There are five essential hydraulic tools that most people don’t have when troubleshooting hydraulic problems in the field. Most of these tools are well-known by maintenance crews. They are often overlooked when it comes time to troubleshoot a problem. Having these essential hydraulic tools will reduce on the amount of downtime that may occur, as well as reduce the amount of money spent on components that are changed without first verifying that they have failed.
The pressure gauge is one of the most important hydraulic tools to have when troubleshooting any hydraulic issue. The problem with gauges that are permanently installed on a piece of equipment is that over time they get damaged or dirty and aren’t visible anymore. Having a portable pressure testing kit ensures that the gauges are always working properly. Quick disconnect ports are common on most modern equipment, and the portable pressure gauges are designed to attach at these points. If quick disconnects are not on the equipment, they can be installed.
The most common tool not used when troubleshooting a hydraulic problem is the flow meter. Flow meters can be installed in pressure lines, return lines and case drain lines. The most effective way to check the condition of a variable pump is to install a flow meter in the case drain line. As the pump wears, bypassing will increase and the flow meter will indicate how many gallons per minute (GPM) is being lost. One way to check the condition of a fixed displacement pump is to install a flow meter in the pressure-relief valve’s tank line. Checking the pump flow through the relief valve at low pressure and then at high pressure can be a great indication of how worn the pump is. Flow meters can be installed directly downstream of a pump and in the return lines of directional valves.
Heat is one of the biggest issues in a hydraulic system. The most difficult task is finding where the heat is coming from. Normal operating temperature for the majority of hydraulic systems is between 100-120 degrees F. Infrared cameras are the most effective tool to use when trying to locate where the heat is being generated. The infrared camera has many uses in the hydraulic field and should be used when troubleshooting any hydraulic problem.
One hydraulic tool not used by the average maintenance technician is the voltage detector. Using a voltage detector is a quick and easy way to check a solenoid to make sure it’s energizing. When troubleshooting, one should use a voltage detector to eliminate valves that couldn’t be causing a problem. Then pinpoint valves that could be causing the problem.
The servo/proportional valve test box is the best tool for checking and testing a servo/proportional valve before taking it off the system. These specific valves are very susceptible to contamination and often times are removed from the system without first ensuring that the valve is causing the specific problem. It does more harm than good to remove or replace a proportional valve from the system. Using this test box will give a better indication of whether the problem is electrical, mechanical or hydraulic. The test box connects directly to the specific valve and the main electrical power supply connects to the test box. The valve(s) can be driven manually by the box to check for a mechanical or hydraulic problem. The box has a display of the power coming from the PLC to help identify if the problem is electrical.