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Brrr, winter – how to safeguard operational reliability

Winter is here. A dark, snowy, but above all cold time of year. Whatever the temperature, vehicles and machines have to work friction-free and at full capacity. To remain fully operational during really cold periods, there are various elements to consider.

The typical example is forestry and construction machines, which have to deliver all year round. And when the mercury falls down to -20–25°C, that’s when you really need to safeguard operational reliability. The way I see it, there are five key elements that are vital to secure: the cooling system, engine, axles, transmission and hydraulics.

50/50 – A GOOD MIX
Having the right proportion of glycol in the coolant obviously prevents the cooling system from freezing, but the right type of glycol also protects against rust or corrosion. To ensure full protection for both cold and corrosion, mix 50/50 – i.e. half water and half glycol. This will prevent freezing down to -37°C. To increase the protection, use 60% glycol and 40% water. This will prevent freezing down to -53°C. Therefore, don’t forget to check the mixture, or to change glycol regularly as per the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Preferably use engine oils developed with the latest technology. They are made for modern engines which the manufacturers optimise for higher output and lower fuel consumption. These oils have to be able to do a far tougher job than they used to. They have to cope with a broader temperature range and more working hours, and protect after-treatment systems, such as diesel particulate filters. Thinner, low viscosity oils have long been a trend in the light vehicle segment, but the products are now making a breakthrough in heavy vehicles and construction machinery. The oils increase operational reliability in the winter time. The low temperature properties and pumpability are better. This reduces abrasion on e.g. bearings in cold starts. The oil flows more easily and reaches all parts of the engine more quickly. The engines can run with longer oil drain intervals – i.e. they can run for longer, and with less down time for maintenance, which means higher productivity. This is not only a good thing when the weather gets cold, but all year round. Another advantage of low viscosity engine oils is that they often contribute to lower fuel consumption, up to 2%.

With a large fleet of machinery, I think it’s worth choosing a higher quality universal oil. This will simplify handling, thus also benefiting reliability. Having fewer products to keep an eye on reduces the risk of refilling with the wrong oil, which can lead to damage or stoppages. For forestry, construction and other heavy vehicles, my tip is always to opt for a 5W or 10W oil. That way you know the oil will do the job even under tough winter conditions.

This is perhaps the simplest area and there’s only really one tip to give – follow the manufacturer’s recommendations! For transmission oils too, the development trend is clear: low viscosity oils are making more of a breakthrough. The advantages are the same as for engine oils: far better low temperature properties, fuel savings and a longer life. With the right oil in the systems, the interval between services can often be doubled.

You can go a long way here by considering one important aspect: the hydraulic oil should have a viscosity index of 150 or more. This means the product will work over a broad temperature range, which safeguards operation whether it’s warm or cold. Modern hydraulic systems work under high pressures and heavy flows. This in turn places higher demands on the oil. The key aspects are air separating properties, water separation, and the oil retaining the right thickness the entire time between oil changes.

Finally, I would like to add a positive word for ester-based, eco-friendly hydraulic oils. They have very good lubricating properties and are gentle on the environment. These products are something of a standard in the forestry industry today. The construction sector too is increasingly demanding eco-friendly products in the machines. This may be worth thinking about in procurement projects where the principal places this demand on the contractor.

Tore Nilsen

Smart Lubrication

Smart Lubrication is a blog from FUCHS where we share our common knowledge about lubricants and lubrication.

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