January 12, 2024

How Fluid Contamination Causes Mechanical Failure

When contaminants enter hydraulic fluid, they can cause the system to work against itself. The same pressure and force that generate a hydraulic system’s power may cause even tiny particles to damage interior surfaces through abrasion, erosion and fatigue. This damage can cascade and create additional harmful particles. In the worst-case scenario, the result is the component’s failure from fluid contamination.

What Causes Fluid Contamination?

Fluid contamination occurs when particles or substances enter a hydraulic system and start circulating within the hydraulic fluid. The substances that can cause fluid contamination include:

  • Wear particles: If a hydraulic system is badly designed or uses the wrong materials, tiny pieces of the surfaces inside the system can break free and enter the fluid.
  • Dust, dirt and debris: Outside material can contaminate hydraulic fluid if the system isn’t sealed properly or the filters don’t work as intended.
  • Gases: Air, water vapor and other gases can enter through leaky seals.
  • Water: Water can seep in from outside the system or form within the system due to condensation.

What Kinds of Damage Does Fluid Contamination Cause?

In a properly functioning hydraulic system, metal parts are moving at very high speeds, under high pressure and extremely close to one another. Even extremely small particles can come into contact with metal parts and eventually cause mechanical failure. Particles contaminating hydraulic fluid can cause damage in several ways. These include:

  • Abrasion occurs when particles are caught between two sliding metal surfaces. The particles then scratch the metal repeatedly as the machine parts slide over them.
  • Fatigue affects rolling-element bearings. These bearings feature round or cylindrical metal elements rolling smoothly over metal rings, or braces. When particles or other contaminants get between the rolling elements and the braces, the resulting friction can damage the surfaces and eventually cause the bearing to fail.
  • Erosion occurs when particles enter fluid that is being pumped through a hydraulic system. As particles are funneled through tight spaces like valves and pumps, they come into contact with those parts and damage them.

Contamination from water and gas can be just as damaging as contamination from particles. Water in hydraulic fluid can reduce its viscosity or corrode the interior surfaces of the system. Air and other gases can form large pockets, interfering with the proper functioning of the fluid pumps.

The problems caused by fluid contamination can become more severe over time. Damage to the interior surfaces of a hydraulic system can lead more particles to break away and enter the hydraulic fluid. These particles then do their own damage, potentially creating even more particles and accelerating the pace of contamination failure.

Contact Chase Filters & Components

Choosing the right hydraulic filters and making sure they’re working properly is a vital part of fluid contamination control. The experts at Chase Filters & Components have been working with hydraulic systems for more than 30 years — contact us today to discuss how we can help you keep your machinery working better and lasting longer.

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