A large automotive components manufacturer had a series of fires on its hot stamping lines—all caused by oil from ruptured hoses or leaky couplings that ignited when the oil came into contact with the hot metal being formed. In 2012, a particularly bad fire injured workers and caused 12 days of downtime, resulting in £5.3 million in damages from lost production and repairs. After assessing all the options—including changes to the sprinkler systems and equipment design—management concluded the safest and most cost-effective approach would be to replace the highly flammable mineral oil with a synthetic, water-free hydraulic fluid (HFD-U). This conversion was a significant outlay—approximately £70,000. So why did management believe avoiding future fires was worth that much additional expense?
Today, in manufacturing operations that pose a risk for fire or explosion, most large-scale manufacturers have already replaced mineral oil with fire-resistant hydraulic fluids. Even though these fluids can cost anywhere from two to four times as much as mineral oil, the economics are sound for these producers because with mineral oil, there is simply too much at risk.
Fires not only cause an unsafe workplace; they also damage the manufacturer’s bottom line and reputation. Fires can cause
So when these larger, global producers decide to convert, they consider this wide range of issues. While product price is a factor, it’s only one of many. A great deal of consideration goes to “soft” issues that help uphold the company’s brand and reputation—including their commitment to customers, employees, the environment, and shareholders.
Many manufacturers are experiencing a weakened economic environment. So discussions on spending more on anything, including fire-resistant hydraulic fluids, are usually not at the top of anyone’s list…unless there is a fire.
A fire can be devastating to a producer, and even more so in these difficult times. Waiting until there is a fire to review fluid options is not a wise choice. And because the economics, regulations, and technologies related to hydraulic fluids are always changing, it’s best to evaluate hydraulic fluids periodically, reviewing all the issues to determine if converting to a fire-resistant fluid makes sense for the facility.
Globally, there are two types of fire-resistant hydraulic fluids that are dominant in high-temperature operating environments: water glycols (HFC) and polyol ester (HFD-U)-based fluids. The relative benefits of each technology are different for each situation. Every company, every facility has a different set of demands to respond to—demands placed by regulators, customers, and the economy.
A supplier with broad experience in a wide range of facilities and processes can help the producer explore possibilities and aid in the decision process. Tables 1-3 include three short examples of decisions customers made about their fire-resistant fluid technology after thorough analysis.
When evaluating hydraulic fluid options, it is important for the manufacturer to pull together an internal team of stakeholders so all business issues can be considered and brainstormed. Within some companies, silos develop that impede the right overall decision. Each department has a specific focus, such as
For a thorough evaluation, a qualified supplier will help unify and support a 360-degree view of all the issues (Table 4). Preferably, this supplier will understand the specific processes and all the goals for the customer’s bottom line. A good supplier should be able to present several recommendations—each with pros and cons. Ultimately it is up to the customer to decide how to balance the benefit/cost equation.
At Quaker Chemical, here is how we approach and evaluate hydraulic fluids:
For more information: Peter Skoog is technical manager – fluid power and grease, for Quaker Chemical Corp., a global provider of process fluids, chemical specialties, and technical expertise to a wide range of industries, including steel, aluminum, automotive, mining, aerospace, tube and pipe, and cans. Visit www.quakerchem.com.