January 12, 2015

Become a Clean Freak

That old saw, "changing oil is cheaper than buying parts," rings true when applied to logging equipment, but changing oil is just one part of a comprehensive fluid maintenance schedule. The following tips will help keep your equipment running optimally while increasing its usable life span.

Use the Right Fluid
Whether you're talking engine oil or hydraulic fluid, it's essential to follow the manufacturer's specs for the individual systems on each piece of equipment. Buying one fluid in bulk because it's close to what's specified for several machines may seem like a good idea, but it can cause costly problems in the long run. Similarly, it's never a good idea to mix fluids in any systems, such as "topping off" different systems with the same fluid. Mixing fluids can accelerate component wear and shorten machine life.

Replacing Filters
Like fluids, it is essential to follow the manufacturers' specs for filters and filter changes. Be sure to pay close attention to each filter's micron rating, which measures the minimum size of the particles the filter can remove from the fluid. Another thing to watch for is the filter's beta ratio, which indicates its filtering efficiency. The higher the beta ratio, the more efficient the filter.

Surprisingly, filters are often scheduled for replacement more frequently than their related fluids. Manufacturers typically recommend changing hydraulic filters every 1,000 to 2,000 hours as opposed to every 2,000 to 4,000 hours for the fluid. Be sure to follow each machine's manual for filter changes, and pay close attention to the contaminant measures in your condition-based maintenance (CBM) reports. If you often work in particularly dirty or damp conditions, you may need more frequent filter changes.

Condition-Based Maintenance
Traditionally, fluid change intervals have been based on hours of operation, like changing hydraulic fluid every 2,000 to 3,000 hours. But CBM can save you both time and money.

With a CBM, a small sample is taken from each fluid system at regular intervals (ever 250 hours, for instance) and sent to an independent lab for analysis. This analysis measures the presence of contaminants like dirt, water, fuel, or coolant in the engine oil, which can indicate a leak or other problems. Another advantage to CBM is when working in wet conditions like swamps, where keeping an eye on water contamination in hydraulic systems is critical.

The CBM analysis can also help determine the overall condition of the machine. The presence of iron, copper, or lead particles can be an early indicator of accelerated wear. Finding these signs early allows them to be addressed long before they develop into expensive and disruptive breakdowns.

You can also save money by avoiding unnecessary fluid changes. A CBM analysis determines lubricant health, including the remaining useful life of your current engine oil. For engine oil, this is reflected in the total base number (TBN). A typical TBN for fresh oil is between nine and 10 with current CJ-4 oils. When this number reaches four or five, it's time for a change.

Hydraulic fluids rely on the acid number to indicate remaining life span. This number is typically around 0.5 for fresh fluid. A reading of 2.0 means it needs to be replaced. Relying on the actual conditions of your fluids to determine when to change ensures that you will receive full value from each dollar spent of fluids.

While it is true that changing oil is cheaper than buying new parts, a consistent CBM program can save you even more. By measuring wear trends and establishing a more efficient maintenance schedule, you can be assured of maximum production and uptime at a minimum cost.