It’s incredibly important to keep lubrication clean in order to protect components. Particles find their way into the lubrication through air movement, seals, lubrication degradation, wear metals and residual particles from manufacturing. When these particles circulate at high pressure/ velocity though a system, they can potentially cause erosion.
However, the largest wear comes from particles getting caught in load areas, such as piston walls, gear systems and other load zones. When particles are large enough, they prevent the lubrication from taking the load and are compressed and/or slid between two components. A particle hard enough will damage the metal instead of breaking. Metal damage always introduces more particles into the system, which increases the rate of wear.
Fluid analysis companies normally express test results in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard for cleanliness so they speak the same language as the lubrication suppliers, filter manufacturers and end users. The ISO 4406:1999 standard utilizes a three number system to classify system cleanliness – example: 19/16/13. The first number represents the number of particles present measuring greater than 4μm. The second represents particles greater than 6μm and the third represents those greater than 14μm.
Most customers use particle counts to identify when a system has been contaminated so they can address the particle ingression before cleaning or replacing the lubrication. Samples can be pulled before and after in-line filters and compared to see if the filter is operating properly.
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