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Keys to avoiding problems with hydraulic servicing start with deep knowledge, trust and compliance

02-08-2021
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Done well, hydraulic servicing can save money and enhance safety.  It is the key to maximising uptime and reliability as mobile hydraulic machinery gets more sophisticated, and depends even more on fully functional and safe hydraulic hoses and fittings. Without them, machinery just stops working – be it agricultural, civil engineering, earthmoving, forestry, logistical, mining or infrastructure.

Done poorly – just patching up machinery malfunctions, for example – is an open door to higher costs and a welcome mat to accidents. Apart from costly and extended downtime, a single fault can be deadly where earthmoving equipment is shifting tonnes of rubble in a single bite, harvesting tons of valuable produce in a narrow time frame, grading slopes on infrastructure, lifting loads into heavy trucks and specialist vehicles.

This is a myriad danger because there are scores – sometimes hundreds – of hydraulic hoses and connections upon which earthmovers, graders, cranes, on and off-road trucks, powerful specialist machinery and even the ubiquitous forklifts absolutely depend. That’s hundreds of opportunities for things to go right or wrong in a single vehicle, and thousands when multiple vehicles are involved. And it is the owner’s choice and Duty of Care to do it right, which is a legal responsibility that can make or break a company.

What are you doing right or wrong?

So how to you know if you are doing right or wrong?

“The issue of efficient, effective and safe hydraulic hose service isn’t as simple as having a shed of likely spares on-site and a mobile contact for someone you can call out after something goes wrong. That’s a great start, but it demands far more though than that,” says Robin Simpson, Chief Executive Officer, Hydraulink Fluid Connectors Ltd, which has more than 400 service points throughout Australasia.

“One of the most important things to have is service staff or service partners who know your machinery, your sites, your work priorities and are available 24/7. The partnership needs to be like a hand in a glove – the people who are serving you ideally need to know, before they arrive on site, what’s likely to be expected and how to fix it. Otherwise every new issue is a big lesson at the machinery owners’ expense. If you have to spend half a day educating different people turning up each time, you are wasting your money and your time – then getting a bill for it.

“And if the new chum doesn’t know the safety protocols for your industry, or doesn’t care because he is not continuously educated in this changing field, then you are taking a culpable risk. That’s no exaggeration. It is the employers’ responsibility, the site owners’ responsibility, to ensure people coming on site have the right qualifications for the job in hand. Otherwise it is back to the classroom again, at your expense.”

While experienced staff or partners are essential to predict and prevent failures – with associated time and safety costs and hazards – Mr Simpson says there are some basic checks owners can undertake to help ensure things are right with their costly investments.

Checks you can safely do yourself

“Since hydraulic hoses wear out at different rates, depending on usage and the environment in which they operate, it’s impossible to give a time-frame for when a particular service should be undertaken. This is the job of an expert tech with deep knowledge of his machinery and site(s). But there are some things we can all keep an eye on.

1.    One of the most common faults with hydraulic hoses is wear to the outer cover. This can be caused by the hose rubbing up against something, or not being properly located in a clamp or bracket. The outer cover of the hose is there to protect the reinforcement, which is the strength of the hose assembly. If you see a worn cover, it is a lot easier to change that hose then, rather than wait for it to fail in the field. Worn hoses are also a sign someone is not doing their job.

2.    Are there leaks at the ends of the hose? This can be from the fittings being loose, or an ‘O’ ring deteriorating. It could also be that there is a poor seal between the hose and fitting due to high temperatures or the hose being aged. Again, if you can see it, why can’t your maintenance partner? It is a warning sign.

3.    Exposed wires, usually caused by wear, will rust easily, or fail. Companies should not only replace these hoses, but look for a way to prevent future wear. This comes under the heading of machinery knowledge and anticipatory maintenance, which it a lot better than waiting for breakdowns or accidents.

4.    Obviously, make sure hoses are not kinked or twisted. Kinked hoses prevent flow, and a twist in a hose will rapidly reduce its life. If someone has missed this elementary point, it might be time to show them the door. Even in a world where it is demanding to find, train and retain good techs, it is still much better to make the effort than be stuck with a bad one.

Where you need expert – and honest – assistance

“I think all of us in different areas of our lives have had times when we have been sold a pup – when some supposed expert has magnified the costs and issues involved and bumped up the bill to the point when you will never deal with them again.

“So a first fundamental of good service isn’t a tangible thing that you can immediately measure and assess – it is, quite simply, trust. If you don’t trust an individual or organisation, if they don’t impress you, or their knowledge doesn’t, don’t deal with them. There is too much at stake.”

“Fair and cost-efficient prices are always a top priority in a competitive business. But fair prices need to be backed by proven integrity of practice demonstrated over multiple jobs and years by frank and honest relationships where options and solutions are openly discussed. No cost surprises at the end of a job – everyone hates them.”

Do, however, ask the right questions of anyone who comes on your site:

1. What are their safety compliances relevant to your site? These are absolutely top of the list because all decent operators want to protect their workers – and it is the first thing a statutory body will ask for if there is an accident. Don’t be non-compliant – it can and does shut down business.
 

2.    What is their experience relevant to your machinery and your industry? Familiarity with customer sites and very diverse machinery being worked upon is important, so service technicians do not cost time, money and downtime learning the job at the customer’s expense. Typically, a skilled technician familiar with multiple machinery typical of an industry can do a better job in less than half the time taken by a less skilled or DIY operator.

3. What programmes of continuing education are they involved in? Hydraulic machinery is a fast-moving field, and what was good enough 10 years ago might not be right today. Hydraulink invests in education and training. It might not appear as an item on any invoice, but it is a basis of competence, confidence and trust.
 

4. What backing does the individual have – are they continuously involved as part of a big team or are they more of a lone ranger? Can they come out 24/7 if they have to, do they have 4wds to do the remote jobs when these come up, do they have the workshop facilities to handle the bigger jobs needed by all big machinery from time to time?

“Outstanding hydraulic service is demanding. You have to have deep knowledge and great experience in this area to be able to see issues coming before they arrive. There are huge issues of safety, compliance, machinery knowledge, site knowledge, traceability and accountability involved in big machines.

“When servicing hydraulic hoses, fittings and adaptors, mechanics need to be spot on, every time. A faulty hose or incorrect fitting can have dire consequences when operating at high pressure (typically 3,000 – 7,000 PSI in mobile applications).”

“Experience – and ongoing education – are to be prized. Customers are correctly concerned to ensure they are sent top people. At a site level, good operators can tell you in five minutes about the quality, knowledge and attitude of people who are sent out to help them. They can pick it – they ask themselves; do they know what they are talking about in your industry? Are they there to make a positive contribution, or to do the job as quickly as possible and get out of there?”

“Good new equipment can cost typically from $100,000 for smaller types, to multiple millions for some big earthmovers. Why would you risk first-rate equipment with second-rate servicing?”

“One of the big advantages of using Hydraulink services, for example, is that there is an extensive amount of experience and capability built up under the one brand, so customers know that all Hydraulink-branded products and services will be delivered to the same high quality standards.”

“This consistency and quality is very important to customers with diverse and multiple sites who want traceability and uniformly high standards of service and safety delivered across their organisations.”

Hydraulink Australia 1300 36 37 34

Hydraulink New Zealand 0800 80 66 66

 

 

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