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Hydraulic technology makes hard tasks easy, but always think safety

Supplier: Enerpac By: Denis Matulin
20 October, 2015

Hydraulics not only allow difficult tasks to be performed with relative ease, but the work can be undertaken with a degree of precision, control and therefore safety, which cannot easily be attained with other forms of equipment.

High-pressure (700 bar) hydraulic tools pack more force into a lighter and more ergonomic package for tasks such as lifting, positioning, pulling, pushing, spreading, clamping, holding, bending, straightening, forming, bolting, fabricating and maintenance.

The very simplicity of such tools can, however, often lead to their abuse and it is often difficult to comprehend the tremendous forces that are generated with a minimum of input from the user.

But where the proper rules and disciples are observed, hydraulic power is also one of the safest methods of applying force – and some of the most common mistakes are the simplest to rectify, says global high-force hydraulics leader Enerpac.

As overall rules, it is important on hydraulic cylinder applications to:

  • Apply pressure or lift slowly and check the load often
  • Avoid standing in the line of force
  • Anticipate possible problems and take steps to avoid them.

Below are Enerpac’s more in-depth expert guidelines to operating hydraulic tools safely:

First, dress for the job
Wear PPE such as safety glasses, hard hat, gloves, safety shoes or boots and other protective clothing relevant to the particular site conditions. Get into the safety habit before you lay a hand on the hydraulic tools.

Perform a visual inspection
Always identify all equipment before starting the job. Everyone needs to be aware of what tools they’re working with. This visual inspection will also allow you to determine whether there are any missing parts that will be necessary before the job begins.

Part of the visual inspection should be a check that your equipment is functional. All leaks and failures should be tagged out and it is important that a gauge is properly fitted to the system.

Equipment Set-up
Check your setup.  Most problems encountered in a hydraulic system are the result of improper assembly or operation. Read all instructions carefully and, before you use any hydraulic equipment, be sure you know what its function is and how it works.

Position the load on firm, flat ground and if possible, use a Jacking Base. This prevents the load from "kicking out" or the reaction force punching a hole in the floor – another rather embarrassing situation.

The two greatest enemies of hydraulics are heat and dirt. Keep oil connections clean, and use dust caps to keep dirt out. Heat above 65°C will soften packings and weaken hoses. If it is necessary to use heat, shield the cylinder with a blanket or a piece of sheet metal to deflect the heat.

Make sure you use a saddle, otherwise the plunger will mushroom. When fitting a saddle into the end of the plunger, ensure that the face of the saddle is hard up against the face of the plunger.

Cylinder mounting threads should always be fitted with thread protectors, otherwise damage to the thread will weaken it and reduce its capacity to withstand the reactive force of the cylinder.

Equipment Usage and Maintenance
Lift slowly and check often.

Avoid standing in the line of force.

 Never attempt to lift a load that exceeds the capacity of your system. Overloading damages cylinders, blows seals and bends plungers. As a general rule of thumb, estimate the load and then double it. If 10 tons is estimated and a 10 ton cylinder used, "you" are working to generate the pressure.  Use a 20 ton cylinder and let the "area" do the work. Use a gauge to indicate safe operating loads and pressure levels. Before advancing or retracting a cylinder, make sure the area is clear.

Using products to their maximum, repeatedly, will lead to premature failure! Just as you don’t drive your car to its maximum, if you could, then build some safety into your hydraulics and follow the 80% rule.

Leaving 20% of the plunger inside the base will give greater stability and using at 80% of rated load capacity means that pumping is not as difficult.

Do not use an extension on the pump handle. The use of an extension could tip the pump forward and jam and damage your knuckles. It can also make the pump become unstable or pressurised beyond its safe limits.

Hydraulic systems are designed to use hydraulic oil only. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, as the incorrect oil will damage the system and make it unsafe to use. Just like a car, it needs to be changed in order to ensure the oil is in good condition.

When you are finished, release the pressure gently. Releasing the pressure in a system suddenly will cause the needle to snap back – throwing the gauge out of calibration. Use a snubber valve to prevent this happening. The snubber valve will also dampen out any pressure fluctuations thus giving a more accurate, easy to read pressure or force indication.

Before storing hydraulic equipment, make sure it has been properly cleaned and lubricated where necessary. This will ensure its longevity and efficient functioning over the long term.

Select tools that make the job more efficient
Enerpac has one of the most comprehensive ranges of bolting and other hydraulic equipment in the world, so it is important to seek expert guidance on which products best suit the task at hand, and the safest ways to operate them.

For example, time-consuming, labour-intensive manual tasks such as bolt tightening can be performed with ease using a torque wrench.

Torque wrenches are some of the safest and most reliable non-impact fastening technologies available – a whole generation ahead of methods such as flogging wrenches, for example, says Enerpac. However, like any powerful precision tool, they need to be operated properly and with respect for their capabilities to get the best out of them over the longest time.

Pump selection is also important, as a lot of Enerpac tools are actuated by hydraulic pumps. Selection of the correct type of pump is critical to the efficiency and safety of the powerful and portable hydraulic tools that are increasingly being relied upon for jobs that once involved backbreaking and hazardous manual labour.

Traditionally, users of hydraulic tools have been able to choose from three main pump power methods: hand, air, or electric. Each power source offers distinct advantages.

Electric and air-powered pumps offer plenty of power, but they must be connected to an available power supply by cords or hoses. Hand and battery-operated pumps offer flexibility and portability, but operator fatigue and battery life can restrict the size of job they can handle.

Other factors, such as purchase price, running costs, anticipated service life, worker training, employee safety, type and frequency of chores, and tool duty cycle, must also be taken into consideration.

For example, the EnerpacTQ-700E 700 bar electric torque wrench pump features a brushless motor designed for continuous usage and simplified maintenance in high cycle applications and demanding environments. It is designed to deliver optimal productivity and reliability with simplified operation and maintenance.

Applications include wind farms, erection of turbines, installation of gearboxes, maintenance of pressure vessels and pipelines, bolting of tower foundations and numerous other tasks within industries such as mining and energy, oil and gas, construction and manufacturing and maintenance of pressure vessels and pipelines.

Hose Management
The hose is one of the most delicate parts of a hydraulic pump, yet it is essential to its functioning. Always leave some slack in the hose. As hoses pressurise, they shorten and if there is no slack, the hose will pull out of the end fittings.

Never place the hose directly below your load, and make sure it is well clear of other objects. Dropping heavy objects on it will lead to hose failure.

Avoid sharp bends in the hose as this will damage the internal wire braids.

Always carry equipment by the cylinder and the pump, never by the hose and never hold the hose when it is under pressure. This would strain the hose and excessive strain will cause the braids to fracture or pull out of the crimp, causing leaks.

Use Enerpac genuine parts
Enerpac has precisely engineered its hydraulic tools for optimum performance, safety and efficiency. Although cheaper at first, using a part that has not been designed for the system could cause the whole thing to fail, which not only jeopardises the operator’s safety, but costs significantly more in replacement and damage.

Use authorised repair agents
Hydraulic tools need proper care and maintenance in order to function at optimum efficiency. Authorised repair agents have been fully trained in Enerpac technology and have the necessary qualifications and experience to service the tools. To ensure the tools remain safe, only these agents should be used for service, maintenance and repair of Enerpac tools.

Look for opportunities to learn more about safety
Enerpac runs a number of safety courses and training initiatives designed to keep industry professionals up-to-date with the latest safety practices.

One such example is a series of international visits during 2014-15 from Enerpac Global HSSE Leader Martin Schuchmann, who is presenting to world-class resource companies that partner with Enerpac to share their HSSE expertise, experience and knowledge in the use of advanced technologies involved in production and maintenance.

"Through our Goal Zero policy, Enerpac is committed to achieving its goal of zero harm to employees, customers and end-users of our technologies in Australia and worldwide," said Mr Schuchmann.

"Input from customers – a true knowledge partnership – is fundamental to the design, development, production and supply of standard and custom-made hydraulic solutions for safe, precise control of movement and positioning of heavy loads, for example," he said.

Conclusion
The selection of the correct size cylinder, the right pump to operate it, the right choice of accessory equipment, together with the careful observance of some simple safety rules, and you will add the value of safety to the power and convenience of high pressure tools.

If your business needs guidance on the safe and efficient operation of hydraulic equipment on your particular worksite (or an insight into the latest technologies available) contact Enerpac (sales@enerpac.com.au) for global expertise and local knowledge.

Latest Enerpac products

S&W X-Edition Series Torque Wrenches
Enerpac has extended the safety and durability of its globally proven square drive and hexagon cassette torque wrenches with its new X-Edition incorporating additional features that make them easier to use while achieving more uptime.

The latest X-Editions of Enerpac’s S square drive and W series low profile hexagon cassette series feature a tough new TSP300 tilt and swivel manifold providing better manoeuvrability with greater durability.  A robust new handle design, mounts on both sides of the tool and top of the cassettes allows for extra manoeuvrability around the job.

UltraSlim Torque Wrenches
The compact, durable and simply maintained UltraSlim torque wrenches (part of the Slimline range) are designed for general limited access applications in the oil and gas, mining, energy and infrastructure sectors including onshore and offshore drilling rigs and blowout preventers.

The new UltraSlim torque wrenches feature a tapered design, narrow radius and removable top-mounted handle to help facilitate access to very tight spaces.

Split Flow Pumps
The SFP-Series electrically driven 700 bar split flow pumps are an ideal solution for lifting applications with lifting multiple points where lifting synchronisation of a maximum plus/minus 4% is appropriate to ensure safety of the job.

Where such limits are appropriate, the new SFP-Series split flow pumps are a safe and economical solution to ensure load is evenly distributed over the lifting points.

SFP-Series split flow pumps are particularly beneficial when lifting complex loads with multiple lift points, and are a far more efficient and safe option than using separately operated pumps, as they provide greater consistency of flow. The load can be lifted simultaneously using single or double-acting cylinders. Depending on the application, the lifting points can be operated individually or simultaneously.