August 5, 2008 

'Inside Hydraulics' Newsletter

1. Opportunities galore in the 'difficult' economy
2. Lessons from the Qantas mid-air emergency
3. How to synchronize hydraulic cylinders
4. Content for your web site or e-zine
5. Help us spread the word
6. Tell us what you think


Opportunities galore in the 'difficult' economy

You know you're doing something right when big companies vote with their check book. A major corporation in Sweden, who I won't name but is instantly recognizable, ordered 60 copies of Industrial Hydraulic Control last month.

We often sell bulk quantities of our hydraulics know-how products, but this one made me sit up and think. I mean why would a company in Sweden, where English isn't even the first language, order a large quantity of our hydraulics manual and air freight them half way round the world - when there's literally dozens of others they could have chosen - many of which are cheaper and more easily accessible?

Obviously they think ours is the best. Makes no sense otherwise. No real surprise though. Industrial Hydraulic Control has stood the test of time. It's in its fourth edition and is a perennial best-seller.

But when a national hydraulics company, who many of you would recognize, called up last week and ordered 10 copies of our brand new Advanced Hydraulics program for internal training, I took that as a glowing endorsement. You can sometimes fool civilians. You can't fool top pros.

Yes, I am blowing my own trumpet. But that's not my main purpose here. After all, criticism or praise from most people is of no consequence to me; I know what I'm doing; I know when I've done well or stunk up the joint. I don't need to be told or be given a pat on the back.

No, the reason I mention this is because these companies are rare animals indeed. I communicate with a lot of people involved with hydraulics. And I hear a lot of whining - particularly from those involved in this industry - about the shortage of skilled people.

So to come across a company (two of them actually) who are doing something about it… investing to capitalize on opportunities others fail to grasp - even in spite of the 'difficult' economy… is encouraging to say the least.

Every cloud has a silver lining, and in the many years I was involved in the hydraulic repair industry, we would welcome a slowdown in economic activity. Because it presented different opportunities. When things quieten down, hydraulic equipment owners delay new equipment purchases. This means they inevitably need to carry out more repairs on existing equipment. They also get interested in trimming their operating costs.

Just the opposite is happening now in the mining industry. It's been booming for some time - a boom which is forecast to continue for decades (I'm sceptical about such bold predictions). At my Hydraulic Breakdown Prevention Blueprint seminar in Cleveland last year, one of the guys from Hitachi truck told me that the bean counters at one of the mines he deals with had worked out it was more cost-effective to skip the maintenance, run the truck into the ground and then go buy a new one.

The thing about bean counters is they can pretty much construct a set of numbers which shows them the picture they want to see. But they'd struggle with such a masterful piece of financial engineering if mineral prices weren't at near-record highs.

Now is NOT the best time to talk to a mining company about optimizing maintenance and reliability. The time for that is when (not if) the boom ends and the bean counters are forced to change their math. But now IS a great time to be designing, building and selling new hydraulic equipment to mines. Which is why Caterpillar recently announced a billon dollar expansion of five of their factories in Illinois.

The key to prospering at any stage of the economic cycle - whether you're a business or an individual - is diversity. Being able to turn your hand to whatever hydraulics skill or service - be it design, build, install, repair, troubleshoot or maintain - is most in demand at the time.

The Nice Things People Say …

"I am compelled to advise you of the wealth of knowledge I have gained from your literature. It is in fact worth every penny" Find out more ...

Kurt Ferreira
M.M.P, Eng.Tech., C.Tech., M.I.I.E.
Maintenance In Action

2.   Lessons from the Qantas mid-air emergency

Unless you've been living in a cave, you heard about the Qantas 747-400 that apparently had an oxygen bottle blow a hole in its fuselage. This resulted in decompression of the cabin, requiring the passengers and crew to don oxygen masks and the pilots to perform an emergency descent and landing. No one was injured.

Nothing grabs the attention of the travelling public like an emergency involving a commercial jetliner. And so this incident made headlines all over the world. Now the maintenance of the aircraft is under scrutiny.

It's important to understand that the commercial aviation industry is a leader in maintenance strategy and procedure. And for good reason too. Their business depends on it. If the public lost confidence in air travel as a safe means of transport, the airlines are out of business.

Look at what happened to Concorde. After 25 or so years operating without incident, one aircraft goes down with the loss of everyone on board and it's a museum exhibit.

The other side of the airlines' operational safety imperative is the need to intelligently manage maintenance expenditure and downtime. And so it was the civil aviation industry who gave us Reliability-centered Maintenance, or RCM.

The RCM framework evolved over a period of 30 years but really gained momentum when Boeing were developing the first 747. Due to the size and complexity of the 747, it soon became apparent that without a more strategic approach to maintenance than was the practice at the time, the 747 would spend more time in the hangar than it would in the air.

In a nutshell, RCM considers the probability and consequences of failure in the maintenance task selection process. From John Moubray's definitive text on the subject, RCM II:

If a failure has operational consequences, a proactive task is only worth doing if the total cost of doing it over a period of time is less than the cost of the operational consequences and the cost of repair over the same period. In other words, the task must be justified on economic grounds. If it is not justified, the initial default decision is no scheduled maintenance.

For failures with safety or environmental consequences, a proactive task is only worth doing if it reduces the risk of that failure to a very low level indeed - if it does not eliminate it all together. If a task cannot be found that reduces the risk of the failure to a tolerably low level, the item must be redesigned or the process must be changed.

RCM can be an evolving process because it's virtually impossible to anticipate and mitigate every possible failure. So assuming a failure in the oxygen system was the root cause of this incident, it's likely the maintenance of this system will be reviewed within the above framework.

Sitting below the maintenance task selection process are the procedures and check lists that help ensure selected tasks are carried out correctly.

In Issue #76, I talked about the disturbing number of accidents in the aerial access industry. It seems to me that the aerial access and aviation industries have something significant in common. And that is, if you use a mechanical device to defy gravity, it's wise to leave as little to chance as possible. If a boom lift or a jetliner comes down in an uncontrolled fashion, people get killed or injured.

In the aviation industry, nothing happens by way of aircraft operation or maintenance without a procedure and a corresponding checklist. And this is fundamental to the airlines' excellent safety record - which as already mentioned, is the premise on which the public's confidence in air travel is based.

The same can't always be said about the aerial access industry specifically - and the hydraulics industry generally. In fact, the use of procedures and checklists is such a valuable and yet much overlooked aspect of hydraulic equipment maintenance, that I spend a whole chapter outlining its many benefits in Insider Secrets to Hydraulics.

There's two parts getting any maintenance task right: knowing what to do; and remembering to do it. When changing out a piston pump for example, you can't pat yourself on the back for filling the pump housing with clean oil, when you forgot to open the intake isolation valve before starting the engine.

This sort of mistake is easily prevented by using a procedure and check list. When followed, it eliminates human error. That's why the airlines use them. And why the Qantas incident will most likely turn out to be a maintenance task selection issue, rather than a maintenance procedure issue.

"Thanks for the great work on the two publications, Insider Secrets to Hydraulics and Preventing Hydraulic Failures. I have been in the hydraulics business for the past 20 years and it's very difficult to find any decent material on hydraulic maintenance, troubleshooting and failure analysis. These two books cover it all in easy to understand language... I conduct hydraulic training courses and plan to purchase copies to distribute to my students to share your practical approach to understanding a not so understandable subject."

Paul W. Craven, Certified Fluid Power Specialist
Motion Industries, Inc.

3.   How to synchronize hydraulic cylinders

The problem of synchronizing multiple hydraulic cylinders arises in many applications. This Instant Knowledge report introduces and explains eight different solutions to this problem. To assist you in selecting the most suitable solution for your application, each method is considered according to its level of accuracy, cost and complexity. The methods discussed are applicable to any number and any type of hydraulic actuator. Find out more

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 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 19 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:

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