As machinery has evolved, so too have the lubricants associated with their use. Turf technicians are now faced with an enormous selection of fully synthetic, semi-synthetic, biodegradable oils and greases and, of course, the traditional mineral oil-based range.
Engine oil lubricates all metal surfaces inside the engine while dissipating the resultant heat of the combustion process. The selection of the appropriate oil is important because the life of an engine depends on the quality of oil used, but not all oils are the same.
Diesel engine oil differs from petrol engine oil in that it is developed to deal with the increased heat of compression found in diesel engines and contains more detergents to deal with the additional combustion by-products. They also contain anti-foaming agents that are not needed in petrol engines.
Newer synthetic engine oils available, particularly diesel specified, have been developed with the aim of resisting thermal breakdown, sludge formation and oxidation. Increased drain intervals and fuel efficiency, due to the reduced 'drag' created by higher viscosity oils, are other benefits associated with their use.
However, switching from a mineral oil to synthetic based oil in a well-used engine is not a straight forward procedure. Synthetic engine oils contain an Ester-based oil which has excellent natural detergency. This means that it will clean heat any oxidative generated varnish deposits from internal surfaces, the resulting suspended deposits clogging both filters and passageways.
Worn engines should be flushed before employing the use of synthetic oils and monitored closely. The same is true for gearboxes and other systems.
The hydraulic system generates a lot of discussion around the turf equipment maintenance industry, in particular the use of biodegradable oils.
Advancements are continuing to be made with the next generation of synthetic hydraulic fluids known as polyalkylene glycol oils (PAG).
Having been trialled for some time in the United States, these fluids have the benefit of being less harmful to turf in the event of a spill (even when hot), with the added advantage of increased service intervals which goes some way in offsetting the initial higher cost associated with their use. However, while some attributes are desirable, some others are not. Corrosion, cavitation (due to viscosity issues) and filter media incompatibility are just some of the possible problems associated with their use.
While the use of these oils does not necessarily void the manufacturer's warranty, thorough research is recommended before use, as component failure or performance issues may not be covered.
Whatever the choice, cleanliness and regular service intervals are paramount to extending the life of hydraulic systems. Contamination of the hydraulic system can be prevented in several ways.
Firstly, contrary to popular belief, 'new' hydraulic oil itself can be contaminated. It can become contaminated during storage or may be shipped dirty from the supplier. Poorly maintained breathers or vents, or the use of high-pressure water cleaners around these areas, can also result in the fluid being compromised, while dirt ingress via worn or damaged shafts and wiper seals on actuators is another possibility.
Of course, the most common cause of contamination is through sloppy and inadequate maintenance procedures. Most hydraulic hose suppliers use high-speed cutting equipment to manufacture hydraulic hoses. While it's a very effective method of cutting wire strand hose, it also produces metal and rubber particles that could damage precision components. Always thoroughly clean finished hose assemblies with compressed air and new O-rings should also be fitted if equipped.
The large capacity of hydraulic systems means that oil replacement is generally a costly exercise. The manufacturer's guidelines are the best gauge to determine service intervals, however, unusual or extreme conditions may require more frequent servicing.
As a tool to monitor oil condition, oil sample analysis is an effective method in determining not only oil replacement intervals, but also gives a window into the general health of a machine's hydraulic system. Moisture, dust and dirt and component wear are measured and, through the use of trending graphs, accurate analysis is achieved and unnecessary and costly maintenance avoided. Sampling is quick and easy with results available either as hard copy or online.
While fully equipped machine shops employ the latest in cutting fluid technology, golf course workshops can also benefit, albeit on a much smaller scale. For those with cylinder grinding equipment, cutting fluid is generally used, particularly when grinding bedknives as it dissipates heat and produces a high finish, along with suppressing airborne grinding particles.
Mineral oil-based coolants are available, however, due to contamination issues, they may become infected and produce, along with a rancid odour, health issues associated with their use. They may also contain sulphur or chlorine, which are considered health and environmental hazards. Synthetic cutting fluids are by no means new to the manufacturing/metalworking industries, however, over the past few years, in response to new health and safety guidelines, water soluble metalworking fluids have been developed with the aim of preventing potentially hazardous bacterial contamination.
One such company, Fuchs UK, has released its range of Ecotool Ultralife cutting fluids developed to resist bacterial growth, increase coolant longevity, along with the obvious skin and respiratory benefits associated with its use.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Tubecorp Manufacturing of Canada has developed 'Greencut' which exhibits similar characteristics. Oils and cutting fluids are not the only products to have benefitted from intelligent guys in white lab coats; grease too has been developed with enhanced lubricity properties.
Synthetic grease generally combines both a polyalphaolefin (PAO) synthetic base fluid and lithium base soap thickener. Because of the wax-free nature of the base fluid and low co-efficient of traction compared with mineral oils, pumpability is increased, especially in cold temperatures. Heat degradation through thermal stress is also reduced along with extended grease life and excellent resistance to water wash out is also achieved.
Reproduced here by kind permission of The Australian Golf Course Superintendents Association