Water contamination in oil is a well documented quandary, which is not only limited to wet process industries like pulp and paper and outdoor machinery applications in construction and mining. This is according to Drew Leibbrandt, product engineer at Filter Focus who says that water contamination is present in almost every plant in every industry and the problems associated with this kind of contamination are vast.

“Water contamination in systems promotes oxidation (rust) of the materials in a system and can lead to failures in components such as bearings and shaft journals, as well as sticking of systems mechanisms such as pilot valves, trip cylinders and hydraulic pistons. Additives are contained in oil to improve certain properties such as anti-foaming, sludging and high pressure applications. These additives can be washed out or removed by water contamination, leaving the oil underperforming,” explains Leibbrandt.

Furthermore, water also promotes emulsion and sludge formation which blocks filters and can leave deposits in bearings, causing wear and, in some cases, failure. The Canadian National Research Council states that the life of rolling element bearings is reduced by up to 40 times with as little as 0.1% water contamination. Water contamination also affects the lubrication quality of oils by restricting the protective oil layer from forming around the component materials. This causes metal-to-metal contact in moving components which promotes wear and can lead to failure of the component.

Filter Focus developed its Vacuum Dehydrator in an effort to provide a solution to what industry has termed ‘the scourge of the machine’. The Vacuum Dehydrator, which was fully developed in-house by the company in 2010, has the ability to rapidly remove all water, gasses and acids from oil.

Leibbrandt explains that wet or emulsified oil is drawn into the system under vacuum. The first chamber of the system is a quiet zone, which leads to thermostat controlled heaters and onto a vacuum separator under negative pressure, low humidity conditions.

“This provides the ideal environment to quickly and effectively evaporate dissolved water and gasses. All vapours and gasses enter into the condensation unit and are released into the water receiver after which cleaner, drier oil is then passed back to the oil tank. Dependant on the volume of water contamination, multiple passes will be required to achieve target dehydration levels.

In numerous tests run on the Vacuum Dehydrator, results have been impressive. Liebbrandt points out that during an in-house test whereby a standalone tank of lubricating gear oil was purposely contaminated with water, independent oil analysis showed that the initial state of the oil had 4,7% (47 000 parts per million) water content. A second sample was taken after eight hours of Vacuum Dehydration and showed an improvement in water contamination to only 124 parts per million.

After placing a Filter Focus proprietary filtration system to the outlet of the Vacuum Dehydrator, results showed an improvement with a further reduction to 39 parts per million water content. Liebbrandt says that at 39 parts per million water content, there would be 0.0039% which is regarded as negligible, as this is drier than unused bulk oil supplies.