The Importance of Clean Oil: Understanding contamination

by on July 22, 2015 8 Comments

The Importance of Clean Oil Understanding contaminationThis is part two of a three-part series on the importance of clean oil. Read part one here.


Take a close look at the monitor on which you’re reading this article. If you can see dust, you’re looking at particles about 40 microns in size, amongst the smallest we can see with the naked eye. Now, consider this: the contamination in the oils and hydraulic fluids that drive your equipment is most likely in the 10-micron size range.

When it comes to oil and fluid contamination in hydraulic pumps, cylinders and gearboxes what you can’t see may be impacting your operation the most. Hydraulic systems are designed and built with very tight tolerances. Even the smallest amount of contamination can block or displace fluids that are critical to safe and efficient operation, and service life with minimal interruptions.


Areas of Risk

In hydraulically driven equipment, parts in pumps, valves, and hoses rely on a clean fluid. At the same time, cylinders and pistons in lifting mechanisms require clean oils. Any amount of particle contamination in these parts can cause damage and leaks—which may allow additional contamination to be introduced—or wear that leads to erratic or ineffective operation, or even complete failure. High-pressure hydraulic system hoses are susceptible as well, with small contaminants wearing away at hose linings similar to an object being sandblasted. Oil contamination can have the same effect on bearings, transmissions and final drives in many types of equipment. Small particles in fluids can cause abrasive wear in any type of equipment that requires effective lubrication.


Warning Signs

As illustrated, it is impossible to see contamination in hydraulic pumps, cylinders, gearboxes, and other components, and when contamination becomes apparent it is often too late to prevent problems.

However, there are several early indicators that can help you to catch contamination before the problem escalates:

  • Increased system temperatures can be a result of high particle contamination in lubricants. Particles can restrict flow and act as a catalysts for oxidation which can increase the viscosity of lubricants reducing the efficiency of the system.
  • Leaking components and hoses are typically caused by wear particles that are constantly re-circulated multiple times through a system which then self-generates additional wear particles.
  • The appearance of foam in fluid reservoirs. This could be caused by internal friction from particles not allowing foam inhibitors to function properly. Leaking systems caused by particles can also allow air into a system promoting foam which would otherwise be a sealed system.. Contamination may be a direct or indirect cause.
  • Erratic operation. Your operators are highly skilled. If they notice a loss of consistent power, or any other inconsistent equipment behavior, contamination may be an issue. Inconsistent operation is a mission-critical issue which can cause premature equipment failure, property damage, or serious risks to the workforce.
  • Routine fluid analysis with the addition of particle counting is a critical indicator for identifying particle contamination and the severity of the level of contamination.

Know the obvious indicators of oil and hydraulic fluid contamination to guard against the problems that it may cause. Agriculture, construction, manufacturing, mining and power equipment should all be constantly monitored for contamination. While virtually invisible, fluid contamination is a key step to safe and efficient operations, lower total cost of ownership, and reductions in downtime, repair and replacement.

What other contamination indicators have you noticed? Share your best practices for monitoring contamination in the comments, and check back next month for the third and final post in The Importance of Clean Oil series, where we recommend best practices for maintaining clean oil.

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About the Author ()

Jason is currently the Americas ISOCLEAN Business Manager for Chevron Lubricants where he is implementing an industry leading business model for certified clean lubricants. He has 23 years of experience in the lubricants and fuel industry holding various positions in operations management, marketing, and sales with his primary passion focused on equipment reliability utilizing certified clean lubricants. He holds a B.S. degree in Business Marketing from the University of Wyoming and has been recognized by the Society of Tribologists and Lubricant Engineers as a Certified Lubricant Specialist and Oil Monitoring Analyst.

Comments (8)

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  1.' Chris Jackson says:

    Great articles, keep up the good work!

    • Jason Gerig says:

      Thank you Chris for showing your interest in clean lubricants and working with customers to help them address the number one cause of component failure related to lubrication.

  2.' tom pomonis says:

    Jason, Can you please send me all three articles in pdf format? Thank you!

  3.' David Fenderson says:

    Your articles on fluid cleanliness are effective tools when educating our customer base on cost saving opportunities. Is it possible to have these articles in a format that can be printed and used as customer hand outs.

  4. Jason Gerig says:

    Hi David,
    Thank you for your post. I will send these to you shortly. We are very excited to have the new Chevron ISOCLEAN Certified Lubricants to provide a solution to help customers in meeting their OEM Fluid Cleanliness recommendations.


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