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The Causes and Impacts of Hydraulic Fluid Contamination on Heavy Equipment

The Causes and Impacts of Hydraulic Fluid Contamination on Heavy Equipment

A couple hydraulic hoses on a yellow piece of equipment

The Causes and Impacts of Hydraulic Fluid Contamination on Heavy Equipment

Reading time: 5.5 min

Hydraulic fluid is at the core of hydraulic-powered construction machinery. This unique fluid plays the key role of translating fluid pressure into mechanical force, enabling tasks from digging to drilling.

Not only does hydraulic fluid transmit power, it also lubricates, cools and protects the internal components of a machine’s hydraulic system. However, its effectiveness depends significantly on its purity.

Particle contamination in hydraulic fluid can silently sabotage the performance and longevity of construction equipment. Even tiny particles of dirt or debris can cause substantial damage, eroding and clogging the intricate components of the hydraulic system.

Ultimately, impurities in your machine’s hydraulic fluid can contribute to decreased efficiency, wear and tear and costly breakdowns.

In this guide, we’ll provide an overview of particle contamination and how it impacts hydraulic fluid. By familiarizing yourself with the topic of particle contamination and its causes, you can improve the longevity of your equipment and reduce operating expenses.

Understanding The Importance of Hydraulic Fluid

Hydraulic fluid serves many critical functions in the hydraulic system. Primarily, it transmits power, converting hydraulic energy into mechanical force. Additionally, it serves as a lubricant, minimizing friction between moving parts, thus preventing wear and tear. The fluid also plays a crucial role in cooling the system by carrying away heat generated during operation.

Contamination of hydraulic fluid occurs when unwanted substances like sand or metal shavings enter the hydraulic fluid. Contaminants can cause damage to other components in the hydraulic system and hinder its ability to efficiently transmit power. 

Common types of contaminants include:

  • Solid Particles: Such as dirt, dust and metal shavings, can enter the system through impure hydraulic fluid or component wear.
  • Water: Leading to rust, corrosion and reduced lubrication
  • Air: Causing erratic operation and overheating
  • Chemical Contaminants: From breakdown products or reactions within the system, degrading fluid performance.

Understanding and managing these contaminants is crucial for maintaining hydraulic system efficiency and preventing costly repairs.

Causes of Particle Contamination

Particle contamination in heavy equipment hydraulic systems is a common issue, affecting both performance and longevity. Identifying the common causes of such contamination is crucial for maintaining the integrity of your machine’s hydraulic system.

Particle Contamination During Maintenance Activities

Contaminants often enter the hydraulic system during maintenance activities. When components are opened for repairs or adjustments, particles from the surrounding environment can make their way into the system.

Similarly, damaged seals or fluid reservoirs can allow the ingress of dirt and debris into the system, especially if not properly sealed or maintained. Breather caps on hydraulic reservoirs, if not adequately maintained, are another common entry point for dust and moisture.

Particle Contamination From Internal Wear

Internal wear and tear of components is another significant source of contamination. As hydraulic system components like pumps, valves and cylinders wear out, they can release particles into the fluid. 

Metal flakes from wearing gears or corroded parts, for instance, can mix with the hydraulic fluid, causing further wear and potentially leading to system blockages.

Particle Contamination During Fluid Changes

During fluid changes, simple mistakes can lead to contamination. Using containers or tools that haven’t been thoroughly cleaned can introduce foreign contaminants. Similarly, mishandling new hydraulic fluid, either by exposing it to a dirty environment or not sealing storage containers properly, can compromise its purity.

Particle Contamination From The Operating Environment

The operating environment also contributes to hydraulic fluid contamination. In construction, the presence of dirt, dust and debris is a constant challenge. These particles can easily enter the hydraulic system, particularly in machines with inadequate sealing or filtration. 

Extreme weather conditions, like rain, snow and humidity can introduce moisture, leading to water contamination within the system.

The Effects of Particle Contamination on Heavy Equipment

Particle contamination in hydraulic systems can have severe consequences on heavy equipment, impacting operational efficiency and inflating repair costs.

Abrasive Wear from Contaminants

Contaminants can act as abrasives, wearing down critical components. Particles like dirt, sand or metal shavings, even in small quantities, can erode the internal surfaces of the hydraulic system. This abrasive action accelerates the wear and tear of components like pumps and cylinders, leading to decreased performance and potential failure.

Risks of Clogged Valves and Parts

Particle contamination poses a significant risk of clogging valves and other parts. When particles accumulate, they can obstruct the flow of hydraulic fluid, leading to a loss of control and precision in the machinery's operations. This can result in erratic or sluggish performance, severely impacting the efficiency and safety of the equipment.

Wear of Seals and Gaskets

Particles can also compromise the integrity of seals and gaskets within the hydraulic system. As contaminants erode these components, it can lead to leaks and a decrease in system pressure. This not only reduces the system's efficiency but also increases the risk of environmental contamination and safety hazards.

Impact on Specific Parts

Other specific parts affected by particles include hydraulic motors, cylinders and filters. Contaminants can cause damage to the delicate internal structures of these components, necessitating costly repairs or replacements.

Efficiency and Performance Impact

The efficiency of the hydraulic system as a whole is significantly compromised by particle contamination. The smooth operation of the system relies on clean fluid. When contaminated, the fluid cannot effectively transmit power, leading to a noticeable decrease in the machine's overall performance.

Lifespan and Financial Impact

The lifespan of heavy equipment is directly correlated to the health of its hydraulic system. Persistent contamination accelerates the aging process of the machinery, resulting in premature breakdowns. 

Financially, this means not just increased maintenance and repair costs, but also potential loss of productivity and revenue due to equipment downtime. In severe cases, it may necessitate the early replacement of expensive machinery or components, imposing a substantial financial burden.

How to Prevent Particle Contamination

To prevent particle contamination in hydraulic systems, it’s important to prioritize proper filtration, meticulous fluid handling and proper storage. 

Regularly inspect your machine’s hydraulic system for leaks or wear, and ensure the hydraulic fluid is clean and stored in a contamination-free environment.

Troubleshooting Particle Contamination

When addressing particle contamination in a hydraulic system, start by thoroughly cleaning and flushing the system to remove contaminants. Inspect components for wear or damage, as heavily affected parts may require repair or replacement. 

Regular hydraulic fluid analysis and monitoring system performance can help identify which components are compromised and need attention.

Final Thoughts

Managing particle contamination in hydraulic systems is crucial for the longevity and efficiency of heavy equipment. With diligent maintenance, operators can significantly mitigate contamination risks, ensuring optimal performance and avoiding costly repairs.

The EquipmentShare Shop carries OEM and aftermarket replacement parts for a variety of equipment types, including specific components for hydraulic systems. View our extensive online catalog to find the exact part your machine needs. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Reach out to our dedicated parts experts for personalized assistance.

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