic oils do not contain any zinc or other heavy metal compounds. Instead, manufacturers can utilize organic nitrogen compounds. Ashless hydraulic oils are particularly advantageous to the environment since they do not contain harmful or ‘toxic’ ZDDP (zinc dialkyldithiophosphate) components.

“Ashless hydraulic oils are designed to protect against wear, rust, oxidation, and can be formulated to meet same performance specifications as zinc-inhibited fluids but are generally more costly and not yet widely accepted. However, some hydraulic systems are not compatible with zinc-based AW oils; therefore, an ashless oil would have to be used.”

Other examples would be modern hydraulic fluids available in the form of readily biodegradable, nontoxic, vegetable-based, and ashless, notes Tyger, adding that pharmaceutical, food-grade quality, and fire-resistant quality are a few types of such fluids.

D-A Lubricant’s fire-resistant lubricant is Factory Mutual Approved and lists USDA Classification H2, indicating that it cannot contain heavy metals and substances that are carcinogens, mutagens, teratogens, or mineral acids, says Tyger.

“Re-refined oil had a great deal of traction a number of years ago and may still be required for various state, county, and municipalities,” he adds.