Even the best, most-meticulously maintained hydraulic components won’t run forever. And when they need attention, seeking out a competent hydraulic repair shop becomes a high priority. Estimates are that more than 3,000 hydraulic repair and service companies operate in the U.S., but capabilities vary widely.
We sought out two well-respected repair and rebuild firms for some advice on what users should look for in a good service partner. Both agree a state-of-the-art facility should look much like a Mercedes service center—esthetically pleasing with clean workshops housing the latest technology, and personnel with the skills to diagnose problems and ensure repaired units meet OEM specifications.
“We feel it’s all about quality,” said Steve Matthew, president of hydraulic component remanufacturer Wooster Hydrostatics. “If you’re going to boil it down to just a few things, it’s the technical capabilities of the organization, the training, and the system used to do the repairs.”
His company relies on ISO 9001 guidelines as the basis for any rebuild. “We take a systematic approach to how we repair every unit so the results are repeatable with the highest quality. That’s our goal, to make the component as good as new, and we warranty as new,” said Matthew.
“Equally important is the ability of the organization to understand the customer’s technical issues and problems, and help them balance the economics of urgency and pricing versus that of a new component,” he added. That demands top-notch staff and knowledgeable repair and test technicians. Thus, continuous, ongoing training is essential, said Matthew. The business demands people with the technical know-how to diagnose problems, make the repairs and ensure the highest quality.
“Virtually every technician has had at least a basic hydraulics course,” and most have had higher-level instruction at the nearby Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute.
Backed by skilled technicians, the best hydraulic repair shop companies have manufacturing and testing capabilities that are as good as or better than the OEMs themselves, said Brian Berry, President of Engineering Technology Services, a remanufacturer of high-end pumps and valves. That’s necessary simply because hydraulics has gotten more complex. One issue is that newer equipment operates at higher pressures. “That can only be managed by piston pumps and motors, and piston designs are more complex than lower-pressure gear and vane pumps,” he explained.
And newer, more complex components routinely have integrated electronic, digital and CANbus controls, which strains limits of the pool of available qualified technicians. “Perhaps 1% of today’s technicians can handle all aspects of inspection, testing and calibration,” said Berry. “Most don’t have the know-how.” Pure mechanical aptitude, while still important, just isn’t enough, given the sophistication of today’s controls and software, he added. And as a consequence, ETS runs its own hydraulic school to keep technicians current on components like technologically advanced pumps and servovalves and closed-loop electronic circuitry.
Testing is also critical to ensure repairs are done right the first time and to as-new specifications. Unfortunately, components with higher operating pressures and sophisticated controls tax the capabilities of test equipment at many hydraulic repair shop facilities, said Berry. Small shops will make repairs and perhaps run basic tests, but they are not capable of performing full-function tests. ETS has invested millions of dollars in a dozen test stands for qualifying dynamic open and closed-loop systems and, when needed, charting parameters like frequency response, hysteresis, flow efficiency and mechanical leakage.
Not surprisingly, the price of a repair or rebuilt component can vary widely depending on the expertise behind it, for several reasons, said ETS’s Pat Dearmond. Costs include the expertise for diagnosing the failure, recommending the proper repair, deciding whether to rework or replace a part, and whether to use genuine or aftermarket parts. (Both ETS and Wooster use only original OEM replacement parts.) This speaks to the overall competency of the company (ISO certified) and testing equipment. Some repair houses do not even have access to the manufacturer’s dynamic specifications for new components. “Without that information, you cannot measure your test results to determine the quality of a remanufactured or repaired unit,” he said.
The quality of the repair shouldn’t be driven solely by price, either, stressed Matthew. “Companies that shop by price alone are usually disappointed by the outcome, as the repair may not hold up. People who choose price over quality usually come back to us in the future,” Matthew said.
At the end of the day a repaired component has to work properly the first time. It’s costly to remove and replace a component on a machine, let alone having to do it more than once. “Quality is something we live every day, that’s really where we hang our hat,” he said.
Engineering Technology Services