The auto repair industry is thriving at the moment. According to an article I read recently, AutoZone, a national chain of auto parts stores in the US, posted a profit increase of 8.6 percent in its last quarterly report - as car owners and repair shops increase spending on automotive parts for used vehicles.
One repair shop owner interviewed for the article observed that his customers are opting for relatively expensive repairs, such as an engine overhaul or replacement, rather than buying a new car.
Meanwhile, the volume of used cars sold through dealers in the US rose 3.1 percent in February compared to the same period last year, while new car sales have fallen sharply.
If similar figures were available for the hydraulics industry, I'd expect they would mirror what's happen in the auto industry: increased demand for parts and repair services; used machine sales up and new machines sales down.
Over the past few months, sales of Insider Secrets to Hydraulics have increased noticeably. I reckon that's a pretty good barometer when you consider this book is essentially a how-to guide for eliminating waste and getting more life from hydraulic equipment. And if you can't find at least one thing in it that returns 10 times the modest investment involved, you're just not trying.
While the strategy of 'repair, rebuild and reuse' can and does deliver measurably economic benefits, it's only the blunt end of the stick. In its simplest form there's not a lot of technical know-how required to manage this strategy. Even your company's bean counter can do it.
The sharp end of the stick is the effective preventative and proactive maintenance of a hydraulic machine over its entire life - not just when things get tight. This requires a lot more knowledge - and a commitment to continuous learning. It's the sharp end of the stick, because it often involves spending money now and having to wait to get it back over an extended period - but many times over. Here's a very simple illustration from one of our members:
"Brendan, your books motivated me to build a small "kidney loop" filter cart from a second-hand 3 GPM pump and motor drive the system. All very modest but a real money saver. The alternative - annual oil changes - would cost around $450. The total cost of my self-made cart was less than that so it paid for itself in the first year... I suppose I should still change the oil every three years or so to maintain the additives and all… at that rate the cart will have reduced my oil cost to one third of what they would have been - rather satisfactory."
I've seen plenty of people bluff their competency in the various facets of hydraulics. But not this one. You have to know what you're doing. None of it is rocket science, but in my observation, very few owners, mechanics and technicians are prepared to spend the time and effort to master it. And I've never understood why, because it's an extremely valuable skill to have - in good times and especially in not so good times.
This situation reminds me of a cartoon I have on the wall beside my desk. It pictures a man lying on a couch, telling his therapist:
"Opportunity paged me, beeped me, linked me, mailed me and faxed me. But I was expecting it to knock!"
The Nice Things People Say …
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Equipment Maintenance Supervisor
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On the subject of cost-saving opportunities, most hydraulic equipment users don't have to look too hard to find at least one.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), more than 700 million gallons of petroleum products enter the environment each year - around half of which is through irresponsible and illegal disposal. But industry experts estimate that when it comes to hydraulic oil, between 70 and 80 percent of that lost to the environment is through leaks, spills, line breakage, and fitting failure.
One of our members, who is a maintenance planner for a large coal mine, recently told me his mine purchased 447,000 liters of hydraulic oil last year. It's hard to believe planned oil changes accounted for much more than a third of this volume. So where is all the rest going? I bet the coal from this mine burns better than most. And it's safe to assume hydraulic leaks are not the least of their problems.
With this in mind, here's a question for you:
Do you know how much hydraulic oil each of your machines consumes each year?
The only way you can know this for sure - particularly if you have more than one machine under your supervision, is if you measure and record all top-offs.
In my experience, most hydraulic equipment users don't do this. But when clients have done so at my urging, they are often shocked at how much oil a particular machine is actually losing over a year.
Yeah, I know, it's one more thing to do. But it's almost impossible to control anything you don't measure. And as the late management guru Peter Drucker once said: "What gets measured gets managed."
Of course, it's not just the cost of make-up fluid you need to consider. There's the environmental cost, which like carbon emissions, is not yet factored into - in this case - the price of a gallon of hydraulic oil. Stay tuned for that one.
Then there's the cost associated with clean-up, proper disposal and the potential safety risks posed by a leaky machine. Plus, where oil can get out, contamination can get in. And as you're reminded each time you buy a filter element, it costs money to remove contaminants. And even more if you don't.
The downtime required to fix leaks can be an issue. But this is often just used as an excuse for laziness. And these days, there are many innovative solutions available to eliminate problem leaks.
Maybe now is a good time to reassess those leaks that "aren't worth fixing".
"This book has the potential to save many
organizations lots of money. It should be on the bookshelf of every engineer, supervisor, planner and
technician who deals with hydraulic equipment... it's worth its weight in gold." Find out more
Alexander (Sandy) Dunn
Plant Maintenance Resource Center
What's next in hydraulics?|
In my column in the March-April 2009 Issue of Machinery Lubrication
I examine an alarming trend in hydraulic equipment development and design.
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About the Author: Brendan Casey has more than 20 years
experience in the maintenance, repair and overhaul of
mobile and industrial hydraulic equipment. For more
information on reducing the operating cost and increasing
the uptime of your hydraulic equipment, visit his
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