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Why Hydraulic Systems Are So Vulnerable to Fire

Why Hydraulic Systems Are So Vulnerable to Fire

Posted 3/25/2024

Alt Title: What Makes Hydraulic Systems Vulnerable to Fires?

Safety conscious entrepreneurs and supervisors know that hydraulic systems need fire suppression in order to remain safe and protected. That's because hydraulic systems are especially flammable and vulnerable to fire.

Why is this the case? What factors make hydraulic systems so dangerous? And what can you do about it?

What Fires Need

Before we launch into our discussion on hydraulic systems, specifically, we need to cover a few of the fundamentals. Fires can only start and sustain themselves if they have access to a handful of fundamental ingredients. If one or more of these ingredients is missing, a fire will not start. A fire in progress will also be halted. In fact, depriving fires of one or more of these ingredients is a central idea in fire suppression.

The “fire triangle” is a set of three things that all fires need.

·       Flammable material (fuel). First and foremost, fires need fuel. If there's nothing that can burn, a fire will not start or persist. Firewood is the most obvious example, but there is a wide variety of flammable material – including both intentional fuels and unintentional fuels. Some materials are much more flammable than others, and fuel can be manipulated to become even more flammable.

·       An ignition source (heat). Next, there needs to be some kind of ignition source or heat. In a flammable, sensitive environment, all it takes is a single spark to create a raging fire. Because fire is a source of heat, it can easily continue to grow; deprive it of that heat, and you might be able to halt it in its tracks. This is one reason why water has historically been such a reliable method of extinguishing flames.

·       Oxygen. Finally, fire needs to consume oxygen. This is why smothering a fire with a blanket or something similar is such an effective strategy at a small scale. Conversely, when fires have free access to more oxygen, they can burn hotter and spread more easily. Keep this in mind as we explore the vulnerabilities of hydraulic systems in the next section.

Why Hydraulic Systems Are So Vulnerable to Fire

These are the reasons why hydraulic systems are so vulnerable to fire.

·       The fluid. We can start with the fluid. Hydraulic fluid is a specialized material, and there are many different varieties to choose from, but it's almost always petroleum based. This makes hydraulic fluid an incredibly good source of fuel for fires, though obviously, you would prefer to have it serving its main role in powering your hydraulic system.

·       The pressure. It’s typical to see hydraulic pressure as high as 4,000 psi. There's no real way around this dynamic since pressure is the reason why hydraulic systems are so powerful. However, this pressure presents a handful of problems. Materials in hydraulic systems are designed to be capable of withstanding this pressure, but if they're compromised in any way, the pressure could completely overwhelm the system and cause the hydraulic fluid to spray out. Also, because the spray will be highly pressurized, it will probably be materially dispersed, allowing more oxygen between droplets of the fluid. In other words, you'll have a scenario in which a potential fire has access to an incredibly good fuel source and plenty of oxygen to consume.

·       The sensitivity. Hydraulic systems are designed and operated with safety in mind, and most industrialists are willing to do whatever is necessary to keep the environment safe. However, hydraulic systems are still somewhat sensitive; any point of damage or decay could eventually cause a significant problem.

·       The environment. We also need to consider the environment that hydraulic systems are typically in. It's rare for hydraulic systems to operate totally independently; they're usually found in environments where they're surrounded by other pieces of equipment and machinery. Sometimes, this gives them access to ignition sources and heat that could trigger the onset of a fire. Other times, this surrounding equipment represents potential collateral damage if and when a fire does break out. Either way, it's a potential vulnerability for your organization.

Better Fire Safety Standards for Hydraulic Systems

For hydraulic systems, fire prevention is crucial for higher safety. By acknowledging and taking action on the biggest flaws in and around your hydraulic system, you should be able to greatly reduce the risk of a fire breaking out.

These are just some of the tactics that can help you:

·       Fluid changes. Nearly all hydraulic fluids are based on petroleum or similar products, making them flammable by default. But some types of hydraulic fluid are less flammable, presenting a much lower risk of an explosive fire emerging. The only real downside is that not all hydraulic fluids are suitable for all applications, so swapping out your hydraulic fluid may or may not be possible.

·       Pressure controls. You should keep a close eye on the pressure within your hydraulic system and other metrics to clue you in on ruptures and other issues. The sooner you take action on these, the better.

·       Routine maintenance. Even better, practice routine maintenance so your hydraulic systems are less susceptible to wear and tear. If you keep your hydraulic system in good condition, the possibility of a rupture becomes much smaller.

·       Environment modification. Finally, you should be willing to modify your environment if necessary. Sometimes, relocating a piece of machinery can help reduce the presence of ignition sources, making fires less likely. Similarly, you can educate and train employees in fire safety, so they're less likely to start a fire in any capacity.

The Role of Fire Suppression for Hydraulic Systems

Fire prevention strategies are useful, but they're not perfect. You also need to be prepared for a fire that does break out. The best way to do this is to take advantage of a fully self-contained, modular fire suppression system like the ones sold here at Cease Fire.

Our fire suppression products are designed to activate automatically, with no manual intervention required. If a fire starts in or near your hydraulic system, the fire suppression system will activate and deploy a clean agent to extinguish or mitigate the flames.

Our product is unique in that it's extremely cost-effective, easy to install, and friendly for industrial applications. It’s a reliable and inexpensive way to protect your most important equipment.

Protect Your Hydraulic System With Fire Suppression

Want to learn more about our fully self-contained, modular fire suppression solution for hydraulic systems? We have one of the most cost-effective solutions on the market, so we’re happy to tell you more. Contact us today for a free consultation!