Insane Hydraulics

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Should You Cheap Out on Hydraulic Oil?


This post is addressed to owners of hydraulic equipment. I do admit that my opinion may be influenced by the chaotic and very "red ocean" lubricants market in Portugal, but the points are still valid.

I want to talk about the alarming fact that, unfortunately, a lot of owners of hydraulic equipment regard hydraulic oil as an "inconvenient expense" rather than the most important part of their hydraulic system. This is bad. Because when the oil is considered as a pure expense, the next logical step is to look for a "cheaper way", and the way the overcrowded lubricants market is today - there's always a lower-cost alternative, which the respective salesman will advertise as "exactly the same oil that you are currently using, only a lot cheaper and a lot better"!

I talk to owners of very expensive machines. Multiple pieces of equipment that easily cost north of 100,000 euros a pop. And I often hear things like:

"Hydraulic oil's too expensive."

"We waste ___ liters of oil to spills every week, so I 'cannot afford it."

"We had to switch from "_insert proven brand_" to the "_insert a much cheaper alternative_." to cut costs."

I find this strange. In my experience, especially from the last couple of years, cheaping out on hydraulic oil almost always backfires. In a bad way. Like really bad.

First of all - when people switch to a different oil they always mix it with their previous oil when topping off their machinery. "One hydraulic oil can be mixed with another hydraulic oil, can it not? Who's dumb enough to drain all of the previous oil when just a top-off is needed? That's right nobody!" So a mixture is created, and sometimes it's OK and sometimes it's not.

In such cases I like to ask the following:

"If you have a pickle jar with some pickles in it, and you need the jar to store strawberry jelly, how much of the original jar content are you willing to leave in it before you pour in the jelly?"

The same goes for oils, so unless you enjoy a fruit jelly with the smell of pickles, don't mix hydraulic oils!

I'm in the middle of a very nasty investigation in which a client in his pursue of cutting costs was talked into buying a batch of "low cost" hydraulic oil and used it to top off the tanks in three of his machines, even though the operators said that it "felt and smelled funny".

Confidences do happen, so maybe it's all a huge misunderstanding, but the clogged oil filter alarms went off on all three vehicles the day after the topping off, and the one that stayed in operation blew up three freshly overhauled pumps eight hours later. I am not a chemist, but I've never seen a brand new bearing wear out so fast. The tough question now is "who's gonna pay for the party?" Believe me, you don't want to see yourself in a situation where you have to be the one answering that! So, once again, do not mix oils!

Now to the second thing - the question of lowering the costs. This one is, once again, very strange to me. I always use the Japanese technique of asking several whys in a row:

- Why do you say hydraulic oil is expensive?

- Because we are spilling about 50-100 liter of it per week!

- Why?

- Because the hoses rupture all the time!

- Why?

- Because them all's old and worn out with messy wires sticking out.. And they prick my fingers, they do! And I hate'em all for that! Look at my poor little finger!

- Why are the hoses in such a bad shape then?

- Because they are like thousand years old!

- Why?

- Because we only replace a hose when it bursts open!

- Aha! Can't say it's the first time I hear this, though...

If you waste a lot of hydraulic oil, getting a cheaper oil is not a solution. Reducing the spills is. Identifying the "problematic" hoses (the hoses that rupture the most) and applying the "three Rs technique" is a good place to start, namely:

Let me give you an industry insider's perspective. Hydraulic service is a business, and we want to make money selling and repairing hydraulic stuff, which is why we want our clients to wear things out - that's a given because if stuff stops breaking down we close our doors, but we also want our clients to have breakdowns or (even better) replacements at a reasonable rate! I'm never happy when I overhaul the same unit two times in a row, even if I bill it every time. It doesn't feel right, because my client loses money, which is something that I don't want, and second - I do my best for my repairs to outlast the warranty period, so when I see the product of my work ruined in a matter of hours it saddens me.

So, hydraulic equipment owners, please, do us all a favor and treat the hydraulic oil like you treat your food - don't mix pickles with jellies, and don't replace your butter with margarine. Use the good stuff. Everybody in the industry will thank you for that!