When your hydraulic system stops working, no matter the cause, it can bring productivity to a grinding halt (both literally and figuratively). Troubleshooting and tracking down the problem will take skill, experience and common sense. There are a few basics that anyone can handle, however. The basics of hydraulic troubleshooting serve as a reminder to keep it simple and take time to do each step. This will save money and time in the long run.
Preparing for Troubleshooting
Before you even begin the troubleshooting process, it’s important to know what the problem is. This means you have to ask questions before you start. Some basic questions might be:
- How long has this been happening/When did it start?
- When did you first notice the problem and what was happening? (start up/shut down/heavy load/temperature change/etc.)
- Have there been any recent changes to the system, such as maintenance, modifications to the settings, or repairs?
- When was maintenance last performed?
Once you have as much information as you can gather, pull the hydraulic schematics for reference. It’s important to know that you should not attempt troubleshooting without this! The schematics provide valuable information about flow and pressure in the system.
There are a number of issues that commonly prevent hydraulic systems from working properly, such as an inoperative system or overheating hydraulic fluid. In any basic troubleshooting, it’s key to look at the most typical issues that arise in hydraulic systems first.
When your hydraulic system is inoperative, there are several things that can be checked. First, you must verify the hydraulic fluid levels and check for leaks, as they can lead to significant loss of hydraulic fluid. Filters are also a common problem, because if they are dirty or clogged, it can seriously impact performance. Check your hydraulic lines for restrictions such as collapse or clogging. Be sure you do not have any air leaks affecting the suction line. Also inspect the pump itself; if it is worn, dirty, or out of alignment, it will affect system performance. The drive can be a source of issues if belts or couplings are slipping or broken.
If your hydraulic system is working more slowly than normal, it could be as simple as the hydraulic fluid being too thick, which may be due to cold temperatures or the use of an inappropriate hydraulic fluid. Air trapped in the system can be a problem, as well as restrictions in the line, due to dirty hydraulic filters. Another potential issue is badly worn hydraulic components such as pumps, motors, cylinders, and valves.
When a system is operating in an erratic, unpredictable manner, it can be very frustrating. One of the most common causes for this is air trapped in the system or hydraulic fluid that is too cold. Damaged internal components, such as bearings and gears can also be a reason, although it is a bit less common.
Excessive Noise or Vibration
Something that almost anyone who works with hydraulic equipment has experienced is excessive/abnormal noise or vibration. The pump being noisy calls for a check that the oil level is sufficient, the correct type of fluid is being used, and that the oil is not foamy. If oil is foamy, that informs you that there is air in the fluid. This can lead to cavitation and expensive damage. It is also wise to verify that the inlet screen and suction line are not plugged. For both pumps and hydraulic motors, there can also be internal issues, namely worn or misaligned bearings. Noise and/or vibration can also mean you need to make sure the couplings are secure and tight. Keep in mind that pipes and pipe clamps can vibrate if they are not secured properly, so take a moment to check them over if none of the other checks show an issue.
Overheating Hydraulic Fluid
Excessive heat is never a good sign in a hydraulic system and often leads to a system working at sub-optimal levels. One of the primary purposes of hydraulic fluid is to dissipate generated heat, but the system should not be generating enough heat to cause the fluid to reach high temperatures.
There can be many causes behind hot hydraulic fluid, starting with contaminated hydraulic fluid or fluid levels that are too low. There may be oil passing through the relief valve for too long at a time; in this case, the control valve should be set to neutral when it is not in use. Worn out components within the system can also lead to excessive temperatures due to internal leakage. Restrictions in the line or dirty filters can result in hot hydraulic fluid or if hydraulic fluid viscosity is too low, it can lead to overheating as well. Finally, there may be a need to make sure that the oil cooler is functioning correctly and that the key components are clean enough for heat to radiate away from them.
No Fluid Flow
Having no flow within the hydraulic system is a serious issue that can have several different sources. The first step is to determine exactly where the fluid flow stops, such as failure of the pump to receive fluid at the inlet (usually the result of a clogged line or dirty strainers) or a failure for fluid to exit the outlet, which could be due to a pump motor that needs replacing, a sheared coupling between the pump and drive, or a pump/drive failure. It would also be a good idea to make sure the pump rotation is set correctly and the directional valves are in the correct position. The most expensive problem would be a damaged pump that needs to be replaced or repaired.Getting your hydraulic system back in working order can be a time consuming process. At Yarbrough Industries, we understand the importance of having a functional, efficient hydraulic system. We know that downtime is a price that you can’t pay in both money and time. That is why we offer comprehensive hydraulic services on-site troubleshooting and repair. Our team of experienced technicians can work on motors, pumps, valves, cylinders, and systems. When complex repairs are called for, we have a full machining center and certified welders. We also offer customized maintenance plans tailored to your needs and your equipment. Contact us today to find out how Yarbrough Industries can help keep your hydraulic systems operating efficiently.