Insane Hydraulics

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The First Three Things I Need to Know to Tell if a Pump Shop is Any Good

Today I want to talk about shops that are primarily devoted to hydraulic pump overhauls. I want to tell you about the first three things I want to know about such a shop to determine if it is (potentially) good or (most likely) mediocre only. My opinion may be biased, but I believe I've repaired enough pumps and have seen enough shops for it to be at least worthy of sharing.

If you are someone who has hydraulic pumps that need overhauling, you should be able to use this information to grade the quality of the shop you are planning to work with, and if you are a shop operator (be it an owner or an employee) - you can use these points to consider how much there is to improve about your own operation.

But before I go any further, I need to make two disclaimers.

First - everything that I am listing here is only applicable to mature operations - i.e. businesses that have left the start-up stage. When you are a start-up - it is very natural for you to get by with very basic equipment and "ingenious yet economic" solutions for everything. For a hydraulic shop, by the way, a start-up period can be as long as several years, so if you see that your shop fails to "score" on some of my points, but you started your pump repair business 18 months ago - don't sweat about it, I'm sure you'll get there! On the other hand - if you've been overhauling units for six plus years, and you are not ticking all of my perfect shop boxes, there's definitely room for improvement!

And second - the list that I am about to disclose only includes externals. When I say "externals" I mean things that you can evaluate by looking at them or asking about them. I learned over the years that you can't really form an opinion about a business when things go right. Yes, we all want things to happen correctly and as planned all the time, but when everything is OK all the time - you never know what to expect when things go south! The best time to form an opinion about a business is when things don't go right - for example when a recently overhauled pump breaks. How fast is a shop to respond? How willing are they to determine the root cause of the failure? How willing are they to offer a warranty repair and accept their mistake if they did one? This is when good companies shine and bad companies excel in dodging responsibility. But this takes time and luck (or better - bad luck), and the things that I list below just take a little bit of attention. You enter a shop, you notice a couple of things or ask a couple of questions, and boom - you have a formed opinion!

With that out of the way - let me finally disclose the "big three" now:

The pump test bench - do they have it?

This is an absolute must for any pump repair shop that wants to be called decent. I know for a fact that you can successfully repair hydraulic pumps without a pump test stand, and I've done it too, but I also guarantee that mechanics who consistently run pumps on test stands are a hundred times better than the ones who don't.

The practice of testing pumps on a test bench is invaluable, and every shop should consider their test bench not only as a test tool but also as their best teaching resource. Like I said before - it is OK for a start-up not to have a proper pump test bench, but if a shop has been repairing pumps for several years, and still does not have a test bench - something is off.

On a side note - when I see a shop that has a pump test bench, I always want to see what their test reports look like. Now, for most clients all test reports look the same, but believe me - you can tell if a shop knows what they are doing by looking at how a test report is made and presented. You have to have very specialized knowledge to be able to do that, though, so I don't want to get carried away talking about it here.

In short - a nice pump test bench = good, no pump test bench = bad.

The lapping stuff - how do they do their lapping?

When I say "lapping stuff" - I refer to all the equipment used in the precision lapping process, including the tools needed for testing if a surface is flat.

Overhauling hydraulic pumps always involves some lapping, both plane and concave. And while you can start a small pump shop relying on manual lapping only, you can't progress much if don't eventually start using specialized lapping equipment for that. You have only that many hours in a day, you know. And in general, any decent production business should strive to replace manual operations with mechanized.

Common machining equipment (stuff like lathes and mills) - is always a welcome sight in any mechanic shop, but lapping equipment and accessories are another musts for any shop that specializes in hydraulic pump repairs.

If you say something like "we only use new parts, and therefore we need no lapping" - you haven't repaired enough pumps yet. Some new stuff is hard to find or takes a long time to get (think end plates), and if you want to be able to deliver acceptable terms, you'll need lapping! And if you do manually something that can be done faster with specialized equipment, you're giving up on growth, which is a bad choice.

In short - specialized lapping equipment = good, no lapping equipment = bad.

The goggles - can I, please, have a look at your goggles, my good sir?

Yes, the freakin' goggles! One can tell a lot about how a company treats its production employees by looking at their protective gear.

Protective gear involves a lot of stuff of course, - overalls, boots, gloves, etc... But nothing will tell you more than the goggles, because they are the part of a mechanic's outfit that companies tend to cheap out on the most! And most of the time this happens because people who are responsible for ordering them have never used protective eyewear in their life for more than a couple of minutes.

I am definitely not a "safety freak", but after you take a couple of shots of pressurized hydraulic fluid in your face, you begin respecting your eye protection, and after you've used protective goggles for prolonged periods - you realize how big of a difference their quality makes!

So, when you enter a shop and see that a person who is testing a hydraulic component is wearing eye protection, you know that there's at least some safety culture present, which is a good sign. And when you see that a tech's wearing not a generic piece of plastic crap, but a decent looking pair of googles that don't have the lenses fogged up and/or covered with scratches - you know that most likely the company threats their mechanics with due respect, which in turn means their production is most likely above average as well.

In short - good goggles = good, shoddy goggles (or no goggles) = bad.

So, there you have it. The first three things I want to know when I need to quickly give a pump repair shop a grade.