HYDRAULIC FLUIDS:Lubricating Power

Lubricating Power

Ifmotion takes place between surfaces in contact, friction tends to oppose the motion. When pressure forces the liquid of a hydraulic system between the surfaces of moving parts, the liquid spreads out into a thin film that enables the parts to move more freely. Different liquids, including oils, vary greatly not only in their lubricating ability but also in film strength. Film strength is the capability of a liquid to resist being wiped or squeezed out from between the surfaces when spread out in an extremely thin layer. A liquid will no longer lubricate if the film breaks down, since the motion of part against part wipes the metal clean of liquid.

Lubricating power varies with temperature changes; therefore, the climatic and work­ing conditions must enter into the determination of the lubricating qualities of a liq­ uid. Unlike viscosity, which is a physical property, the lubricating power and film strength of a liquid are directly related to its chemical nature. Lubricating qualities and film strength can be improved by the addition of certain chemical agents.

Chemical Stability

Chemical stability is another property that is exceedingly important in the selection of a hydraulic liquid. It is defined as the liquid’s ability to resist oxidation and deteriora­tion for long periods. All liquids tend to undergo unfavorable changes under severe operating conditions. This is the case, for example, when a system operates for a con­ siderable period of time at high temperatures.

Excessive temperatures, especially extremely high temperatures, have a great effect on the life of a liquid. The temperature of the liquid in the reservoir of an operating

hydraulic system does not always indicate the operating conditions throughout the system. Localized hot spots occur on bearings, on gear teeth, or at other points where the liquid under pressure is forced through small orifices. Continuous passage of the liquid through these points may produce local temperatures high enough to carbonize the liquid or tum it into sludge, yet the liquid in the reservoir may not indicate an excessively high temperature.

Liquids may break down if exposed to air, water, salt, or other impurities, especially if they are in constant motion or subjected to heat. Some metals, such as zinc, lead, brass, and copper, have undesirable chemical reactions with certain liquids.

These chemical reactions result in the formation of sludge, gums, carbon, or other deposits that clog openings, cause valves and pistons to stick or leak, and give poor lubrication to moving parts. Once a small amount of sludge or other deposit has formed, the rate of formation generally increases more rapidly. As these deposits are formed, certain changes in the physical and chemical properties of the liquid take place. The liquid usually becomes darker, the viscosity increases, and damaging acids are formed.

The extent to which changes occur in different liquids depends on the type of liquid, type of refining, and whether it has been treated to provide further resistance to oxida­ tion. The stability of liquids can be improved by the addition of oxidation inhibitors. Inhibitors selected to improve stability must be compatible with the other required properties of the liquid.

Freedom from Acidity

An ideal hydraulic liquid should be free from acids that cause corrosion of the met­als in the system. Most liquids cannot be expected to remain completely noncorro­sive under severe operating conditions. When new, the degree of acidity of a liquid may be satisfactory, but after use, the liquid may tend to become corrosive as it begins to deteriorate.

Many systems are idle for long periods after operating at high temperatures. This per­mits moisture to condense in the system, resulting in rust formation. Certain corrosion- and rust-preventive additives are added to hydraulic liquids. Some of these additives are effective only for a limited period. Therefore, the best procedure is to use the liquid specified for the system for the time specified by the system manufacturer and to protect the liquid and the system as much as possible from contamination by foreign matter, from abnormal temperatures, and from misuse.


Flashpoint is the temperature at which a liquid gives off vapor in sufficient quantity to ignite momentarily or flash when a flame is applied. A high flashpoint is desirable for hydraulic liquids because it provides good resistance to combustion and a low degree of evaporation at normal temperatures. Required flashpoint minimums vary from 300°F for the lightest oils to 51OOF for the heaviest oils.

Fire Point

Fire point is the temperature at which a substance gives off vapor in sufficient quantity to ignite and continue to bum when exposed to a spark or flame. Like flashpoint, a high fire point is required of desirable hydraulic liquids.

Minimum Toxicity

Toxicity is defined as the quality, state, or degree of being toxic or poisonous. Some liquids contain chemicals that are a serious toxic hazard. These toxic or poisonous chemi­ cals may enter the body through inhalation, by absorption through the skin, or through the eyes or mouth. The result is sickness and, in some cases, death. Manufacturers of hydraulic liquids strive to produce suitable liquids that contain no toxic chemicals and, as a result, most hydraulic liquids are free of harmful chemicals. Some fire-resistant liq­uids are toxic, and suitable protection and care in handling must be provided.

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