How to Maintain Hydraulic Cylinders & Rams: The Expert Guide

A hydraulic cylinder is an important piece of machinery that should be maintained regularly to ensure optimal performance. Lack of maintenance can lead to a wide variety of problems, from decreased efficiency and shortened lifespan to complete system failure. But how do you go about maintaining a hydraulic cylinder?

Maintaining the oil and the lubrication, keeping accessories and components clean, performing regular checks and having spare cylinders on hand are all important aspects of hydraulic cylinder maintenance. These tips will ensure your hydraulic pistons and cylinders continue in peak condition for a longer period.

To help you with hydraulic cylinder maintenance, we have put together this guide containing information about the five essential areas you should be aware of when caring for your cylinders and rams.

Not feeling confident about your hydraulic cylinder maintenance? Book a professional hydraulic cylinder inspection and speak to a qualified technician about a maintenance schedule. Keeping on top of maintenance is the best way to avoid premature hydraulic ram replacement and repairs. 

The Importance of Regular Hydraulic Cylinder Maintenance

A hydraulic cylinder or ram that is not properly maintained can cause damage to itself, your system, can risk injury to your staff and can be expensive between the cost of repairs and the downtime necessary to perform those repairs.If you want to ensure that your hydraulic cylinder is running smoothly and efficiently, it’s important to perform regular maintenance.

How To Maintain A Hydraulic Cylinder

Maintaining a hydraulic cylinder is a critical part of keeping your equipment running smoothly. Hydraulic cylinders that are not properly maintained can quickly become inoperable, costing you time and money. A poorly maintained hydraulic cylinder can even cause damage to your equipment and be a danger to your staff.

Following these tips can help ensure your hydraulic cylinder remains in good condition. These simple tips are quick and easy to perform and are sure to keep your cylinder running smoothly and free from damage.

If maintenance is neglected for too long, you may end up spending more on repairing your hydraulic cylinders. Here are five essential steps in hydraulic cylinder and ram maintenance:

Ensure The Oil Is Clean

One of the most important things you can do to maintain your hydraulic cylinder is to make sure the oil is clean and your hydraulic cylinder has enough of it. Filtering the oil in your hydraulic system is critical as particles will move inside the cylinder as it operates. 

Dirty oil can quickly cause damage to your hydraulic cylinder and reduce its lifespan. Make sure you clean the oil pan and oil pump regularly to keep your cylinder running smoothly. Oil should always be filtered before it’s applied to your hydraulic cylinders to avoid problems later down the track. 

Oil levels are easy to check and even easier to change, but it’s not the only thing you can do to help keep your oil clean. A filter and pressure gauge can also help with the efficiency of your system; the filter will help keep the oil clean, and the pressure gauge will inform you when the filter needs to be replaced. This should allow you to detect a clogged filter before you end up with a dangerous filter bypass issue, where oil flows through the housing without being filtered. 

Perform Regular Inspections

Checking your hydraulic cylinders regularly is essential for keeping them in good condition, as you will be able to spot issues and damage sooner. Inspecting your cylinders for damage, wear and tear, and leaks is a simple process that only takes a few minutes but can save you time and money in the long run.

Regular checks are for more than just inspecting for damage. It’s the perfect opportunity to look into your system for other issues, such as misalignment, hydraulic fluid levels, and air in the system. If there is wear on the piston or seals, it will be easier to spot and fix before it becomes a bigger problem. If that wear is one-sided, it’s likely due to misalignment and can be fixed with a quick adjustment.

Corrosion is another example of issues you should be inspecting for. Corrosion is a sign of excess moisture and can indicate the need for a change in hydraulic fluid. Corrosion will not only affect the rod or cylinder, but can also affect the seals in your hydraulic system. Corroded seals can leak to hydraulic fluid leakage or malfunctioning cylinder operation.

By taking a few minutes every week to perform some simple checks on your hydraulic cylinders, you can keep them in good shape all year round.

Have Spare Cylinders Handy

Having a spare cylinder on hand can save you a lot of time and money if your main cylinder goes out of service with a mechanical hydraulic breakdown. When your main cylinder fails, you can quickly swap out the spare and get your machine back up and running.

Having replacement cylinders will help you to be proactive and avoid any emergencies, as well as keep your machines running smoothly and without issues. You’ll be able to continue working while the damaged cylinder gets repaired. Avoiding downtime will help you avoid losing time and money while waiting for repairs.

Note that hydraulic cylinders are not interchangeable for all applications, so you’ll need to have the right type of cylinders on hand. Consider things like whether the application needs a single acting or double acting cylinder, as well as appropriate sizing. 

When your hydraulic cylinder is away for repairs, things like seals and fluid levels can be checked and changed if necessary. This can take extra time, which you may not be able to afford without having spare cylinders. Changing the seals of a hydraulic cylinder when it’s being rotated out is the most cost-effective way of performing seal replacements, which is also worth considering. 

Getting all checks and replacements done at the same time as the repairs allows you to work with your cylinder for longer without needing significant maintenance and repairs.If you’re not confident, a mobile technician can perform hydraulic cylinder replacements on demand. 

Checking the condition of your hydraulic system by rotating it out with a spare can give you some insight into the rest of your system. If your hydraulic cylinder is showing signs of contamination or corrosion, it could be the result of a larger issue affecting your whole operation.

Maintain & Replace Accessories Where Necessary

Maintaining and replacing hydraulic cylinder accessories when necessary is something else you can do to effectively maintain your hydraulic cylinder system. Accessories, such as brackets and ball joints, can easily be replaced when needed and will help keep your system running smoothly. 

Hydraulic cylinders are made up of many moving parts, each playing a role in keeping your cylinder working properly and safely. Although these components are smaller in comparison, they serve a vital function and should be maintained and replaced with the same level of attention as the cylinder itself.

Worn hydraulic cylinder parts and accessories will have more slop and give in their motion, which is not what you want from a precision instrument. Many hydraulic cylinders require precision and accuracy, and small inconsistencies with accessories can affect the way the cylinder fires. This can cause vibration and inaccuracy, which can lead to significantly more wear and tear.

Maintain Hydraulic Oil Levels

Sufficient lubrication and oil is vital to the health and function of your hydraulic system, and a lack of lubrication can reduce the efficiency or even damage your hydraulic cylinder along with other key hydraulic components. Fluid levels can be checked and monitored with modern tools, which allows for adjustments as needed. This is essential even though most hydraulic systems have a filtration system built-in by default. 

Maintaining hydraulic oil levels is one of the most important aspects of keeping your hydraulic system up and running. Although hydraulic cylinders come with reservoirs that maintain lubrication for hours of continuous work, eventually these will need to be refilled. 

Be sure to inspect any manuals or consult with the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) for the grade and type of hydraulic oil your system was designed for. Incorrect oil grades can severely impact your hydraulic system in a negative way and it also may not perform to its optimum level.

Hydraulic Cylinder Inspection Checklist

A hydraulic cylinder inspection can help assist in recognising whether or not your hydraulic system is in need of repairs and maintenance. The different aspects of a hydraulic cylinder inspection include:

✔ Contamination Inspections – The filters and hydraulic fluid within a hydraulic are susceptible to contamination over time and prolonged use. Contamination from things like dirt and debris can drastically reduce the life of your system. 

✔ Wear and Tear Inspections – Due to the constant motion of components within a hydraulic cylinder, they are prone to wear and tear. Frequent monitoring for wear and tear is an important part of hydraulic cylinder maintenance. 

✔ Fluid Leak Inspections – A fluid leak within a hydraulic cylinder can be very bad for the system. A hydraulic cylinder without enough fluid is going to wear significantly faster, and the leaking fluid can stain and damage nearby machines and surfaces. 

✔ Ballooning Inspections – Ballooning is common in hydraulic cylinders that are under tremendous pressure or are made of overly thin materials. Ballooning is a serious issue that can cause leaks at best and complete failure at worst. 

✔ Signs of Sideloading – Sideloading is a type of misalignment that can occur when a hydraulic cylinder has force applied to it perpendicular to its standard movement. Other than misalignment, it can quickly increase the rate in which repairs and replacements are required. If you notice any of these problems when inspecting your hydraulics system, it’s time to look at hydraulic ram repairs.

How Do You Remove Rust From A Hydraulic Cylinder?

To remove rust from a hydraulic cylinder, you need to use a wire brush or steel wool that has been dipped in a rust-removing solvent. Be sure to wear gloves and eye protection when cleaning the cylinder.

Rust is inevitable and will eventually form on your hydraulic cylinder, however, you can’t leave it alone. Rust can quickly cause damage to your equipment and can be a safety hazard. A build of rust on a single component could allow too much pressure into an area without sufficient lubrication, increasing wear-and-tear and the likelihood of a hydraulic system failure.

Regular maintenance is key to keeping your hydraulic cylinder running smoothly, but it’s also important to lubricate it properly. Applying the correct amount of lubricant to your hydraulic cylinder will help keep it well-lubricated and free from rust. However, if your hydraulic cylinder has already developed a rust build-up, using steel wool or a wire brush to remove the rust before applying lubricant can help get your cylinder back up and running.

Can You Grease a Hydraulic Cylinder?

Yes, you can coat the exposed hydraulic cylinder rods with heavy grease whenever the equipment or machine will not be seeing any use for at least a few weeks. 

The grease to be used should be as sticky and heavy as possible. As such, wheel bearing grease is preferred over general chassis grease because it is generally tackier. You can expect at least a couple months of protection when you heavily coast using grease. 

However, machines or equipment that are only used one season per year will require frequent coatings of the grease; roughly every three to four months. If you receive professional hydraulic cylinder maintenance services, they can advise on the best way to protect your hydraulic cylinders when not in use.