Hydraulic Pump Care: How to Avoid Dry Starts

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If hydraulics were never invented, heavy machinery’s strength in the field could’ve never be achieved. Lifting, rotating and lowering a load wouldn’t be as simple or agile without hydraulic pumps and cylinders. Caring for these components is a job itself.

Operators must know when and why hydraulic pumps fail. Dry starts tend to be the most common reason why pumps break down. Learn more about the causes and solutions to dry starts as a new project begins.

Pump basics

A hydraulic pump has a basic function. Oil under pressure within the pump causes a force against an outside object. The transfer of forces within the fluid makes the object move without too much energy required by the pump itself. The resulting movement keeps machines active at certain sites, including:

  • Construction sites
  • Oil rigs
  • Production lines

Within the pump is oil that’s both under pressure and used for lubrication purposes. Dry starts occur when the lubricating oil is either too low or missing altogether. Pump decline is imminent if the oil isn’t replaced as soon as possible.

Typical causes

Although hydraulic pumps are simple when it comes to their operations, their design is relatively complex. There are dozens of causes that lead to dry starts.

Consider these common causes, such as:

  • Water seeping into the pump
  • Oil leaking from the pump
  • Air mixing with the internal oil

All of these causes create imbalances within the hydraulic oil. The pump’s moving parts experience friction, subsequent heat and potential warping. Because job sites are busy and noisy places, this friction isn’t often noticed until damage has been done.

Heat is the enemy of hydraulic pumps. Internal parts have strict specifications. Any warping from dry starts creates damages that are often permanent.

Operators must be aware of any unusual sounds or actions by the pump. Believing that the pump will “figure itself out” by moving oil into the proper spots over time is an industry myth. The operator must verify oil levels before operation.

Putting the pump first

Avoiding dry starts is a matter of habit. Before the operator starts up the machine, he or she should first inspect the hydraulic pump. Follow these steps to verify fluid levels, including:

  • Detaching the topmost housing on the pump
  • Inspecting the seal
  • Verifying that the oil is slightly seeping from the exposed seal
  • Reattaching the housing

This scenario reflects a full and healthy pump. The oil spills over the pump’s edge, which tells you that it’s full. Keep extra oil on hand if the level is low. A dry start won’t be part of your day at that point.

Line unions, seals and ports can create problems within the pump. If the component has a low, fluid level each day, there’s an internal issue that must be resolved. Allow a mechanic to inspect any damages to the internal parts at this point.

Backing up the team

You’ve inspected the pump, and its levels have been topped off. The machine works well through the morning, but it declines pretty quickly after lunch. Ideally, keep an extra hydraulic pump on hand in case of a major breakdown. (A talented mechanic can swap it out so that the work can be completed as scheduled.)

The declining pump might be taken apart at that point. It’s possible that previous dry starts have warped the internal parts. Most operators are diligent about caring for their machine’s parts, but mistakes can happen. This pump can serve as a reminder to everyone working on the job site.

These pumps require attention every single day. Taking a few minutes to verify fluid levels can save a project from hours of delays.

If you have any questions, our team at Motion & Flow Control Products is ready to support you. Whether you’re having problems with dry starts or other setbacks, we have the solutions to keep you productive. Knowledge is definitely power when it comes to understanding hydraulics and its place in your workforce.