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The offshore environment is tough on all kinds of equipment—temperature extremes, harsh weather, seawater and salt spray can erode equipment performance and lead to costly (and even hazardous) failures.

Maritime hydraulic equipment—pumps, cylinders, power units and hydraulic direct drives—are typically engineered to provide reliability in demanding applications like workboats, loading docks and offshore platforms. However, implementing key preventative maintenance (PM) best practices can avoid major breakdowns, saving time and money versus shutting down operations and shipping off a damaged component to a repair center.

Periodic inspection and maintenance checks: Equipment inspection intervals should be monthly at a minimum, whereas some operations conduct weekly inspections. Document danger signs, such as main pump pressure changes, fluctuations in motor speed, increased oil temperatures, increased case drain flows, hydraulic oil leaks and low oil reservoir levels. These inspections not only prevent breakdowns but can also capture machine performance data to improve both the maintenance and production processes.

Hydraulic fluid selection and condition: Follow the equipment manufacturer’s fluid viscosity rating and consider environmental factors. The number one root cause of hydraulic systems failure is fluid contamination, so routine fluid sampling and analysis is critical, especially in complex marine systems that have higher operating temperatures (which can lead to reduced viscosities, altered lubricating characteristics and increased risk to hydraulic components).

Service filters and seals: Change hydraulic filters at specific intervals to reduce contamination buildup that can cause premature wear in hydraulic system components. For complex systems such as hydraulic direct drives, manufacturers may specify the type of filter to use and can provide more detailed recommendations—filter medium and micron level, for example—depending on the operating environment.

In addition, most hydraulic systems have fittings that use O-ring seals to prevent leakage. Due to the shock loading and vibration inherent in some marine applications, these seals may wear out more frequently. Periodic inspections will identify leaks so you can replace worn O-rings, tighten loose fittings or replace any damaged fittings.

Choose OEM-certified service suppliers: Many marine hydraulics systems feature specialized design and operating characteristics. This can require a higher level of expertise and resources, which is usually best supplied by OEM-certified facilities. Third-party repair facilities will not have the original manufacturer specifications to properly repair, calibrate and test a hydraulic motor to new condition, for example—and will usually not be able to perform a fully warrantied remanufacture.

OEM-certified facilities can also provide factory-trained technicians to inspect, service and maintain the OEM’s equipment. Certain specialty components may only be available from OEM-certified facilities; in addition, there may be specific equipment tolerances that only the factory or OEM service shop are equipped to work with.

Use OEM parts: To achieve a “like new” condition, it’s critical to ensure the right parts are used. When hydraulic motors are repaired with used parts taken from scrapped components or with aftermarket parts that aren’t designed for extreme environments, you risk lower performance and early failure.

It makes sense to specify that any repairs use original OEM parts supplied from the manufacturer. In fact, some hydraulic direct drive manufacturers do more than repair their equipment. Bosch Rexroth, for example, can provide fully remanufactured drives and equipment with “like new” warranties.

Preventative maintenance programs: These best practices can be built into a comprehensive PM program that identifies risks and corrects issues before they lead to downtimes. Effective PM programs include annual major inspections and quarterly minor inspections, carried out in the field by factory-certified technicians who understand the technology and use established processes for inspecting equipment. They will provide a detailed report of findings, recommended maintenance, required spare parts and follow-up actions.

Hydraulic systems in marine applications can take a lot of punishment—the right maintenance practices can help ensure they deliver the life cycle performance maritime operations demand.

Tom Shickel serves as business development manager of marine and offshore at Bosch Rexroth Corp.