News Archive

October 8, 2011

Controlling Contamination in Heavy Equipment - An Interview with Barry Master

Contamination control and wear analysis are important parts of hydraulic equipment maintenance, and nobody knows that better than former Wear Analysis Specialist, Barry Master. 

For twenty-six years, Mr. Master served as the Developer and Program Manager for a Caterpillar dealer’s oil analysis laboratory in Arizona.  His experience in successful contamination control has taken him from the open pit copper mines of Arizona to the proving grounds for major construction and mining equipment manufacturers in Illinois.  He has worked extensively with maintenance directors, master mechanics, equipment manufacturers and dealers, and after-market hydraulic component providers in reducing and preventing contamination and abnormal wear of heavy equipment systems and components.

Over the years, Fluid Control Services had the privilege of working with Barry on a variety of Seal Saver applications.  His comprehension of the inner workings of hydraulic machinery has often given FCS the insight they needed to develop products and maintenance programs that address the problem of fluid contamination.  When we contacted Barry about doing an interview concerning these issues, he happily agreed to share his knowledge with us. 

FCS:  Thank you for taking the time to speak with us about your experience in contamination control.  Can you tell us a little about what a Wear Analysis Specialist does?

Barry:  Wear Analysis Specialists set up labs which operate various instruments (spectrographic, infrared, physical, etc.) to determine the cleanliness of hydraulic and other systems.  After the fluids are collected and analyzed, the results are interpreted based on the system’s components, machine application, hours of use of the lubricant, contamination, and other variables.  The interpreter looks for any abnormalities, and then compares those results to previous history from that particular machine or from similar machines or components.   

FCS:  What sort of abnormalities does the analyst look for?

Barry: Analysts look for many things, including contamination caused by dirt, fuel dilution in engines, coolant entry, abnormal levels of metals, unsatisfactory lubricant condition (such as abnormal oxidation, nitration, increases in viscosity), abnormal ISO code, improper lubricant type, etc.

FCS:  What are some of the problems analysts run into when testing for wear?

Barry:  In order to make an accurate interpretation of test results, analysts must have a working knowledge of the components from which the lubricant samples are taken.  The industry is constantly changing, so obtaining specific metallurgical information is sometimes a problem.  Updating component information, lab equipment, and test procedures to keep up with the latest industry trends can also be a challenge. 

FCS:  If test results for a certain hydraulic component show an increase in values, what steps can the end-user take to help correct the problem?

Barry:  An increase in values has many potential causes.  If the increase is metallic without an increase in silicon or water/coolant, that is an indication of abnormal component wear or excessive hours on the lubricant.  In this case, cutting and inspecting filters and inspecting magnetic screens, if so equipped, are the recommended procedures.  However, if water or coolant is indicated, either the cooler is defective or water has been introduced to the oil, possibly by rain or steam cleaning of a non-closed system.  If results show an increase in silicon, it is usually because of dirt entering the system, which is almost always due to scored cylinder rods.  In this case, metallic values will likely be elevated, indicating abrasive wear of pumps, motors, valves, and cylinders.

FCS:  Convincing equipment users of the benefits of preventive maintenance can be a tough sell.  Why do you think this is such a difficult concept for end-users to embrace?

Barry:  Sophisticated preventive maintenance is a philosophy that, like troubleshooting, is inherent in only a small percentage of technicians.  In the mining and construction industries, it is common for senior technicians to be put in the positions of Master Mechanic, Director of Maintenance, or Equipment Superintendent, and most of the time they are very adept at doing what they have been trained to do:  fix things when they break.  However, the majority of them are not of the preventive mindset.  Aside from basic lubricant and filter changes, tech schools and apprentice programs spend almost no time teaching preventive maintenance philosophy. 

FCS:  You said earlier that all hydraulic systems have the potential to become contaminated.  What are some of the more common contamination ingression points on a typical piece of heavy equipment, and how can end-users identify them?

Barry:  In modern hydraulic systems used in mining and construction equipment, silicon and dirt contamination can be traced, almost without exception, to damaged cylinder rods and wiper seals.  Cylinder rod damage is usually caused by impact with rocks or any other hard media that is being worked.  If a track dozer shows silicon contamination, inspect the lift cylinders for dings and scores caused by muck coming over the dozer and impacting the rods.  If the machine is a wheel or track loader, the tilt cylinders will likely be the culprit.  A motor grader’s blade side-shift cylinder will be the source of dirt entry nearly 100% of the time.  An excavator can be expected to sustain some level of damage to the bucket cylinder in typical applications.  Corrosive damage - which can be found in select applications involving seawater or acids – can also allow contaminants to enter the system, and cylinder failure is inevitable.  This is very common on acid-washed tag axle cylinders on concrete mixer trucks. 

FCS:  Before your retirement from the field, you worked with Fluid Control Services for many years in developing Seal Savers for heavy equipment.  What prompted you to look into protecting your customers’ machines with this product?

Barry:  Seeing a large number of hydraulic system lab results showing severe component damage due to abrasive wear.   Most of the time, those results were caused by dirt entering the system through the cylinder wiper seals due to rod damage.  I felt this product could help prevent that.

FCS:  Did you notice a difference in the cleanliness levels of your customers’ hydraulic oil once the Seal Savers were installed?

Barry:  Not only did systems clean up, but cylinder, component, labor, lubricant replacement, and other associated costs and downtime were greatly reduced!  

FCS:  As you mentioned earlier, damage to cylinder rods can allow dirt to sneak past the wiper seals and into the hydraulic system.  The conditions under which these machines work can be very harsh.  Were you somewhat surprised at the amount of abuse the Seal Saver could handle?

Barry:  Yes, the Seal Saver has proven amazingly capable of absorbing heavy use and abuse, and, most of the time, the life expectancy of the product can be measured in thousands of hours.  Their use has virtually eliminated premature replacement of excavator bucket cylinders, which are subject to more frequent impact damage than most other applications.

FCS:  As a wear analyst and technical specialist, you have probably used a wide range of preventive products to keep contaminants from entering a hydraulic system.  Would you say the Seal Saver is effective as a contamination control device? 

Barry:  The Seal Saver is the most cost-effective product for cylinder-related contamination cost control that I have seen.  The ability to custom design the product allows for application-specific materials and very quick installation, without disassembly or pin removal.  Compared to the cost of component replacements and associated downtime, the initial cost for a Seal Saver is nominal. 

FCS:  One more question before we bring this interview to a close:  do you have any tips for those who may want to start a preventive maintenance program at their own company?  What simple steps can equipment managers and maintenance personnel take to help ensure their fleet’s hydraulic systems remain as clean as possible?

Barry:  First, I would suggest a visual inspection of all cylinders for evidence of rod or seal damage.  This is something that should be done at every engine oil change interval—more often, if conditions warrant closer scrutiny.  Vulnerable cylinder rods should be shielded with a protective covering in order to reduce total-system wear, increase component and lubricant life, and decrease expenses and downtime.  Second, reservoir fluid levels should be inspected for indication of fluid loss.  And third, I highly recommend that maintenance personnel collect and submit oil analysis samples every 500 operating hours to ensure satisfactory lubricant condition, and to monitor component wear levels and possible contamination by dirt or water entry.

FCS:  Barry, once again, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak with us.  It’s been a pleasure talking with you about contamination control.  I hope our readers find the information you have provided as helpful as we do.

About Barry Master:

Barry Master has a B.S. degree in Mining Engineering from the University of Arizona, and has worked extensively in mining and construction, doing everything from equipment operation to serving as a Mining Engineer for a large, open-pit copper mine.  He has been a proving ground test engineer for a construction and mining equipment manufacturer in Illinois, and spent 26 years as the Developer and Program Manager for Caterpillar’s wear analysis laboratory in Arizona.  Additional experience includes 20+ years as a technical specialist for one of the largest construction and mining equipment dealers in the US.