July 19, 2011 

'Inside Hydraulics' Newsletter

1. Troubleshooting 101: don't believe anyone
2. How to justify a preventative maintenance program
3. Hydraulic oil viscosity, operating temperature and power consumption
4. Content for your web site or e-zine
5. Help us spread the word
6. Tell us what you think


Troubleshooting 101: don't believe anyone

So I could stay 'connected' on our recent trip across Australia, I needed a wireless internet thingie. So I picked one that I thought would do the job and my wife Jay went out and got it.

When she arrived home with it, Jay explained that the sales assistant recommended that he activate the device for her while she was in the shop, to save her from the alternative activation method -- a long and painful wait on the phone. Jay agreed with this strategy and so when she handed me the box she told me what the guy in the shop told her: it was "activated and ready to use".

It sat on my desk for a day or two before I eventually got a chance to test it. After ripping it out of its box, I switched it on and within seconds its small LCD screen was telling me it was connected to the cell-phone network. Encouraged by this, I switched on my lap-top, searched for and found the device, entered the required password and within seconds my computer was telling me it was happily connected to the wireless internet thingie. "Haa, that was easy!" I'm thinking as I'm patting myself on the back. Total time-suck: less than 5-minutes.

But my celebration was short-lived. I opened up a web browser. No internet. Very strange. So I switched everything off and started again. Same result. Wireless internet thingie showing it was connected to the network and my lap-top showing it was connected to the wireless internet thingie. But still no internet.

So I opened Control Panel and checked the network and internet settings on my lap-top, which all looked OK to me. Total time-suck is now 15 minutes - and counting. Now I consciously switch to troubleshooting mode. And as you've probably heard me say many times before, troubleshooting is a logical process of elimination… which begins with checking the obvious things first.

Having pretty much checked the obvious, I'm onto elimination. And just as I'm about to get up and go hunt for my son's ipad - so I can isolate the problem to either my lap-top or the wireless internet thingie, I have a moment of clarity. Bugga. I've been sucked-in. I've made a fundamental troubleshooting misstep: I believed what somebody else told me.

In other words, despite what I'd been told (and mistakenly believed), this wireless internet thingie had NOT been activated at all!

Troubleshooting discipline would normally dictate that I PROVE this hypothesis, by searching the house for Benjamin's ipad, connecting it to the now seriously suspect device, and trying to surf the internet. And if a $10,000 pump change-out was at stake, I absolutely would have proved my hunch before proceeding. But in this case, with no sheep stations attached, I made a judgement call to save time.

After spending 20-minutes on the phone to a call-center in India, the device was activated and within 10 minutes after that, was working perfectly.

The moral to this story is two-fold. First, troubleshooting is troubleshooting is troubleshooting. It's irrelevant whether you're troubleshooting a hydraulic system, a computer system or anything else, the PROCESS is pretty much the same.

Second and more importantly, when you are troubleshooting, listen to BUT NEVER BELIEVE what somebody else tells you. Only believe what you've seen with your own eyes or proven to your own satisfaction.

In other words, if someone tells you the hydraulic tank has got plenty of oil in it, thank them for the information and go and check it yourself. And taken to the extreme, this means NOT taking the sight glasses' word for it either (it has been known for oil to show in the sight glass and the tank to be bone-dry empty!).

We're conditioned to believe what we're told. Especially when we've no reason to doubt the intentions of whoever is telling the story. But to be an effective troubleshooter, this natural willingness to believe must be replaced with vigorous scepticism.

The Nice Things People Say ...

"The knowledge I've gained from this information has been so valuable it has earned me a raise!" Find out more ...

Jack Bergstrom
Heavy Equipment Mechanic
Sharpe Equipment

2.   How to justify a preventative maintenance program

A couple of weeks before I left on my trip I got a reminder notice in the mail from a company whose business is the proactive maintenance of domestic hot water heaters. Now, you might be thinking: "How could anyone make a business out of that?" Well, the hot water heater in my house, like thousands of others, is a storage type - basically a tank of water heated by gas. But the steel tank has a sacrificial anode to protect it from corrosion and therefore extend its life.

I had the anode replaced three years ago. And the letter is to remind me it is now due for inspection. But from past experience, I know the anode will be spent. The cost of a new anode is $150. What to do?

If you're responsible for keeping hydraulic equipment running, this is the sort of decision you have to make on a regular basis: do I spend a modest amount of money now to avoid an expensive disaster down the track?

In the case of my hot water heater, $150 is not a life-changing amount of money. Still, it would be very easy to sit on my hands and do nothing. After all, replacing the anode will do nothing to enhance its performance; I won't get a better shower in the morning.

But that's why it's called proactive maintenance. Proactive maintenance requires accurate thinking, followed by appropriate action.

Since ignoring the reminder notice is neither of the above, some accurate analysis is required. My brother-in-law is a plumber, and he reckons if the anode is replaced every 3 to 4 years, the water heater should last at least 12. But it could rust out in as little as 6 without anode replacement. A new unit is around $1200 excluding installation. And Murphy's Law suggests it will rust out during the Christmas holidays when my mother-in-law wants to wash her hair. Plus, if I can get hold of a plumber he'll want a king's ransom just to show up.

Without factoring in the consequences of my mother-in-law having to choose between a cold shower or a bad hair day, the numbers are not hard to crunch: without any anode replacements, assuming a service life of 6 years, then after 12 years I will have replaced two water heaters at a cost of $2400 (2 x $1200). If I replace the anode at years 3, 6 and 9 - and the complete unit at 12 years, the total cost over 12 years is $1650 ($1200 + 3 x $150). So I am in front by $750 ($2400 - $1650). A worthwhile saving.

But the return on investment (ROI) is even more impressive: I have invested $450 to save $750, and ROI of 167% (750/450 x 100). I will NOT get that sort of return by leaving the money in the bank.

But what if my water heater doesn't make it to the 12 year mark? Say it rusts out in 8 years. Well, based on a 6 year life without anode replacement, and a unit replacement value of $1200, each year of service life extension is worth $200 ($1200/6 = $200).

So say I replaced the anode twice at years 3 and 6 for a total cost of $300 (2 x $150) but only got 8 years out of the unit. Those 2 years of life extension are worth $400. In this case I am only $100 in front after deducting the cost of two anode replacements ($400 - $300 = $100). But even in this worst case scenario I am still better off.

So based on this analysis I feel confident that getting the anode replaced now (year 6) is a sensible proactive maintenance decision.

"That's great Brendan, but what's it got to do with me?" I can hear some of you saying. Well, if you are a hydraulic equipment owner, or work for one, consider this your reminder notice. What proactive maintenance decisions are you deferring or procrastinating about?

Of course, as the above example illustrates, to make informed decisions in these matters you need accurate information about your hydraulic equipment. And that's a good reason to avail yourself of all the resources available here.

"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

3.   Hydraulic oil viscosity, operating temperature and power consumption

In the January 2011 Issue of Machinery Lubrication available here, I discuss the interrelationship between hydraulic oil viscosity, operating temperature and power consumption, and introduce the Power Efficiency Diamond.

4. Content for your web site or e-zine

Need some fresh content for your web site or e-zine? You now have permission to reprint these 'Inside Hydraulics' articles on your web site or in your e-zine, provided:

1. Each article is printed in its full form with no changes.

2. You send an e-mail to editor@hydraulicsupermarket.com to advise us where you'll be publishing them.

3. You include the following acknowledgement at the end of each article:
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 web site: http://www.HydraulicSupermarket.com

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