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A Technical Publication Devoted to the Selection and Use of Lubricants

Published By
Texaco Inc.
2000 Westchester Avenue
White Plains, NY 10650
Volume 87 Number 1 January, 2001
To request a new subscription or to report a change of address (enclose mailing label),
please write to: Robert J. Taylor, Texaco Inc., 1111 Bagby Street, Houston, TX 77002;
or by e-mail: lubricationmagazine@texaco.com
Copyright © 2001 by Texaco Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Materials may not be reproduced or reprinted without written permission of Texaco Inc.



INTRODUCTION Three hundred years later in the early
1900s, Albert Einstein said this about
Anyone who has dealt with hydraulic sys- hydraulics, “Why is it that this magnificent
tems for any length of time will admit that applied science, which makes life easier and
hydraulic systems have evolved from a sim- reduces work, bring us little happiness? The
plistic, crude state into extremely complex simple answer runs because we have not
systems in a relatively short time. Some yet learned to make sensible use of it.”
essential reference points in the develop- One look at the hydraulics equipment
ment of hydraulic systems include the build- associated with the PLC (programmable
ing of the pyramids and the scientific logic controller) controlled robotics in use
research of Blaise Pascal and Albert today is all it takes to know that today’s
Einstein. The first documented use of hydraulic systems are very sophisticated
hydraulic technology applied as a labor sav- and that we are now taking advantage of this
ing technology occurred during the construc- magnificent applied science.
tion of the Egyptian pyramids. Over a thou- Unfortunately, hydraulic fluid handling
sand years later in the 1600s, Pascal dis- practices have not advanced at the same
covered hydraulics as a science. Through rate as the equipment. For that reason,
that discovery came Pascal’s Law which much of today’s sophisticated hydraulic
states, “Pressure exerted on a confined fluid equipment fails prematurely and does not
is transmitted throughout the fluid, undimin- live up to its projected performance poten-
ished, in all directions and acts with equal tial. Close examination of failed components
force on all equal areas.” has revealed that more than four times as


many hydraulic system failures are caused equipment warranty on the continuous main-
by improper fluid condition than all other tenance of specified cleanliness levels. If a
causes combined. This fact makes it imper- system reaches unacceptable cleanliness
ative that the message concerning the levels and the condition is not quickly cor-
importance of hydraulic fluid cleanliness and rected, the warranty will be voided.
how to achieve a state of cleanliness be
conveyed to hydraulic fluid users. This arti- TYPES OF CONTAMINATION
cle will examine the meaning of cleanliness,
discuss contamination sources, and offer Contamination can take several forms,
solutions to promote fluid and system clean- including, but not limited to:
liness. 1. Metallic Particulate is normally the
by-product of metallic component
HOW CLEAN IS CLEAN? wear. Environmental dust, dirt from
construction or maintenance, or
Cleanliness is a relative term, which anything that can breakdown into
prompts us to ask, “How clean is clean?” small pieces can also be classified
The degree or level of cleanliness in one as particulate. Circulation of a slurry
application may not be sufficient in another. of fluid and particulate will generate
For example, the required cleanliness for the even more particulate from abra-
fluid in a hydraulic floor jack is substantially sion. The particles generated inter-
different than for the fluids used in manufac- nally will be harder than the sur-
turing machine robotics; yet, they are both faces from which they came, thus
hydraulic systems. For this reason we must becoming even more damaging to
define “clean.” machine surfaces.
The term clean, as referred to in this arti- 2. Foreign Materials such as pieces
cle, describes the cleanliness of the of gasket material, gasket sealers
hydraulic fluid and the hydraulic system. such as silicone sealant, damaged
Clean hydraulic systems are defined by a O-rings, debris from the construc-
quantifiable, measurable level of particulate, tion or assembly process, welding
foreign matter, other hydraulic fluids or for- buckshot, and material introduced
mulas, and water or moisture. The concen- during start-up and normal opera-
tration of these contaminants determines the tion all contribute to contamination
degree of cleanliness of the hydraulic fluid. of hydraulic systems.
The importance of maintaining a clean 3. Other Hydraulic Fluids or
hydraulic system cannot be ignored. Formulas are normally introduced
Because of the large number of contamina- during the filling process. This con-
tion related system failures, the NFPA tamination can come from the
(National Fluid Power Association) and ANSI equipment used to transfer
(American National Standards Institute) hydraulic fluid from storage contain-
have established minimum “system cleanli- ers to the system. Hand pumps,
ness standards.” From the use of these hoses, storage drums, and vessels
standards, target cleanliness levels can be are all typical sources of fluid con-
established for each application. The basis tamination.
of the individual targets must be set to the 4. Water can form through the simple
most sensitive component in the system. process of atmospheric condensa-
The most common cause cited for denial tion in a vented-to-atmosphere sys-
of warranty claims in hydraulic systems is tem. Maintenance personnel wash-
contamination. Many original equipment ing down an area can introduce
manufacturers are now predicating the water into a hydraulic system by


inadvertently directing the water There is a common belief among hydraulic

hose at a vent on a reservoir, or fluid users that if the hydraulic fluid supplier
washing a reservoir that is not com- would just deliver clean fluid, there would
pletely sealed. not be a problem. Unfortunately, excessive
5. Gases caused by aeration, cavita- particulate contamination can occur from
tion, or poor design can contaminate many sources. Every time a hydraulic fluid is
a hydraulic system. Sources for handled the particulate contamination
gases can be leaking pump seals, increases. For example, particulate can be
pump suction side leaks, or the oil introduced when new hydraulic oil is blend-
being returned to the bulk fluid ed, pumped, packaged, transferred,
above, rather than below, oil level. pumped into a new system, or added to an
active system. These are not the only
SOURCES OF CONTAMINATION sources for particulate. Each source con-
tributes a little and eventually the level of
NEW HYDRAULIC OIL contamination can become excessive if
measures are not taken to control it.
New hydraulic oil is formulated to optimize It is true that new hydraulic fluid should be
system performance by: clean. However, a target cleanliness level
• Being non-compressible must be determined first. The fluid supplier
• Reducing friction is trying to supply a fluid that is cost com-
• Reducing component wear petitive and will perform the desired task for
• Transferring heat easily many, many applications. Supplying fluids
• Separating water easily that are totally particulate-free would drive
• Releasing entrained air quickly the cost of the fluid excessively high. In real-
• Providing a viscous seal ity, the only point at which the particulate
Each oil formulation is tested for all of level is truly critical is in the hydraulic system
these attributes and several performance itself. For that reason it is recommended that
characteristics. It is also tested for compati- the required hydraulic fluid cleanliness level
bility with other hydraulic fluids. All of these be determined and that target be met as the
tests are performed with clean, dry fluids, fluid is pumped into the application.
and there is not a test that includes contam- Even if the new hydraulic fluid is clean
ination with particulate and/or water. when it is delivered, if it is pumped into a
Therefore, for the fluid to perform in a storage tank that is grossly contaminated,
hydraulic system the same way it performed any efforts to deliver clean fluid will be wast-
in the tests, it must be kept clean and dry. ed. Many end users tend to overlook the
For those who might think there should be cleanliness of their own storage tanks. They
a test that includes particulate and water, also fail to realize that their storage tanks
there are simply too many different types, can be a major source for contamination if
amounts, and combinations of particulate they are not vented properly. Also, if the stor-
and fluids that occur in hydraulic systems for age tanks are equipped with steam coils, as
this to be feasible. The thin fluid film is what many of them are, they occasionally leak
the moving parts are supposed to be riding steam condensate into the hydraulic fluid.
on. However, if the particulate is larger in The following is a generic, logical path to
diameter than the thickness of the fluid film, insure the best opportunity for favorable fluid
it is easy to see that the moving parts will be performance:
riding on the particulate rather than the fluid 1. Insure that the proper fluid and vis-
film. Any test that might be developed which cosity are being used.
includes particulate would not be reflecting 2. Insure that the storage container is
fluid performance. clean and dry.


3. Insure that the storage container is excess gasket sealers, excess bolt thread
vented properly by using the appro- dressing, and general construction atmos-
priate vent filter. pheric dust all contribute to an unclean sys-
4. Insure clean fluid is delivered by tem. A newly constructed system must be
establishing a reasonable target thoroughly cleaned and flushed to insure
cleanliness level and have the fluid maximum cleanliness. Introducing new,
filtered to the target level, or cleaner, clean hydraulic fluid to a dirty system will do
when it is pumped into the storage little, if anything, to slow component wear or
tank, tote, or other storage contain- prevent system failure.
5. Read the certificate of analysis (C of INGRESSED MATERIALS
A) to determine the moisture content
of the new fluid. Contamination of a hydraulic system also
6. Establish the appropriate target occurs from ingression of materials. An
cleanliness level and circulate the example of ingressed material is a reservoir
fluid in the storage container through which has a 3” diameter oil return line, enter-
a kidney loop filtration system until ing a 10” diameter hole in the top of the
the target is met and can be main- reservoir. The 10” hole exists to allow for
tained. return line movement during operation. This
7. Filter the fluid any time it is trans- opening offers an excellent point for contam-
ferred from the storage container. ination ingression. Particulate in the atmos-
8. Filter the fluid as it is transferred into phere, water from area wash downs, and
the active system. manufacturing debris will find their way into
9. Determine and maintain the system the opening and contaminate the fluid reser-
target cleanliness level with either voir. A simple rubber or leather boot attached
the filtration designed into the sys- to the surface of the reservoir and the return
tem or by using a kidney loop filtra- pipe to fill the gap will solve the problem and
tion system attached to the hydraulic reduce fluid contamination.
system. In order to prevent ingress of particulate
10. Set-up a monitoring schedule and through the system vent, the proper system
submit representative samples of vent must be installed. As hydraulic system
the fluid for testing. fluid demands change, the fluid level rises
11. Insure that everyone that can affect and falls causing air to enter and exit the
the test results sees and under- space above the fluid level in the reservoir.
stands the test results, including the This action is commonly referred to as
clean-up people and the person that “breathing.” If the vent is not properly filtered,
enters the results in the computer or particulate from the atmosphere will enter
other data monitoring form. the vent hole and contaminate the fluid.
If this path is taken, the particulate level of Another example of particulate ingress is
the new fluid will be reduced because the on the rod end of a hydraulic cylinder. As the
checks and balances will be in place to cap- rod is extended, it is wiped off by a wiper and
ture any contamination before it gets to the the oil seal. However, a very thin oil film will
active system. still be present and air borne particulate will
deposit on the extended, “wet” rod. When
HYDRAULIC SYSTEM CONSTRUCTION the rod is retracted, some of the particulate
will get past the seal and wiper and be
When a hydraulic system is constructed, washed off the rod by the fluid inside the
contaminants are produced by the construc- cylinder. The better the condition of the seal,
tion process. Cutting, grinding, welding, the less likely this will be a problem.


INTERNAL GENERATION been said that for every 18ºF (10ºC) of fluid
temperature increase above the critical tem-
Internal generation of contaminants is perature, the fluid oxidation rate doubles
unavoidable in an operating system. Normal and the fluid life is cut in half. This number
wear of moving parts causes particulate that can change both for the better or worse,
will serve to reduce the efficiency of the sys- depending on the fluid in question, with the
tem. If not dealt with, the normal wear will extremes being synthetics and biodegrad-
degrade the system and its components. ables. Heat sources include:
Particle concentrations in hydraulic fluid are • Improper system design
abrasive. Abrasive wear to components • Pump cavitation or aeration
increases the particle concentrations in the • Wrong fluid
fluid. Correct filtering and properly located • Wrong fluid viscosity
filters can dramatically reduce their damag- • Ingression of air and compression of
ing effects. the entrained air
• Wrong application of equipment
MAINTENANCE ACTIVITIES • Failure of or absence of heat
Many times maintenance activities per- • Inadequate temperature differential
formed on hydraulic systems produce con- between ambient and heat
tamination. Opening a reservoir in an exchanger
extremely dusty environment will cause a • Lack of shrouding of exchanger to
dramatic increase in particle count. force direction of cooling air
Disassembly and re-assembly of compo- • Forcing too much oil through the
nents often introduces foreign material into relief valve (poor system design)
the system. Excess gasket dressing, pipe
thread sealant, thread cutting oils from MOISTURE
replacement piping, and old gasket material
often find their way into the hydraulic sys- Moisture is a very common form of con-
tem. The paper-like qualities of gasket mate- tamination in hydraulic systems. Quite often,
rial serve to block the surface of filter media the moisture comes from the atmosphere
and reduce the efficiency of the filter. Even around the reservoir. The moisture condens-
small quantities of thread cutting fluid or any es in the vapor space above the oil level in
foreign fluids can negatively impact the the reservoir on the cooler interior metal
hydraulic fluid formulation. Any change to walls and roof of the reservoir. If the interior
the hydraulic fluid that alters the compress- walls of the reservoir are not protected ade-
ibility, lubrication qualities, or particulate quately by an appropriate coating, the mois-
concentrations will degrade the efficiency ture will cause rust to form. The rust will
and life of the system. flake off into the hydraulic fluid where it will
be carried into the inlet of the pump and dis-
HEAT tributed throughout the entire system.
Reservoir vent filters can aid in reducing
Heat is another form of fluid contamina- or eliminating the introduction of moisture
tion. Most hydraulic fluids are not designed from the atmosphere by incorporating water
to operate at excessively high temperatures. barrier technology in their filter matrix. Water
In fact, if the hydraulic fluid is allowed to can also enter the system through inspec-
exceed critical temperature, the chemical tion holes and through other service open-
structure changes, viscosity varies, and ings, if the opening covers are not replaced
usable life is drastically reduced. This critical and resealed after each maintenance event.
temperature is typically 140ºF (60ºC). It has Rain and area wash downs can introduce


water into hydraulic systems through these cost analysis must be administered to deter-
unsecured openings. Water and oil heat mine if a redesign of the system is the cor-
exchangers, which should be pressure test- rect solution.
ed before placed in service, are sometimes Consider the following example: The prob-
used to control the hydraulic fluid tempera- lem is excess contamination, overheated
ture. If the tube bundle in the exchanger fluid, and poor maintenance practices. The
leaks, water will enter the hydraulic fluid and system reservoir is located under the electri-
be distributed throughout the system. cally heated equipment where the ambient
Poor fluid storage practices can often temperature is approximately 135ºF. The
introduce water into a hydraulic system. area is washed down frequently with water.
Many times, drums of hydraulic fluid are The high ambient air temperature condi-
stored near a hydraulic system for conven- tion was created when several units were
ience. The drum is usually unprotected from configured to reduce heat losses and reduce
the environment, rain, dust, dirt, and area electrical power requirements. The original
wash downs. The top of the drum becomes design called for the reservoirs to be posi-
contaminated with all these materials, and tioned so that adequate heat dissipation
when opened to add fluid to the system, the could be accomplished by ventilating the
contamination flows directly into the open space. It is important at this point to remem-
drum. When drums are left upright the head ber that one of the functions of the reservoir
(top) of the drum is often filled with rainwa- is heat dissipation through the walls. The
ter. If the drum opening is not sealed prop- “improved heat loss reducing” configuration
erly, the naturally occurring heating and of the machines has caused the majority of
cooling effects of the drum can cause water the hydraulic system failures. Because the
on the head of the drum to be pulled through area is so hot, it is difficult to get mainte-
the threads and into the fluid. nance personnel to enter the area to work.
If free water is allowed to remain in the Those who enter the area cannot remain
hydraulic system, bacterial growth can very long. Hydraulic fluid leaks persist and
occur. Once excess moisture is present, all the oxidation rate increases because the
the conditions required to create such a high ambient temperatures reduce heat radi-
reaction inside a normal hydraulic system ation capability.
are present. Moisture, air, oil, and heat can The return line to the reservoir also intro-
create some very undesirable reaction by- duces fluid into the reservoir above the fluid
products such as odor, rust, chemical level. This causes air to become mixed into
changes to additives, and increased oxida- the fluid. These air bubbles enter the pump
tion rate. Every effort should be made to and are compressed. This results in adiabat-
reduce the amount of moisture in a hydraulic ic compression, the results of which can be
system. The corrosion damage caused by seen in the following examples:
moisture contamination contributes to sys- • Air bubble at 70ºF and 14.7 psi:
tem failure, increased maintenance costs, -Compressed bubble to 1,000 psi =
and more frequently occurring downtime. over 1,300ºF; a 985 psi increase
causes a 1,230ºF temperature
-Compressed bubble to 10,000 psi =
INADEQUATE DESIGN 3,000ºF; a 9,930 psi increase caus-
es a 2,930ºF temperature increase.
Existing hydraulic systems with contami- The heat generated by adiabatic compres-
nation problems are frequently caused by sion occurs at the surface of the bubble and
inadequate design. System design failures dissipates quickly in the fluid. However, if it
are often the most difficult to resolve. A real is allowed to continue, the effects are mani-


fest as a steady increase in overall system component failures, increased maintenance

temperature. Once this starts occurring, cost, and excessive downtime resulting in
heat exchange capabilities of the system reduced profits.
must be adequate to handle the extra heat. In this example, it is clear that a compari-
Handling of excess heat translates into son of the savings realized by the new “heat
money spent unnecessarily. loss reducing” design and the increased cost
One of the functions of the reservoir is to associate with hydraulic system expense
radiate heat. It is often thought that if the and down time is needed. At least superfi-
reservoir is large, then heat exchangers are cially, it appears that this system is doomed
not necessary. Here is an example of why to fail completely.
that thinking is flawed. If a 200 gallon reser- One of the best solution to an inadequate
voir in location with a 30ºF temperature dif- design problem, such as the one shown in
ferential (ambient cooling air is approximate- Figure 1, is to relocate the machines so ade-
ly 30ºF cooler than the oil during stable quate reservoir heat radiation and oil cooling
operating conditions), the reservoir can only can occur. However, the production require-
shed approximately one-half horsepower ments and budget of the facility cannot toler-
(Hp) of heat. ate shutdown, redesign, and relocation.
As fluid temperatures increase, the lubri- Situations like this demonstrate the need for
cating qualities, viscosity, and film thickness serious consideration of target cleanliness
of the fluid diminish resulting in component levels and system maintenance during the
wear, particulate generation, and system design phase of any hydraulic system. The
failure. The combination of high ambient system in Figure 1 could be significantly
temperatures, inadequate maintenance, and improved by the addition of a heat exchang-
adiabatic compression produce frequent er on the hydraulic fluid reservoir.

Control Panel Control Panel Control Panel

Hydraulic Hydraulic Hydraulic

Reservoir Reservoir Reservoir
(below press) (below press) (below press)



Ambient Temperature in this area

(Hydraulic System Cooling Air)



Hydraulic Hydraulic Hydraulic

Reservoir Reservoir Reservoir
(below press) (below press) (below press)

Control Panel Control Panel Control Panel

Figure 1 - Inadequate Design


OTHER FLUIDS fluids. There is an old proverb that states,

“Be careful what you ask for, because you
Ashless (Zinc-free) Fluids just might get it.” The same holds true
here for biodegradable fluids. The primary
In some cases, different hydraulic fluid focus during biodegradable oil formulation
formulations can contaminate the system is making a product that can degrade eas-
by creating reaction by-products. If a user ily. It is feasible that some of these fluids
is currently using a zinc-containing could degrade while in storage, before
hydraulic fluid and decides to replace it even being introduced to the hydraulic
with an ashless (non-zinc containing) fluid, system.
the entire system must be drained and It is important to understand that all
flushed thoroughly. A mixture of a zinc- hydraulic fluids are biodegradable. In fact,
containing fluid and an ashless fluid can everything is biodegradable. It is just a
cause a reaction, which can form salts that matter of what conditions are necessary
will eventually plug system filters. This is and how much time it takes something to
primarily a function of the difference in pH biodegrade.
between the two products, caused by dif- With respect to hydraulic fluids,
ferent additive chemistries. biodegradability is simply a matter of how
The fluid and equipment suppliers quickly it changes from its original form
should be consulted concerning proper into a chemical form that is environmental-
flushing procedures and cleaning methods ly innocuous (water, carbon dioxide, min-
when the user switches from one fluid to eral salts, and biomass). For something to
another. be classified as “readily biodegradable” it
must meet accepted standard test criteria,
Mineral Oil and Synthetic Fluids which specifically state how quickly it
becomes environmentally innocuous.
Another problem can occur when a Unfortunately, all the components need-
hydraulic system is switched from a miner- ed to promote biodegradability such as
al oil based hydraulic fluid to a synthetic heat, entrained air, and water are com-
fluid. If the entire system is not drained monly present in hydraulic systems. This
and flushed thoroughly, the expected presence directly affects the rate at which
advantages of the synthetic fluid may be biodegradable fluids break down. Great
compromised by the presence of the min- care must be taken to remove air and
eral oil. Changing hydraulic fluid types can water from a system containing biodegrad-
only be done properly if the system is thor- able fluids. Heat buildup must also be kept
oughly drained and cleaned of all the other to a minimum.
fluid prior to introducing a new fluid. If the system is not properly controlled,
There can also be adverse effects from biological growth and extremely noxious
introducing a synthetic fluid to a system odor will result. At this point, the system
that has seals that are not compatible with must be shutdown and thoroughly cleaned
synthetics. The effects of the fluid on elas- in order to meet biological cleanliness lev-
tomers should be readily available from els. Above average temperature control of
the system designer, seal manufacturer, or biodegradable fluids should also be used.
the fluid supplier. Biodegradable fluids should operate at
temperatures at or below 140ºF. If the fluid
Biodegradables is allowed to exceed 140ºF, oxidation of
the fluid increases rapidly and the fluid life
Another cause for concern is when min- is shortened dramatically. Changing to
eral oils are replaced with biodegradable biodegradable fluids requires a thorough


cleaning of the system. Failure to properly during oxidation will deposit on shiny
clean the system can increase biodegrad- metal surfaces, such as directional valve
ability and increase toxicity of the fluid in spools and the internals of servo valves.
the system, especially if a mixture of other This will result in “sticky” operation and/or
fluids, air, and water can change the sluggish performance. The sticking of
biodegradability of the fluid to an undesir- directional valve spools causes more elec-
able level. trical solenoid failures than all other caus-
es combined.
Oxidation is another source of hydraulic CLEANLINESS LEVELS
fluid failure. Oxidation occurs when oxy-
gen reacts with the oil to form a multitude Target cleanliness levels, in this context,
of compounds. The first reactions form represent the maximum contamination
unstable hydroperoxides. The hydroperox- levels at which hydraulic fluids can be
ides react to form alcohols, aldehydes, expected to function as designed and
ketones, acids, and oxy-acids that are sol- achieve optimum equipment performance
uble in oil. These acidic products increase and reliability. The cleanliness “target”
the viscosity of the oil and can be corro- must meet the requirements of the most
sive to metal in the system. sensitive component in the system com-
Polymerization and condensation reac- bined with system pressure and safety
tions produce insoluble gum, sludge, and considerations.
varnish. These products serve to plug The consequences of failing to set target
openings, increase wear, cause the sys- cleanliness levels for every hydraulic sys-
tem to become sluggish in operation, and tem, and not exceeding those targets, is
reduce clearances making the system ulti- reduced system life, decreased fluid life,
mately inoperable. and greater safety risks. Down time and
Temperature is a primary accelerator of overall system operation and maintenance
oil oxidation, as well as moisture, dirt, costs will also be higher.
metal particles, paint, joint compounds, Particle contamination is typically made
and insoluble oxidation products. The rate up of sand, silica, loam, tiny metal parti-
of oxidation will approximately double for cles, wood fibers, rags, oil absorbent
every 18ºF (10ºC) rise above 140ºF (60ºC) materials, or any other solid material that
in fluid temperature. The life of the can be broken down into small particles.
hydraulic fluid is cut in half with just 1% Particulate can cause problems, such as
sludge concentration because contamina- blocking small openings, if the particles
tion makes the oxidation rate double. are too large. This can be especially harm-
Metal particulate, such as copper, iron, ful if the opening is a control orifice. If the
nickel, brass, and steel, are known to pro- particle is about the same size as the
mote catalytic reactions and accelerate oil clearances in pumps or motors, it may
oxidation. This catalytic reaction is further enter the opening and then become
enhanced by the presence of water. In the trapped between the moving surfaces.
first stages of oxidation, both the viscosity This can cause abrasive wear, which pro-
and the neutralization number of the oil duces more particulate that further con-
will increase. The neutralization number is taminates the system.
commonly used to determine when oil oxi- It is also important to recognize that very
dation has progressed to the point where few particles are round. They are usually
the oil becomes aggressive and should be irregular in shape and have many sharp
replaced. The varnishes that are formed edges that create more system wear as


they are circulated. The particulates lodge further degrade the system. This has a
themselves in valves, which can result in negative impact on system control per-
burned out electrical solenoids. formance and repeatability. The velocity
Very small particles referred to as silt through temporary or permanent orifices
flow through the system without much changes with plugging or erosion as the
restriction. Due to high velocity streams size of the hole changes. As the hole
and directional changes in flow, impinge- changes in size, the velocity of the fluid
ment of these particles on surfaces causes and particulate passing through it also
erosion that increases the clearance changes. Velocity change results in a
between moving parts and in control ori- change in the erosion dynamics.
fices. This promotes internal leakage and The size of particulate contamination
generates additional wear particles that varies from visible materials to the unaided

PUMPS <140 bar 140 - 210 bar 210+ bar

Pressure <2,000 psi 2,000 - 3,000 psi 3,000+ bar
Fixed Gear 20/18/15 19/17/15 18/16/13
Fixed Vane 20/18/15 19/17/14 18/16/13
Fixed Piston 19/17/15 18/16/14 17/15/13
Variable Vane 19/17/15 18/16/14 17/15/13
Variable Piston 18/16/14 17/15/13 16/14/12
VALVES <210 bar 210+ bar
Pressure <3,000 psi 3,000+ psi
Directional (solenoid) 20/18/15 19/17/14
Pressure Control (modulating) 19/17/14 19/17/14
Flow Controls (standard) 19/17/14 19/17/14
Check Valves 20/18/15 20/18/15
Cartridge Valves 20/18/15 19/17/14
Screw-in Valves 18/16/13 17/15/12
Prefill 20/18/15 19/17/14
Load-sensing Directional Valves 18/16/14 17/15/13
Hydraulic Remote Controls 18/16/13 17/15/12
Proportional Directional (throttle valves) 18/16/13 17/15/12*
Proportional Pressure Controls 18/16/13 17/15/12*
Proportional Cartridge Valves 18/16/13 17/15/12*
Proportional Screw-In Valves 18/16/13 17/15/12
Servo Valves 16/14/11* 15/13/10*
ACTUATORS <140 bar 140 - 210 bar 210+ bar
Pressure <2,000 bar 2,000 - 3,000 psi 3,000+ psi
Cylinders 20/18/15 20/18/15 20/18/15
Vane Motors 20/18/15 19/17/14 18/16/13
Axial Piston Motors 19/17/14 18/16/13 17/15/12
Gear Motors 21/19/17 20/18/15 19/17/14
Radial Piston Motors 20/18/14 19/17/13 18/16/13
Swash Plate Design Motors 18/16/14 17/15/13 16/14/12*
HYDROSTATIC TRANSMISSIONS <210 bar 210 - 280 bar 280+ bar
Pressure <3,000 psi 3,000 - 4,000 psi 4,000+ psi

Hydrostatic Transmissions (in-loop fluids) 17/15/13 16/14/12* 16/14/11*


Ball Bearing Systems 15/13/11*

Roller Bearing Systems 16/14/12*
Journal Bearings (high speed) 17/15/13
Journal Bearings (low speed) 18/16/14
General Industrial Gearboxes 17/15/13

*Requires precise sampling practices to verify cleanliness levels.

Table 1 - Cleanliness Code Chart, courtesy of Vickers, Corp.


eye (approximately 40 micron or larger) to mation reflects the existing ISO 4406
microscopic sizes of less than 1 micron. Standard. As the new standard is devel-
Particles visible to the unaided eye are oped and better supported, it should
normally larger than the clearances of supercede ISO 4406.
most hydraulic system components. The number of a particular sized particle
Because those particles that will gradually in a stated amount of fluid (1 ml) deter-
degrade the system are not visible, a visu- mines the cleanliness of the fluid. The
al inspection of the fluid is a very poor test number of particles must be determined
of cleanliness. using an approved laboratory particle
counting procedure. This number of parti-
TARGET CLEANLINESS cles per milliliter of fluid is then plotted on
a cleanliness chart. The chart has a range
Typically, cleanliness targets are code that starts at 0 and goes to 25.
expressed as a range. First, it must be However, anything beyond 17 is unsuitable
understood that cleanliness is not a gener- for use in nationally published standards.
al term used to describe the state of a
hydraulic system. Cleanliness is a quanti- DETERMINING TARGET CLEANLINESS
tative value based on the design and com- CODES
ponents used in a particular hydraulic sys-
tem. The current international cleanliness There are simply too many extenuating
standard for lubricating or hydraulic fluid is circumstances for any governing body to
defined by (International Standards make definitive, absolute statements con-
Organization) ISO 4406. cerning target cleanliness codes. There is
Work is being done on the ISO no “official” method for determining the tar-
Cleanliness Standard, but supporting data get; however, the following cleanliness tar-
for the new standard does not presently get worksheet, shown in Figure 2, is a
exist. Therefore, for this article the infor- good starting point.

SAFETY & ECONOMIC CONCERNS (Mandatory) 6 A: ______
Over 5,000 psi 4
3,001 - 5,000 psi 3
1,000 - 3,000 psi 2
Under 1,000 psi 1
Pressure Factor: B: ______
Servo Valves 4
Variable Piston Pump, Proportional Valve 3
PC Flow Control, Fixed Piston Pump, Vane Pump 2
All Others 1
Components Factor: C: ______
Water Bearing Fluids or Phosphate Ester 1
All Others 0
Fluids Factor: D: ______
TOTAL OF A-D: E: ______

Conversion of Fluid Cleanliness Factor to ISO 4406 Code:

5 = 19/17/15 7 = 18/16/14 9 = 17/15/13 11 = 15/14/11 13 = 14/12/10
6 = 19/17/14 8 = 18/16/13 10 = 16/14/12 12 = 15/13/10 14 = 14/11/09

Figure 2 - Cleanliness Target Worksheet


METHOD FOR READING equipment for maintaining fluid cleanli-

CLEANLINESS CODE CHART ness is not included in the design phase, it
may be very difficult and expensive to
Locate the particle size across the bot- achieve the fluid cleanliness necessary for
tom of the chart; move up the right side of optimal performance.
the chart to the number of particles in the A system that includes servo valves
sample for that size, then move straight demands methods of filtration and filter
across to the left side of the chart to the locations that insure fluid cleanliness.
corresponding range code number. For Typical cleanliness levels for servo valves
the example sample fluid shown in Table are ISO 15/13/10. It is usually more eco-
2, the 2 micron (µm) size is located at the nomical to install the equipment necessary
bottom of the chart. Move up the right side to achieve this cleanliness level during the
of the chart to the point representing 5,120 design phase of the equipment.
particles. Move directly left of that point to If a reservoir is located in a dusty envi-
the range code of 20. Following this same ronment and the vent is unfiltered, fluid
method for 5 and 15 micron particle sizes, contamination will increase with every rise
the range codes are 14 and 12 respective- and fall of the fluid level in the reservoir. In
ly. The cleanliness code for this sample some cases, this one seemingly small
then becomes 20/14/12. design flaw can eventually cause total sys-
The previous ISO cleanliness code only tem failure.
referenced the 5 and 15 micron particle Inadequate temperature control can
sizes, so when only two numbers are cause chemical breakdown of the
given, they will represent only the 5 and 15 hydraulic fluid and alter the viscosity. The
micron particles. However, the current changes caused by excess heat in the
ISO 4406 code, shown in Table 2, consists fluid will cause reduced oil film thickness
of three numbers that represent the 2, 5, and permit moving parts to wear more rap-
and 15 micron particle sizes. idly. This will increase the concentration of
particles in the system causing a compo-
FAILURE CAUSING nent or the entire system to fail. The parti-
CONDITIONS cle size distribution is such that the popu-
lation of smaller particles is greater than
In order to achieve maximum perform- the larger particles. Consequently, the
ance from a hydraulic system, the target thinner oil film means more damaging par-
cleanliness level must be established dur- ticles are present in fluid of the same
ing the design phase of the system. If the cleanliness level.


Very Dirty 24/22/20 24 22 20

Typical "new"
19/18/14 19 18 14
oil cleanliness

Suitable for turbines 17/16/13 17 16 13

Servo valves in high

15/13/10 15 13 10
pressure applications

Table 2 - Typical Particle Counting Data


IMPROPER FILTRATION Filtration is necessary to achieve target

cleanliness levels within a hydraulic fluid
Improper filtration includes, but is not system. For maximum efficiency, there are
limited to, incorrect filter placement, inade- specific locations where filters should be
quate filter flow, incorrect filter media, and located such as pressure lines, return
incorrect filter matrix design or construc- lines, or re-circulating lines. If the filters are
tion. There is a seemingly logical tendency not placed properly in the system, removal
for hydraulic system users to want to pro- of contaminants will not be effective. Filter
tect the system by placing a filter on the placement is categorized by the three
suction side of the pump. The thought is major functions they perform: ingression
that this should effectively keep the partic- prevention, system cleanliness mainte-
ulate that has settled out in the reservoir nance, and component isolation. Any com-
from being pulled into the pump and circu- ponent that has the ability upon failure to
lated throughout the system. Current pub- cause a safety hazard, or is a critical func-
lished standards discourage this practice. tion component, should have an isolation
Although placing a filter on the suction filter placed upstream of that component.
side of the pump is seemingly logical, it is
not the thing to do. If the filter is even PROPER FILTRATION
remotely efficient, it will eventually plug. It
does not even have to plug entirely to dam- Pumps naturally produce particulate dur-
age the system. If it restricts the flow to the ing normal operation. Pumps also operate
pump at all, cavitation will occur and the with the potential of producing large
pump will be damaged. This will create amounts of contamination if an internal fail-
metal particulate that will circulate through ure occurs. The pressure line filter should
the system doing damage as it goes along be located just downstream of the pump
and creating more metal particulate. A discharge as illustrated in Figure 3(B).
large portion of it will eventually return to (Figure 3(A) demonstrates the improper
the reservoir where it will settle and then location of a filter.) A return line filter is nec-
be drawn back to the pump suction filter. essary to capture particles generated by
This will continue to escalate into a very internal wear and collected on cylinder
serious problem. rods while extended.




(A) (B)

Figure 3 - Improper vs. Proper Filter Location






Figure 4 - Demonstration of Valves

Recirculating filters are included with High collapse elements (>2,000 psi)
recirculating pumps in specific applications should be used in all non-bypass housings.
where the achievement of the target clean- Non-bypass filters should be used
liness cannot be accomplished without a upstream of individual valves or banks of
circulation loop or additional confidence is valves to protect the valves against pump
required. Shown in Figure 4, the recircula- failure. The filter, shown in Figure 6(A), is
tion loop can also be used when filling or blocked off resulting in a differential pres-
topping off the reservoir and it can be used sure increase and/or flow stop until the filter
to clean up the oil while the system is inac- is changed. Figure 6(B) shows a bypass fil-
tive. It is also the best location for heat ter arrangement. When the filter plugs, the
exchangers and filters on systems using pressure overrides the spring pressure,
variable displacement pumps. unseats the ball check, and allows fluid to
Proportional valves and servo valves are bypass the plugged filter.
constructed with very close tolerances A very common mistake made in select-
between their metering and moving parts. ing isolation filters is to designate a filter
Because they have to react to very small with finer filtration media than the system’s
changes in pilot flows or electrical signal main filter. This causes shorter isolation fil-
changes, small particles, called silt, can ter life and service that is more frequent.
restrict movement of the parts or even Each time systems are opened for mainte-
cause valves to completely fail. In this nance or service the potential for contami-
case, a failure could be defined as any nation increases. To properly maintain effi-
change in performance that results in a cient filtration of a hydraulic fluid system the
reduction in productivity. This is demon- target cleanliness levels must be estab-
strated in Figure 5. lished and followed for the entire system.






Figure 5 - Demonstration of Recirculating Loop


(A) (B)

Figure 6 - Non-bypass and Bypass Filtration

PREDICTIVE OR PREVENTIVE participant. It is vital that the introduction of

MAINTENANCE new oil into a system be done in accor-
dance with system cleanliness standards:
Hydraulic fluid system failures occur in • Opening to the system must be
large part due to inadequate predictive or clean.
preventive maintenance and from a lack of • Transfer device for the fluid must
education about cleanliness. The success be clean.
of any hydraulic fluid cleanliness program is • Surface of the new oil container
dependent on the knowledge level of each must be clean.


• Oil must be filtered to the target must take into account the required clean-
cleanliness standards set for the liness of the individual components and
system before it is introduced. proper filtration to insure appropriate
The employee responsible for collecting cleanliness. However, if the design is ade-
samples must be aware of the potential for quate and the installation acceptable for
contamination during the sampling proce- proper operation and system cleanliness,
dure. The use of sampling ports and hoses but the system is not monitored for actual
will help minimize the introduction of exter- condition of the hydraulic fluid, the entire
nal contamination. Maintenance employ- effort is wasted. Hydraulic pumps and
ees involved in housekeeping activities components generate particulate naturally
need to be aware of the potential for sys- during operation. Wear occurs as the sys-
tem contamination during area wash tem performs the intended tasks. If the
downs and clean-up. Maintenance person- results of this wear are not monitored and
nel must realize that if a component expe- the contamination levels controlled, sys-
riences catastrophic failure during use, it tem failure is inevitable.
has probably introduced metal particulate There are several different methods of
to the system. The process of changing monitoring fluid cleanliness. Where, when,
that component will also introduce even and how the fluid is monitored determines
more contamination. the method. Where the fluid sample is col-
As a crude first line of defense, hydraulic lected, or where the monitoring is done is
systems are often equipped with magnets, determined by the information desired.
usually in the reservoir. These magnets For proper system operation, bulk stor-
are simply to help keep the chunks of fer- age sampling must be a part of maintain-
rous metal out of the pump inlet and from ing hydraulic fluid cleanliness in a system.
being deposited throughout the system. Although hydraulic fluid manufacturers
Magnets are a good indicator of the make serious efforts to produce clean flu-
amount of magnetic metallic particulate ids, they will become contaminated
that is in the fluid. Too often these mag- through handling, transfer, and storage.
nets are forgotten and are never even Pipes or hoses, tank cars, drums, and
examined. They should be examined peri- transfer pumps all provide sources of fluid
odically and used as a good indicator of contamination. Typical cleanliness levels
system wear. If proper fluid cleanliness of new hydraulic fluids from reputable sup-
has been maintained, the magnets should pliers statistically run about ISO
remain clean and free of metal particulate. Cleanliness Levels of 17/16/14 or worse.
These numbers virtually eliminate 3 levels
MONITORING FLUID of system sensitivity classifications from
CONDITIONS use with this fluid as delivered to the cus-
tomer site.
Once the hydraulic fluid system has Adding to the problem of delivered
been properly designed, installed, flushed, hydraulic fluid cleanliness is the casual
and filled with clean hydraulic fluid, it approach many users take to bulk storage
becomes necessary to determine if the contamination control. Open drums of
system is working properly. This process hydraulic fluid with hand pumps inserted
is referred to as condition monitoring. can be found in process areas, in mainte-
Table 3 shows some guidelines for condi- nance shops, and near operating equip-
tion monitoring of a hydraulic fluid system. ment.
Proper equipment design and installa- Sampling of the fluid in the drum should
tion are necessary to most economically be accomplished by using a vacuum pump
maintained fluid cleanliness. The design to draw a sample up out of the drum or


sampling from the pump outlet. Proper els determined for the operating system.
handling of bulk hydraulic fluid requires Portable filtration systems are available
the filtration of the fluid as it is being intro- that meet national or international stan-
duced into the system. Fluid additions or dards for cleanliness. Figure 7 is an
introducing fluid into a new system should example of such a portable filtration
be done within the target cleanliness lev- device.


ASTM D95 or Reclaim or remove water if over 0.05% (500
Water in Fluid
D1744 ppm). Locate and eliminate source of water.
Neutral Number Change of 0.2 above original, then be alert.
(Total Acid Number) Change out if increase is above 0.5.
Increase of 10% could indicate onset of
oxidation or mixing of fluids of higher
Viscosity ASTM D445
viscosity. Determine which and take action
as required.
Two or more ISO ranges above target,
ISO 4406, ANSI
Particles check photomicrograph or microscopically
check for the presence of bright metals.
Hazy or cloudy appearance indicates the
Visual None presence of water or fine particles. Perform
quantitative analysis.
Oils exhibiting separation times greater than
Poor Demulsibility ASTM D1401
30 minutes should be refortified or replaced.
Fluid is probably oxidized. Perform
Burnt Odor None quantitative analysis such as RBOT (ASTM
D2272) or infrared analysis.
Do not use Specto for any wear metal
trending or analysis. Spectro analysis is
Wear Metals Spectro
particle size limited and will not see any
meaningful particles relative to wear.
Benchmark additive levels in new fluid.
Spectro or When any element of the additive package
Additive Package
Infrared loses 25% or more of the original value,
contact refiner.

Table 3 - Condition Monitoring Guidelines


Figure 7 - Portable Filtration Device

SAMPLING POINTS AND entering components is desired. The sam-

METHODS ple should be representative of the fluid
flowing through the system during normal
In an operating system, the point at operation. The sample must also be taken
which a sample is extracted is determined with the system operating and the fluid
by the desired information. Often the sam- flowing at normal operating temperature
ple must be drawn from a pressure line. and flow rate. The most beneficial point is
This is done when specific information where the fluid flow is turbulent. Turbulent
about the condition of the pump, effective- flow insures even distribution of the con-
ness of filters, and levels of contamination taminants throughout the fluid sample.


Samples taken from return lines must Another type of sampling is online sam-
follow the same requirements as pressure pling. Online monitoring of hydraulic fluid
lines. This method of fluid sampling allows cleanliness has certain benefits over sam-
for monitoring of contamination generation pling methods discussed earlier. The
by specific components. Fluid sampling of major advantage of online sampling is the
the return line provides the overall indica- greater accuracy of the report since there
tion of system contamination. The sample is no opportunity for external contaminates
must be taken upstream of the return line to be introduced to the count. Using this
filter to insure there is a representative method, frequently it is not necessary to
sample of the entire system. even remove the fluid from the system.
If the hydraulic system does not have Another major advantage of online sam-
provisions for extracting fluid samples pling is that the results are delivered with-
from pressure or return lines, then the in seconds of actual sampling. Using a
sample must be taken from the system sampling process requires the sample to
reservoir. Reservoir samples will provide be transported to a remote laboratory
information on fluid viscosity, acid levels, either on- or off-site to a vendor laborato-
water content, and depletion. The samples ry. Extracting a sample, transportation,
will not provide accurate indications of handling at the laboratory, and actual test-
particle contamination. Particulate in the ing all increase the potential for particulate
fluid reservoir will naturally settle to the contamination.
bottom. Residence time will determine
how many particles settle. The reservoir FLUID ANALYSIS SERVICES
will contain a particle distribution that will
vary in size and concentration at different Unless the hydraulic system user has an
depths in the reservoir. analysis laboratory on-site, hydraulic fluid
Any time a system is opened to the samples will normally be sent to off-site
atmosphere the potential for additional labs for analysis. The lab report should
contamination exists. Very few reservoirs provide the following information:
are equipped with sample points or valves. • Performance against target clean-
This means the reservoir is typically liness results for all three particle
opened to extract the sample. This permits sizes-2µm, 5µm, and 15µm
outside contamination to enter the system. • Particle count summary
The sample bottle or container is then • Plotted cleanliness code chart of
submerged into the fluid providing a path target levels and actual levels
for contaminant to travel into the system. • Particle count summary of previ-
Additionally, the reservoir typically con- ous samples and current sample
tains particulate from the operating system • Water concentrations
and any particulate that may have been • Viscosity ratings
present from construction and assembly. • Photo analysis (color) and descrip-
This means a true representation of the tion
operating system will not be present in the • Historical information comparisons
fluid sample. It will hold contaminants that of present sample to previous
may have originated during construction, sample
were stirred up during the sampling • Spectro analysis for additives
process, and not contain particles that trending
were filtered out by the return line filter. • SEM/EDX analysis (Scanning
Therefore, sampling from the reservoir is Electron Microscope/Energy
the least reliable point at which to sample Dispersive X-ray) including written
the fluid. explanation of analysis


• Written recommendations and sis, everybody that can impact the test
summary of the analysis results should see the results. This
The actual data from a lab report should includes, but is not limited to, the following
provide information showing actual fluid personnel: purchasing agent, project engi-
condition as compared to target levels. neer, process engineer, operator, sample
The format of the data should be readable, collector, housekeeping or clean-up per-
clear, and usable by all parties involved in sonnel, and maintenance mechanics.
the management, operation, and mainte- Anyone that can have a direct impact on
nance of the hydraulic fluid system. the cleanliness of the hydraulic fluid or sys-
The frequency and depth of a report is tem should be trained and knowledgeable
determined by the application. If the in the methods and procedures for main-
results of the analysis indicate the system taining hydraulic fluid cleanliness.
is operating within the target cleanliness
levels, then the next sample analysis may SUMMARY
not need to be as in-depth or detailed. If
the analysis indicates target values have Over 80% of all hydraulic failures are
been exceeded, then corrective action preventable if you do not use contaminat-
should be taken to control those limits. It ed fluid. The argument can be made that
would be helpful to have a detailed analy- maintaining proper hydraulic fluid cleanli-
sis following corrective action to deter- ness has the potential to reduce downtime
mine if the desired results have been by approximately 80%; thus, having a
achieved. major impact on profitability.
The information from the analysis can Hydraulic fluid cleanliness is the weak
provide additional service if it is used as link in the progressive chain of application
part of a statistical process control (SPC) and technology that has raised the science
program. The advantage of SPC is the of hydraulic fluid power. Albert Einstein
indications shown from historical data as once expressed a concern that the applied
plotted on trending charts. Taking advan- science of hydraulics offered us little hap-
tage of this information can improve the piness. Today, that situation could no
operating efficiency and productivity of the longer exist if we learn to apply a system-
hydraulic system. atic and comprehensive method to main-
To take full advantage of the fluid analy- taining fluid cleanliness.