Unfortunately, hydraulic systems will break, leaks will happen, and fixes will be needed. This reality is true of even the most well-designed, least stressed hydraulic systems.
If your workers have a good presence of mind and training to stop machines before the leak gets serious, and if the machines have good safety systems to keep them from damaging themselves further, you might be able to mitigate the problems that a leak will create.
Don’t think that just because a leak is slow and the machine runs fine, it can be left alone. Not only could that leak be a sign that failure is around the corner, but the true hydraulic leak cost could be higher than you think.
Let’s say you have a drip that occurs every 5 seconds. That’s 84 gallons of oil lost every year! If the drip is once per second, that’s a whopping 420 gallons per year. It adds up fast.
Tangible Hydraulic Leak Costs
Let’s start by looking at the costs that actively eat into your wallet. We’ll get to the intangible hydraulic leak costs later.
This loss is probably the most obvious cost because once the oil has leaked out of your machines, it’s gone. Let’s take those figures from earlier and calculate just how much money you’re losing with leaks.
If you’re paying $5 per gallon, and you’re losing 420 gallons per year to a once per second drip, that’s $2,100 per year from that one leak. If you have multiple leaks across multiple machines, you’re looking at tens of thousands of dollars just in leaked oil.
Inefficient Machine Operation
Of course, the hydraulic leak costs go beyond the leak itself. Since the machine is getting less oil and sustaining less pressure, the machine will run less efficiently, as it takes more oil to do the same work.
Shorter Machine Life
Don’t forget that a leak is also a place for contaminants to get into the machine. A hydraulic leak costs oil, sure, but it also lets dirt, dust, water, and chemicals get into the hydraulic lines.
When outside substances are going through a finely tuned hydraulic system that was never meant to handle them, they’re going to cause wear on the machine and shorten its lifespan.
When a leak leads to a part or piece of equipment failing prematurely, you’ll have to pay to replace it. This cost can be considerable for hoses, pumps, sensors, or anything else that can be fouled up by a hydraulic leak.
Intangible Hydraulic Leak Costs
Just because a hydraulic leak cost isn’t fixed or obvious, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to suck away money in the long run or cause major headaches.
Manufacturing Quality Suffers
Servo valves are sensitive to foreign contaminants in hydraulic fluid. They may still work, but they can be much less precise.
Hydraulic leaks that let contaminants seep in can affect the tolerances in your production line. This lack of precision might be an especially big deal for the production of automotive or airline parts or other items that require particularly tight tolerances.
Harm to the Environment
Even if an oil leak didn’t affect your equipment’s efficiency or longevity, this doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about hydraulic leak costs.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s policies and guidelines will still apply. If you have a leak, that can be a major environmental hazard, and if the EPA finds out, they can levy heavy fines and other punishments.
As you fix your machines (or when they break), they’ll be unproductive. All that time they could be working in your production line is lost. Plus, you’ll either have to pay repair technicians to do the work or pull employees from other parts of your facility to perform repairs. Either way, the hydraulic leak costs money.
As mentioned, the EPA frowns on hydraulic leaks, so the cleanup efforts must be performed according to strict guidelines. Proper cleanup is going to take a lot of time, causing even more downtime and lost revenue. Then there are the cleanup supplies that must be used, which will cost even more.
Identify Your Leaks Faster
To keep leaks from eating into your profits, destroying your equipment, and harming the environment, set up systems that allow you to spot leaks before they become serious. You’ll also need to perform regular maintenance to keep the likelihood of leaks to a minimum.
For a visible method of detection, use oils that have distinct, unmistakable colors. Because there could be other fluids present, you’ll want to make sure that it is indeed the oil that is leaking.
If you’re concerned about changing oil types, you can get dyes that will change the color of your existing oil. You can even get dyes that will show up under UV light. The types of dyes meant to be added to oil have been designed to not affect the oil’s performance in any way.
If you’re going to add colored oil to your machines anyway, it makes reporting much simpler. Train your employees to look out for specific colored liquids or stains on the machines. It’s a much simpler process if all they have to do is watch for certain colors dripping from machines.
Since we live in the 21st century, camera systems are a cheap way to keep an eye on sources of leaks. You can even set up cameras to detect movement, so if a drip forms at a certain location, it will alert the camera. Plus, you’ll have video documentation of when and where all leaks occur.
The Inner Workings of Hydraulic Systems
The reason leaks cause so much havoc is due, in large part, to how hydraulic systems work. Since the liquid is incompressible (or extraordinarily close to it), these systems transfer forces extremely efficiently.
Fluids can actually act as a lever because of this property. Floor jacks use liquid pressure to lift cars, for example. Hydraulic systems work with four basic elements:
- A hydraulic pump pushes fluid
- A reservoir holds the fluid
- The fluid passes through valves and hoses
- Motors work to make hydraulic pressure
All this pressure coupled with an incompressible liquid can put a large strain on a hydraulic system. Some parts just aren’t as hardy as others, and like a chain, the weakest link will be the first one to go.
Pipe Fittings and Valves Can Leak
Places where pipes and hoses meet are potential weak spots. Over time, hose clamps, adhesives, and even welds can give way and allow fluid to leak out. Valves that once had tight tolerances can get worn away, especially if contaminants make their way into the line.
If there is too much pressure beyond what a manufacturer has designed a reservoir to hold, it can crack and leak.
Anywhere there are moving parts, there’s a possibility of failure. Over time, the moving parts in a pump can get looser and looser, allowing hydraulic fluid to leak through.
To get the best service life from your hydraulic systems, you’ll need to perform regular maintenance and check the system for leaks. There are also some basic tasks you can perform to keep the system running properly.
This lubrication is probably the most often needed bit of maintenance. Whether they’re rubber, plastic, or some more exotic material, seals will age, dry out, and crack. Regularly lubricating them extends their life.
Tighten to Manufacturer Specs
If you’ve ever worked on a car, you’ve probably used a torque wrench. The reason torque wrenches exist is to tighten parts exactly the right amount, no more, no less.
This prescribed level of tightness is sometimes called the “goldilocks zone.” The same zone exists for your hydraulic systems. If parts have been tightened too loosely, then oil can seep through. If they’ve been tightened too tightly, the parts can crack, and again, the oil will seep out.
It’s easy to forget about filters because hydraulic systems are enclosed, and problems are generally not obvious from the outside. But as you’ve already read, contaminants can cause huge issues in a hydraulic system, which is why filters exist.
As filters get older, they will have caught all of the contaminants they’re ever going to catch. Not only will you notice reduced performance from your hydraulics, but contaminants will start getting further down the line into the rest of the system.
Use Quality Parts
The “weakest link” principle applies here. Hydraulic systems rely on huge amounts of pressure and need to operate flawlessly for hours, days, and even months or years with minimal upkeep.
Using cheap hoses or fittings because they were “a good deal” is asking for trouble. High-quality parts installed to manufacturer specifications increase the likelihood of a lifetime of trouble-free performance.
Trust MAC Hydraulics to Keep Leaks in Check
If you’re worried about the impact of hydraulic leak costs, MAC has your back. MAC Hydraulics provides high-quality replacement parts for your hydraulic systems, and we service them, too.
We know hydraulics, how to keep systems running, repair them, maintain them, install parts, and deploy all accessories. Keep your hydraulics in tip-top shape; call MAC Hydraulics today!