Insane Hydraulics

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Random Advice for Aspiring Hydraulic Technicians

When I wrote a post called "14 Bad Things About Being a Hydraulic Tech", one of the things I mentioned was the fact that it's a dirty job, but newcomers often don't realize just how dirty it can get at times. I don't blame them - especially if they take their idea about this trade from a hiring brochure - hiring brochures love pictures of professionally smiling male models standing next to brand new equipment in clean overalls with a random tool in their hands.

But the truth is that "our dirty" is even worse than "normal dirty" because a) hydraulic equipment, due to its unmatched ruggedness, is already automatically used in the worst places, and b) by definition, it brings hydraulic oil to the mix. Here are a couple of picks from my last week's job (annual maintenance stop at our mine) just to give you an idea:

I am not exaggerating when I say that, along with a digital pressure gauge, a data logger, and a flow meter, my most frequently used tools are a pick, a scraper, a shovel, a brush, and everything else that can be used for clearing out "arbitrary stuff" that usually covers the hydraulics I need to get to.

Why am I saying this? Well... Believe it or not - I didn't choose this job back in the day. As an immigrant, I didn't have the luxury of job preference, so it, kind of chose me, and only later turned out to be a perfect fit. But if you are at liberty to choose a career path - you must know that this job requires an especially high tolerance for "unclean", and you should not waste your (and other people's) time on it if you don't have it.

Anyhow, this is just me ranting after pulling an all-nighter (another thing that's not uncommon for industrial hydraulics) and, as always, whenever I can't write about a particular technical topic, I like giving advice, hoping it can be of value to the readers of this blog. Please, don't judge me too severely today - I am typing with one hand because of the busted back (which is still better than the torn shoulder ligament I got at this same rock-breaking plant two years ago) - and, by the way, being able to muscle through all kinds of "bodily mishaps" is another quality you must have if you want to tackle this m├ętier.

But there's one piece of advice that I want to give to every newcomer to the field of industrial hydraulics (and I promise that I would kneel and beg my younger self to heed it if I only could!):

Always, but Always, Protect Your Hearing!

Hearing protection is very important, so, please, hear me out (pun intended). Noise exposure permanently damages the hair cells in your ears. The key word here is permanent - which, basically, means that it's a one-way road. So, start protecting your hearing early! I used to work on fishing boats next to generators for days on end, and I never used hearing protection. Nobody did back then. Well... I regret it now! I don't need a hearing aid, but I can definitely tell that my hearing is not what it used to be. Now I have small boxes with protective ear plugs stashed everywhere - in my toolboxes, in the car, in the pressure gauge box, etc... lest I find myself in a noisy environment without hearing protection. I strongly suggest you do the same - because the stuff we work with (or next to) is super loud, and it will take your hearing away from you if you let it. And it will be your fault!

So... What other recommendations can I leave, as a person who did nothing but replace old hoses with new hoses, and old power-packs with new power-packs for the last eight days? Here's a couple off the top of my head (let us call this "random advice on routine maintenance of hydraulic equipment in remote industrial locations"):

Hose routing in contaminated environments

Cap off everything as soon as a line is open - both the hose ends and the target fittings. Use only proper metallic caps and plugs and prepare them in advance in large quantities. Remember - someone may stand on an open hydraulic connection (I mean - literally stand, with feed and all) seconds after you remove a hose.

Don't forget to bring along tools for cleaning

Prepare your cleaning gear before the job starts - narrow/wide scrapers, picks, makeshift spades, brake clean and industrial degreaser spray cans, etc... Your "normal" toolbox may not need a set of painter's scrapers, but they come incredibly handy when you need to remove crud and goo...

Oil transfer can be trickier than one can imagine

A small and portable oil transferring pump with (very important!) a set of short, long, and very long hoses is a lifesaver! Make yourself one. Sometimes you can have new oil placed next to a place where you need to put it in, and sometimes you can't, so having that ability to extend your oil-transferring capability by an extra 10-20 meters is an ace up your sleeve. And don't get fooled by them "fluid transfer carts". What? You got one? Can you side-lift it with one arm? If you can't - then it's no good. "Portable" is the keyword here! Here's my trusty setup (note how easily I can remove the filters when I don't need them):

Personal protective gear must be good

It took me a while to find PPE that I can use for prolonged periods, especially the goggles - I am not even sure how many pairs I tried and then binned because I can't have them on for more than a couple of hours, or because the lenses fog up like crazy or last like a day before the scratches make them unusable. The same goes for FFP3 breathing masks (don't bother looking at anything less than FFP3, by the way). I suppose this is very subjective and personal, which is why I recommend that you try out and choose your masks and goggles (gloves, etc..) long before you start a job that will require you to use them for days. There's nothing worse than starting a week-long project at a remote location where the use of PPE is mandatory, and then discovering that your new goggles painfully injure you behind your ears, and your new mask's exhaust fogs them up so badly that you might as well be working with your eyes closed... Here's my stuff (the goggles kit is the S1101SGAFKT-EU from 3M, in case you want to know, it has worked all right for my mug so far):

So, yeah. This business is tough, which means that you're tough too! So, stay cool and safe!