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Oil coolers are required in hydraulic circuits to dissipate the energy losses that occur in the system. It is
necessary to select an appropriate cooler and determine its size and position within the circuit.

High temperatures affect the composition of an oil, its properties and life. The chemical stability of an oil
is measured mainly in terms of its resistance to oxidation. When oxidation occurs, oxygen combines with
oil molecules to set off a chain of chemical reactions that create soluble and insoluble products of
degradation. As a result the oil becomes darker in colour, its viscosity and acidity increases and gums
and sludges are deposited in the hydraulic system. The tendency of the oil to oxidise is greatly increased
by high temperatures and by the effects of air, water and certain wear materials.

Although slight oxidation is not harmful, problems are encountered when the level becomes excessive.
For example, the service life of the oil would be shortened, the system would be exposed to corrosive
attack, the system components liable to sluggish operation, and the ability of the oil to separate from
water and air reduced.

In industrial applications it is usual for systems to operate with bulk oil temperatures of around 50 to
60C. In mobile duties temperatures of 80C and higher may be encountered. Temperature has a very
major effect upon lubrication through the change that it produces in fluid viscosity. For an increase in
temperature of 20C the viscosity of an oil may typically halve. Manufacturers of hydraulic components
specify a recommended viscosity range for the oils which may be used with their products. Fairly
representative figures for the common hydraulic oils would involve a minimum viscosity of around 10 cSt
and a maximum of several hundreds of cSt. Normal working levels would typically be in the range of 20
to 40 cSt.

Guidance about the probable life of oils is very difficult to give, since it is affected both by the condition of
the hydraulic system and the harshness of the working environment. Under good operating conditions an
oil may last for tens of thousands of hours, whilst under bad conditions its life may be a matter of a few
thousands of hours or less.

Although this note is concerned with oil coolers, a sometimes-neglected consideration concerns the
operation of systems from a cold start. In adverse conditions where low initial temperatures may be
encountered it is usual to provide a heater in the oil reservoir.

Energy Losses

Energy is dissipated as heat within an hydraulic system principally as a result of the pressure losses
associated with the fluid flow. Losses occur through pipe friction, the effect of control elements such as
pressure relief valves, pressure reducing valves, orifices and flow control valves, and through leakage
and mechanical friction. The latter factors are particularly important in pumps and motors.

As an example, consider the effect of a nominal flow of 30 L min-1 passing through a relief valve with a
pressure differential of 100 bar. The power dissipation is given by the product of the flow rate and the
pressure differential:

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30 10 -3
Power = Q DP = 100 10 5 = 5 kW

Circuit Considerations

Figure 1 - Example circuit without relief valve return flow cooling.

Correct positioning of an oil cooler within an hydraulic circuit requires identification of the major sources
of heat generation and, within the bounds of physical constraints, the most advantageous location to
dissipate the heat. As a simple illustration a consideration which is sometimes overlooked is the effect of
a pressure relief valve passing its flow directly back to tank. In the circuit shown in Figure 1 this problem
arises when the actuator is isolated.

Two commonly used circuit configurations for hydrostatic transmission systems are shown in Figures 2.
In Figure 2a adequate cooling of the oil in the transmission relies upon the indirect mechanism of passing
the excess flow from the boost pump through the main pump and motor casings to combine with the
main pump and motor leakage flows. In the second case, Figure 2b, oil is taken directly from the
transmission by a purge system.

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Figure 2 - Hydrostatic transmission cooling.

Types of Oil Cooler

The two principal types of oil cooler employ either water or air as the cooling medium. Where an
adequate water supply is available the water type is commonly used. It has the advantages of
compactness and of being less susceptible to changes in ambient air temperature. Water flows through
the tubes and oil across the tubes, the latter guided in its flow path through the shell by baffle plates.
There are two common constructions; in the first the tubes are arranged in a U-bundle with a single tube
sheet, in the second two tube-sheets are used in a straight tubing arrangement. Differential expansion
between the different materials of the shell and tubes is accommodated in the U-bundle arrangement by
free movement of the tubes. In the second arrangement O-ring seals are provided to allow the tube-
sheets to move relative to the shell.

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The maximum oil pressure, which the cooler can be subjected to, is limited by the shell, a typical figure
would lie in the range 15 to 30 bar. The pressure drop associated with the oil flow through the cooler is
usually small, of the order of 1 bar.

Sometimes overlooked is the practical detail of fitting a strainer to the suction of the pump providing the
water flow. Debris restricting the water flow through the cooler is one of the most common problems that
arise in operation.

The air blast cooler in contrast is of lighter construction, and for the same heat dissipation is larger. Oil
passes through the tubes of the cooler, which are usually finned to aid heat dissipation, and air is blown
over the tubes by a fan. The operation of the air cooler is sensitive to changes in the ambient air
temperature and care must be taken in its selection to allow for this effect. The maximum allowable oil
pressure is typically lower than the water type, a figure of 7 bar being representative. One of the most
important applications of the air blast cooler is in the mobile industry.

For both types of cooler, automatic temperature controls may be used where it is desirable to maintain
the working temperature of the oil within prescribed limits. For a water cooler a commonly used
technique is to employ a thermostatic valve to control the water flow, whilst for an air cooler temperature
regulation can be achieved either through the intermittent use of the fan or through variation of its speed.

Thermodynamic Equivalent of Hydraulic Power

Heat input = Power dissipated

& C p T = Q P

(Q )C p T = Q P
where m = Mass flow rate kg s-1
Cp = Specific heat 2.1 kJ kg-1 K-1
T = Temperature K
= Density 870 kg m-3
P = Pressure loss N m-2

Therefore, for a system with a 100 bar pressure loss, the temperature rise will be:

T = = 5.5 C
C p
or multiplying both sides by Q/Q gives:

T =
C pQ
where Po is the power input given in Watts.

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Heat Transfer

The heat transfer that takes place in a cooler is determined by:

Q = U As
with the following definitions:

Q the heat transfer ( W )

U heat transfer coefficient ( W m-2 C-1 )
As surface area across which the heat transfer takes place ( m2 )
temperature difference between the hot and cold fluid ( C )

The apparent simplicity of the relationship disguises the very complex heat transfer mechanisms, which
take place. The coefficient U for example, is used to describe the convective heat transfer between the
hot fluid and the tube wall, conduction through the tube wall, and then convection into the body of the
cold fluid. Also the temperature difference varies; where for parallel and counter flow arrangements it
can be shown that should be described as the log mean temperature difference.

To assist the designer in selecting a suitable oil cooler the manufacturer provides performance curves
which describe its heat dissipation in terms of the temperature difference between the cooling medium
and the oil, and their respective flow rates through the cooler. In most practical situations these data
provide the basis for the selection of an appropriate cooler.

The heat transfer equation can, however, be usefully applied to provide an estimate of the natural heat
dissipation, which may be expected from an hydraulic system. Given an estimation of the surface area
involved, the temperature levels associated with the oil and the surroundings, and guidance concerning
suitable values of overall heat transfer coefficient, U, an estimate of the natural heat loss from the system
can be made. Whether or not this makes a significant difference to cooler selection depends very much
upon the system under consideration. A large hydraulic press for example may have sufficient capacity
for dissipating heat to make a cooler unnecessary, whilst other systems which operate in enclosed and
confined conditions may rely entirely upon a cooler to dissipate the heat generated. U may typically vary
in the range 2 to 25 W m-2 C-1

Case Study

A hydrostatic transmission Figure 3 was proposed for a variable speed winch drive in a mobile duty.
Following the initial selection of the cooler, doubt was expressed about its ability to provide adequate
heat dissipation. Physical constraints however prevented the substitution of a larger cooler, so a study
was undertaken to determine the performance of the system. Subsequently, recommendations were
made to implement design changes, which would improve the level of cooling.

The auxiliary flow is for the supply to other systems and, as shown in Figure 3, it was proposed to put it
through the cooler. It is required to evaluate the cooling provided by the cooler having the performance
shown in Figure 4 for the following circuit configurations:

1) Cooling of drain flows and auxiliary flow having a temperature of that in the reservoir (Fig 3

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2) Cooling of the drain flow only with the auxiliary flows going directly to the reservoir.

3 Using a purge valve as in Fig 5 to cool the loop and pass the purge flow and excess boost flow
through the pump and motor cases.

Figure 3 - Variable speed winch drive circuit.

inlet temp difference


Figure 4 - Heat dissipation for oil/air cooler.

Hydraulic System Parameters

Pump flow 233.5 L/min

Motor displacement 77.4 cc rev-1
Nominal max. motor speed 2580 rev min-1

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Boost flow 50 L min-1

Auxiliary circuit return flow 60 L min-1

Figure 5 - Winch drive circuit modified to include purge system.

Component Efficiencies

The required heat rejection rate is determined principally by the hydraulic system component efficiencies.
Nominal values of these efficiencies were obtained from the component manufacturers, but it was
necessary to ensure that the cooling system could provide sufficient heat dissipation in a worst case. For
this analysis the worst case assumed minimum values for the pump and motor mechanical and
volumetric efficiencies.

Pump efficiencies Volumetric Mechanical

Best 97.9 95.0

Nominal 97.5 94.1
Worst 95.7 93.0

Motor efficiencies Volumetric Mechanical

Best 98.5 96.0

Nominal 97.5 96.0
Worst 96.5 93.0

Oil viscosity 35 cSt

Pressure 300 bar

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Figure 6 - Hydraulic oil viscosity characteristic.


The analysis incorporates the following assumptions:

I. 50% of the total pump and motor leakage is passed via the external drain to tank.

II. 70% of the pump and motor mechanical power losses are dissipated to the external drain flows, the
remaining 30% passing to the main flow in the loop.

III. No effect of external convective heat dissipation is included.

IV. The heating effects due to losses in the pipes and fittings are assumed small.


It is suggested to calculate the heat rejection and cooler performance at different loop temperatures and
determine the equilibrium temperature.

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