The last thing anyone wants is to be out at sea and have a rudder system fail to respond to controls, or be in port loading passengers and have the hydraulic passenger lift fail halfway through the job. In either of these hypothetical instances, people could be injured or killed, equipment could be damaged, lawsuits could result, and expensive repairs would likely be involved. There could also be aftermath on social media if these failures happened to be filmed by a bystander and the video ends up going viral. Fortunately, the possibility of critical hydraulic failures such as these can be greatly reduced.
Marine Hydraulic Systems
There are many different marine hydraulic applications, including automation and control systems, deck equipment, and critical valve systems. If these systems, and the various components that comprise them, are not maintained properly, the results can be both costly and unsafe — a bad combination for any business. However, regular maintenance, such as filter changes, hose replacement, lubrication, cylinder resealing, and more, can keep marine hydraulic equipment performing reliably.
Automation and Control Systems
Automated control systems onboard ships are responsible for many key tasks that used to be handled by crew members and can require great precision, such as opening and closing critical valves, fast responses to feedback, and some serious strength and power. While many of the jobs that these systems now handle were once manually performed by crew members, modern hydraulic technology has made it possible for crew members to focus on jobs that truly require human decision making, observation, and experience.
Marine hydraulic automation and control systems are meant to ensure the safe, smooth operation of a vessel. But when the components in these systems are not maintained or kept in good repair, the consequences can rapidly become serious. Crewmen, passengers, and nearby ships or equipment can all be put in danger and the resulting liability can be very costly. There may also be fines or lawsuits involved, not to mention the development of a poor reputation for safety and professionalism.
Steering Gear and Rudder
A good example would be the steering gear system, of which the rudder system is a key part. The goal of the rudder system is to enable the ship to turn, providing maneuverability in a safe and efficient manner. Hydraulics allow the rudder system to achieve its goal with minimum effort while providing excellent control. Key components in the rudder system include numerous hydraulic cylinders, proportional valves, and axial pumps.
Hydraulic systems are often key to the stabilization systems that keep ships steady, achieving roll reduction while at anchor or underway at sea. These systems may be fully integrated or implemented as hydraulic power units and are used on everything from small coast guard patrol boats to large commercial vessels.
Hydraulic equipment and systems are a common sight on the deck of ships and are indispensable to their efficient, safe function. Hydraulically powered deck equipment such as lifts, winches, and windlasses can provide a tremendous amount of torque for lifting and movement and provide extremely smooth, precise movement control without excessive noise levels.
Passenger and Cargo Lifts
A passenger lift, as the name implies, can be used to lift a number of people as well as cargo and other goods onto a ship in a smooth, quiet fashion when hydraulics are used. Cargo lifts are more specific to lifting heavy cargo onto the deck of a ship, and hydraulically powered ones make use of a crane system to safely move heavy objects in a very controlled manner. Key to such systems are hydraulic motors, pumps, cylinders, valves, and manifolds.
If the hydraulics behind passenger and cargo lifts are not kept in good repair, the inefficient operation could be the least of your problems. For passenger lifts, people can be seriously injured if a sudden failure causes the passenger case to plummet. And cargo lifts can be equally as dangerous to crew members, dockhands, and bystanders, not to mention the potential for extremely expensive damage to the cargo and the ship itself.
There are a number of different winches that can be found on a modern ship: anchor winches, mooring winches, towing winches, fishery winches, and deep-sea winches, just to name a few. Hydraulically powered winches are popular because they are not only compact but extremely powerful, fairly quiet to operate, and easy to install. Key components in hydraulic winch systems include control blocks, swashplate pumps, hydraulic motors, and valves. If a winch fails, someone is likely to get hurt and equipment and cargo may be destroyed.
A windlass is used to shift extremely heavy loads horizontally or vertically and is often used to dock ships at port. Hydraulic windlasses run relatively quietly and make use of low-speed high-torque (LSHT) hydraulic motors to provide the forces necessary to dock everything from yachts to massive shipping barges. A windlass failure can be serious, especially if it occurs in the middle of the docking process. Both the ship and the dock can be damaged, not to mention the potential danger to the crew and dockhands.
Valves are extremely important to any hydraulic system, whether it is the simplest hydraulic cylinder or the most complex of rudder systems. Valves control the flow of hydraulic fluid, adjust pressures within different parts of the system, and keep pressures stabilized at safe levels. Some of these valves may be so small as to seem insignificant (they are not, though) while others may be extremely large. Valves are used to direct the operation of many different systems onboard ships, including engine systems, automation, control systems, cargo and passenger loading, and power. However, valves are also used for functions specific to different types of ships (e.g., oil tankers, cargo ships, yachts).
Depending on what the valve system is part of, a failure here ranges from a slight reduction in performance to life-threatening issues or environmental disasters (i.e., petroleum and chemical transport). If filters are not changed when needed or there is hydraulic contamination in the system, critical valves can become clogged and unresponsive. This could allow a dangerous buildup in pressure or cause other parts of the system to malfunction.
Hydraulic Maintenance and Repair
Hydraulic failures in general lead to expenses related to downtime and repairs, and in some instances can include costs and liability when someone is injured. Maritime hydraulic failures can pose their own set of challenges, especially when they occur while on the sea or during the docking process. Those responsible for managing these systems cannot afford to risk problems occurring unexpectedly, and one of the best ways to prevent that is to keep the hydraulic systems and components well maintained.
In fact, the importance of regular maintenance of the hydraulic systems on marine vessels cannot be overstated. A lack of maintenance or improperly performed maintenance can lead to seemingly minor hydraulic oil leaks that result in engine room fires, bursting of hydraulic components due to excessive pressures, and total system failures.
Filters must be changed when they become clogged and the cleanliness of the hydraulic fluid must be monitored. Malfunctioning valves (including relief, spool, directional control, and counterbalance) must be replaced when they wear out or break. Hydraulic leaks need to be addressed as soon as possible, whether the cause is a failed seal, a broken fitting, or an issue with a hose. It is also important to perform regular hose inspections and perform replacements when hydraulic hoses show signs of wear or aging. And, lubrication is key, and when done properly can serve to extend the life of your equipment and components.
Repairs should be performed by trained, skilled professionals who stand behind the quality of their work. And remember that good maintenance promotes safety and functionality, and is an investment in the life and economic value of your hydraulic equipment.
Hydraulic systems are used throughout the marine industry, from winches on the deck to rudders for steering. These powerful systems, however, must be maintained regularly if they are to perform safely and efficiently. That requires skilled, experienced technicians with a commitment to quality to get the highest level of performance out of marine hydraulic systems — and to prevent them from failing when they are far from a port.
MAC Hydraulics offers on-site services that include hose replacement, troubleshooting, and preventative maintenance for all your marine hydraulic needs. Our on-site maintenance and repair services also include inspecting, repairing, and replacing hoses that show signs of damage that usually result from abrasion or aging. At MAC Hydraulics, we can service any brand of hydraulic pumps, motors, valves, hoses, and other key components of your hydraulic systems. In addition, we offer a 24-hour resealing service for cylinders that includes pickup and delivery. We are also centrally located between the Port of Philadelphia and the Port of Wilmington, and our highly qualified technicians carry TWIC cards for port access. Contact us today for more information on how we can keep your marine hydraulics in working condition.