Technical Article

How To Start A Smarter Fluid Power Preventative Maintenance Plan

February 18, 2020 by Jeff Kerns

Smart connected devices are providing savings and increasing productivity for companies. However, focusing too much on the results may lead to more complex solutions and headaches.

Hydraulic and pneumatic systems could save billions a year if they were just designed to be smarter.

The following will offer a way to start a preventative maintenance plan for hydraulic and pneumatic applications to help you focus on objectives without getting distracted by fancy new tools.

Even with electric motors offering feedback, positioning, and controls; fluid power is still popular in multiple industries due to its power density, simplicity, and cost. Because of these factors, companies are not trying to replace fluid power but make the systems smarter. 


Smart Versus Value

There are multiple smart products on the market that can offer data and monitoring, but don’t be distracted by easy access to data. Making everything smart might only accomplish inundating maintenance plans.

Remember correlation does not imply causation. Start small by targeting and quantifying pain points. A good way to know where to find these pain points is to make sure managers are talking to technicians that interact with the machines regularly. Technicians and engineers will understand what information has value to the operation. 

Start with clear objectives. Then pinpoint locations and the type of data that will add the most value to accomplishing those objectives. By communicating with the people that interact with that system each day it is possible to find problem areas or solutions that are closer to the root cause.

Establishing a robust maintenance plan can have two main parts to it, preventive maintenance and predictive maintenance. By incorporating both it is possible to:

  • Improve equipment and system reliability
  • Reduce unexpected breakdowns
  • Extend equipment life-cycle
  • Improve parts inventory management


Eaton configuring connected products

Eaton LifeSense. Image used courtesy of Eaton. 

Other innovations give options to monitor, setup, and configure connected products. Pictured here is Eaton LifeSense, but others such as Parker Hannifin’s SensoNODETM and Sun Hydraulics XMD hydro electric driver. 

Preventative maintenance normally uses knowledge about the machine to determine when it is a good time to service equipment or replace parts. For example, a maintenance manual might suggest replacing a timing belt every 30,000 hours of operation. But, workers who see the machine every day are able to observe the condition of the belt to determine if it can last longer or if it needs to be replaced sooner.

If a part’s operation is prolonged due to its observed condition a technician might become busy and forget to check it regularly or remember the last time equipment was serviced or checked. 


Predictive Maintenance

No matter how well a preventative maintenance plan is, predictive maintenance coupled with a connected monitoring device is adding value to operations. Adding predictive maintenance to backup a preventative maintenance plan can ensure service is done when needed not when assumed.

Additionally, data history will ensure any maintenance prolonged due to an observed condition is not forgotten. 

Having a smart connected device isn’t providing a universal solution. Hoses and fluid levels should still be checked regularly. A leading cause of failures is overlooking fluid levels and filters. Additionally, leaks and resistance in a system can be costly, but could go unnoticed if everyone is simply waiting for notifications to alert them.      

In a pneumatic system, leaks can be expensive. A technician might not notice if a compressor is performing more cycles than normal; especially if the compressor is at a distance from workers.


Festo motion terminal

Festo’s Motion Terminal with pneumatic abilities. Image used courtesy of Festo. 


Festo's Motion Terminal is equipped with smarter operation, such as the ability to slow a pneumatic rod before hitting its max or min stroke is prolonging cylinders' lifecycle and reducing maintenance overall.


Smart Systems and Smart Workers

According to Swagelok, a company that develops and provides fluid system products, “A single leak in a quarter-inch compressed airline can cost a facility anywhere from $2,500 USD to more than $8,000 USD per year.” The report also mentioned how poorly designed and maintained compressed air systems might be costing the U.S. industry up to $3.2 billion annually.  

Connected devices are working on detecting leaks and system health. Providing data such as fluid viscosity, temperature, flow rate, levels, and pump operation to an experienced technician will have a better idea if leaks, plugged filters, etc. are causing excessive wear in a system.

Software is available that might provide insight into maintenance concerns, but it is important to have smart systems and smart technicians. If a system is requiring more maintenance than the OEMs manual or repairs are increasing in general, it could be assumed there is something else acting on the system. 

Fluid degradation is often caused by external forces. If a smart device can’t sense what is happening outside the fluid, it will not find the root cause of failures or increased maintenance.

This is why a smart maintenance plan should always start by connecting your people first.


Do you have a smart maintenance plan in place?