Even a minor breakdown of a hydraulic system can become remarkably costly in terms of downtime and repairs. An estimated 90% of hydraulic system failure is related to water contamination, and it’s imperative to identify potential breakdowns before they occur to maintain all systems through every phase of a pile driving or drilling operation.
The primary cause of hydraulic system malfunction is water contamination which causes corrosion and shortens the lifespan of pumps and other components within the system. Preventing water from getting into your system is impossible, but there are protocols and procedures that professional maintenance technicians can perform and implement to measure water levels and mitigate this exposure before it results in significant damage or malfunction.
Even in the most controlled environments and job sites, it is nearly impossible to prevent water contamination in hydraulic systems. This can occur due to rain or other natural exposure, washing, or leaky gaskets on cylinders or external reservoirs. Due to the nature of pile driving and drilling projects, this exposure is unavoidable. There are also internal components that can generate water contamination, including heat exchangers and condensation caused by temperature variables.
A good example of this is a hydraulic piling rig that is run in hot, humid conditions pulls in cool air containing water vapor that condenses and remains in the system resulting in water exposure. This can remain as dissolved or free water, and the saturation point refers to when lubricants cannot hold any more water. This can vary based on the type of lubricant and additives as well as environmental considerations, including temperature and pressure.
One of the primary indicators of water exposure in hydraulic systems is cloudiness, though this can be difficult to diagnose in closed systems without a professional analysis. The following issues will occur once the saturation point is reached and can cause considerable damage and result in costly downtime and expensive repairs.
- Corrosion at the surface of mechanical systems
- Oxidation will occur and start to alter the chemical composition of lubricants and result in reduced lifespan
- Lower viscosity, compressibility, lubricity, and load-bearing capabilities which will result in wear and tear on all mechanical systems and can result in significant damage or failure
- If water is present in the bearing load, it can cause superheated steam to build up and result in a small explosion that can cause damage and pose a safety hazard
- When water and heat are allowed to mix with lubricants, they can generate corrosive acids that result in the decomposition of ester-based fluids, which will corrode metal and cause a breakdown for numerous components of a hydraulic system.
- In climates that endure freezing temperatures, ice can form with the presence of water resulting in lower performance or malfunction
- Extreme heat can cause hydraulic systems to over perform and result in slower execution
- When water vapor forms, it can cause cavitation or air pockets in lubricants that reduce lifespan and effectiveness
- The presence of water can produce foam which results in slower response times across all hydraulic systems in addition to cavitation
- Lubricants may need to be replaced more often, which is a variable cost that also results in downtime
- As water bonds with other particulate like soot, dirt, or resin, it will form a sludge that can block critical lines or clog filters and result in significant damage
Hydraulic systems require preventative maintenance and many owners and operators choose pile driving equipment rental to avoid the costs associated with maintenance, inspection, and repair. A professional lubricant analysis should be regularly performed to ensure that any water presence is at a manageable level and won’t result in significant damage.
Having a professional inspection can help reduce the risk of critical malfunction, and any vendor should have a comprehensive oil analysis program in place to accurately quantify water presence and confirm performance levels. If crew members notice a leak, they should notify the vendor or service team immediately to avoid the risk of further damage or malfunction across all hydraulic systems and minimize the risk of greater exposure to water vapor.
Minimizing Water Contamination Risk
Minimizing the risk of water contamination and the resulting failure and breakdown of equipment relies on the diligence of crews, supervisors, and maintenance schedules and inspections. Developing daily checklists to ensure peak performance will help reduce costly downtime or expensive repairs to hydraulic systems.
Also, a thorough lubricant analysis can ensure that your systems remain secure and help you identify the potential for water contamination before it becomes a critical issue.
With more than fifty years of experience, RPI Equipment is your trusted source for renting or buying pile driving and drilling equipment, and our knowledgeable team of salespeople can help you get the job done right from day one.
Our experienced service technicians can troubleshoot, diagnose, and perform repairs on-site to minimize cost and downtime to keep your project on track.