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Properties of Fluids

The density of a fluid is defined as the mass per unit volume, viz
density (p) = (mass) lb = lbf
________ _______________
volume volume*g
Although rendered obsolete by modern unit definitions, specific weight remains a
convenient engineering unit, defined as weight per unit volume, or
Specific weight (w) = lbf
Specific gravity is a dimensions quantity and is the ratio of the density (or specific
weight) of a fluid to the density (or specific weight) of water. In the case of equations for
engineering calculations it is often desirable to render density or specific weight, where it
appears as a factor, in terms of specific gravity, thus avoiding any possible confusion
between the true numerical values of density and specific weight which are to be
employed in the formula.
The significance of specific gravity as a hydraulic fluid parameter is that it gives an
indication of the weight of the fluid in the system, or more directly a comparison of fluid
weights for a given system where different fluids may be considered. Also the higher the
specific gravity of the fluid the more difficult to lift the fluid in the suction part of the
system, the design of the suction side may therefore, need particular care in order to
avoid the possibility of cavitation and erratic pump operation.
This viscosity of a fluid is a measure of its internal resistance. Dynamic viscosity is
defined in terms of the force in dynes between two parallel laminate or layers of fluid
each 1cm2 in area with a slip velocity of 1cm/sec between them, the corresponding unit
of viscosity being the poise. Because, the dynamic of real fluids determined in poises is
invariably a fractional quantity, the more usual unit employed for expressing dynamic
viscosity is the centipoises, or one hundredth of a poise. The significance of a dynamic
viscosity is that it is a friction coefficient.
For engineering calculations it is usually more convenient to employ kinematic viscosity
(v) rather than dynamic viscosity, this being determined as the absolute dynamic viscosity
divided by the mass density of the fluid. The standard unit is the stoke – (St) but for the
same reason as above the practical unit is invariably taken as one hundredth of a stoke or
centistokes (cSt)
The following practical viscosity scales continue in use in engineering hydraulics:-
Redwood No.1 seconds – mainly in Britain
Saybolt Universal Seconds (SUS) – in America
Engler degrees – in Continental Europe
Kinematic viscosity is used for the calculations of flow characteristics, and thus dynamic
There are no exact conversions between the various arbitary viscosity scales, non for
conversion of arbitrary viscosities in seconds or degrees to kinematic viscosities in
centinstokes, ft2/sec, or in2/sec units. Close approximate conversions can be made by
reference to conversion scales or conversion tables (eg see table). It should be noted that
such conversions apply only at the same temperature as the original measurement.
In the case of non-Newtonian fluid the instantaneous viscosity of the fluid is dependent
on the shear stress in that fluid at that particular moment. If necessary, a specific viscosity
figure can be obtained with a viscometer which ensures a uniform shear rate throughout
measurement. Such a figure will, however, have limited practical value, unless the shear
stability characteristics of the fluid are also known.
The variation of viscosity with temperature is one of the most significant parameters with
hydraulic fluids, affecting both the performance and selection of a fluid. This can be fully
expressed by plotting a characteristic curve for the fluid on an ASTM chart-Fig 1. The
scales of an ASTM chart are so designed that the characteristic curve for most fluids is
linear. Given a number of spot readings for viscosity and temperature, a close
approximation to the viscosity temperature characteristics of that fluid at intermediate
temperatures can be obtained by joining these points with a straight line, and for
temperatures outside the range covered by the spot values, by extending this line in their
This chart (fig 1) also shows equivalent kinematic viscosity values in four different
BS/ISO Viscosity Classification
Viscosity classification for industrial liquid lubricants defined by 4231 establishes 18
viscosity grades in the range 2-1500 centistokes covering approximately (in the case of
mineral oils) the range from kerosene to cylinder oils and thus also embracing the normal
range of mineral oil based hydraulic fluids. Classification is based on the principle that
the mid-point kinematic viscosity of each grade should be approximately 50 per cent
higher that that of the preceding one.
Prior to 1978, viscosity classification was at 37.8c, the designation used being Viscosity
grade no (BS 4231)
This classification has subsequently been amended to conform with ISO classification,
the main difference being that the mid-point viscosity is now specified at 40C (table 3).
The same numbering system is retained, but the designation used is now:
ISO viscosity grade

The volume elasticity of compressibility of hydraulic fluids only becomes marked at high
pressures and can usually be ignored for some initial applications. However,
compressibility can affect the reaction time of controls and regulations. Large volumes,
too, can be subject to pressure release shocks when large charges are released too quickly
by a valve with a short opening time.
The general equation for use in estimating the charge in volume due to a pressure charge
Specific Heat
The specific heat of a fluid is defined as the ratio of the heat required to raise the
terperature of a given volume of fluid by one degree to that required to raise the
temperature of the same volume of water by the same amount. It can thus be specified
either in Btu or calory-gm-cm units. The specific heat is not constant but varies
temperature, although for practical calculation a constant value is often assumed based on
a nominal temperature range.
In the absence of specific figures the following semi-empricial formula can be used to
calculate the specific heat of hydraulic oils.
Specific heat = 0.388*0.00045t
______________ Btu/lb per* F

Where t= temperature in *F
SG = specific gravity of the fluid at 60*F
The specific heat of a hydraulic oil may be appreciably modified by the presence of
additives, and also of contaminants in the fluid.
Hydraulic Fluids

Hydraulic fluids can be grouped into five main types, viz:

(i) mineral oils
(ii) water in oil emulsions
(iii) water glycol
(iv) phosphate esters
(v) halogenated hydrocarbons
Other special duty fluids may be based on synthetic lubricant mixtures (eg. Phosphate
ester mixtures) or silicone fluids (eg for high temperature working). Plain water also
continutes to find use in some large systems (eg large hydraulic valves powered by
weight-loaded accmulators). Caster-based fluids, originally developed for low
temperature services with natural rubber seals, have largely disappeared with the
appearance of synthetic elastomers with low temperature properties comparable with,
or better than natural rubbers.
Mineral oils are the normal choice for industrial hydraulic systems, with the
advantages of offering nearly all the requirements of an ‘ideal’ hydraulic fluid except
for fire-resistance. Straight mineral oil lubricants can be regarded as suitable for
hydraulic system working under ideal conditions, particularly with low fluid
temperatures and in perfectly clean systems. As a general rule, however, such oils are
compounded with special additives to produce hydraulic oils specifically intended for
oil hydraulic systems. The advantage of a hydraulic oil compared with a straignt
mineral oil is more than justified and it should be regarded as a normal choice. There
are exceptions, but these are mainly concerned with convenience. Thus the hydraulic
system of an internal combustion engine may employ the same fluid as specified for
the engine crankcase. Also on certain types of hydraulic equipments, particularly
those associated with agricultural machines, the designer has to allow for the
possibility that the hydraulic side may be filled by the user with almost any
lubricating oil which is readily to hand. Specialized oil hydraulic equipment is,
however, invariably designed around an oil of a specific viscosity (primarily to suit
the requirements of the pump or motor), and a hydraulic oil is always implied in such
Most modern hydraulic oils are compounded with additives, notably oxidation
inhibitors, corrosion inhibitors and anti-foam agents. Some oils may have less and
others more (eg film strength improvers or anti-wear additives can be advantageous
where high bearing loads are involved, and pour point depressants for fluids used in
systems operating at very low working temperatures, or starting up from cold in very
low ambient temperature). A separate additives is also commonly employed to
improve the viscosity index of the oil.
Oxidation Inhibitors
The main cause of deterioration with a straight mineral oil is oxidation. The rate of
oxidation is enhanced by heating (eg high working temperatures for the oil), agitation
(which is present in most hydraulic systems to some extent or other) and the presence of
contaminants which can act as catalysts (notably metal particles).
Apart from the loss of lubricating properties, the onset of oxidation is accompanied by
the formation of soluble and insoluble degradation products, the latter being deposited in
the system in the form of sludge. The oil also loses its ability to separate from water and
air, both of which contaminants are invariably present; and will tend to become
increasingly acid, which can lead to corrosion.
Oxidation inhibitors are therefore very important-and particularly useful-additives, both
in maintaining (or even improving) film strength, and greatly enhancing the useful life of
the oil-‘useful life’ being arbitrarily defined as the period of life during which the oil fluid
retains all its desirable properties.
The natural resistance to oxidation of a straight mineral oil varies widely with the basic
type of oil and the refining treatment given to it. The best oils, almost invariably of
paraffinic type, are those which have been subject to special refining processes aimed at
extracting the undesirable fractions, thus rendering additive treatment more effective and
long-lasting, or even completely eliminating the need for a particular additive. Thus, de-
waxing, as part of the initial preparation of the base oil, may eliminate the need for a pour
point depressant additive or further extend the temperature range available with such an
The various additives effective as oxidation inhibitors include amino and phenol
derivatives, zinc dithiophosphate, and sulphur and phosphorus compounds. All work by
showing a preferential absorption for oxygen and thus remain effective as long as there is
active remaining. Some, such as the phosphorus and sulphur compounds, also possess
marked anti-wear and anti-corrosive properties and are thus multi-purpose additives.
Oxidation additives are usually added in concentrations of up to 5%, this being the
maximum figure for which such additives are fully effective. Higher proportions will not
normally give any increase in oil life and may even have undesirable effects.
Very marked improvements in oil life have been achieved with specially treated base oils
and oxidation inhibitors, compared with figures realized less than a decade ago. It must
be emohasized, however, that ultimate life in a particular system will still depend largely
on the operating conditions, particularly the oil temperature and the cleanliness of the
Corrosion Inhibitors
Although mineral oil is a non-corrosive medium as far as ferrous metals are concerned,
some water and air will inevitably be present in the oil, and thus corrosive conditions can
be present both on surfaces flooded with oil and those above the oil level (eg in the tank)
This possibility can be eliminated by the introduction of rust inhibitors capable of
adhering strongly to metallic surfaces and passivating the surface, or isolating it from
contact with air and moisture. The selection of a suitable additive is quite critical,
however, both to meet the service conditions concerned and avoid interaction with other
additives. In particular, certain types of rust inhibitors have a degrading effect on
oxidation inhibitors, which others may have a secondary effect of working as an
emulsifying agent tending to emulsify and free water present in the oil.
Anti-Foam Agents
Air will dissolve in mineral oils in a proportion of about 8% or 9% in normal
surroundings. Thus, this proportion of dissolved air will be contained in a system when
filled with an oil fluid. During cycling, such air will tend to be particularly liberated from
solution at low pressures, and re-dissolved at higher pressures. Normally this does not
affect the properties of the oil, nor the working of the system.
Further air may, however be entertained in the system, rather than dissolved in the oil,
and the system design must both provide for the release of any entertainedair at a suitable
point (ie. In the tank or reservoir) and minimize the extent to which air can be
entertained. Entertained air will then normally be released from the surface of the oil in
the tank with no adverse effects on the working of the system.Anti-foam agents are useful
to ensure effective release of entrained air from the oil surface in the tank without
excessive foaming developing at the surface. Basically they are ‘foam breakers’ causing
an early disruption of the air bubbles as they appear.
A silicone fluid additive is usually employed for this purpose, being effective in a
concentration of only one part in one million. An excess of anti-foam agent is to be
avoided as this can retard the rise of air bubbles through the bulk of the oil in the tank,
which could lead to entertainment problems.
Anti-wear Additives
The type of oxidation inhibitor used may itself also act as a film-strength improver but
with increasing pump speeds, pressures and system power levels an additional anti-wear
additive may often be used to advantage-eg. With vane pumps or for ensuring adequate
lubrication of close fitting actuator parts. A typical anti-wear additive is zinc dithio
phosphate in proportions up to about 1%.
Viscosity Index Improvers
The viscosity index of an oil can be raised with additives. The additives used are
normally polymerized methylacrylate esters, or butane or styrene olefins, in proportions
of from 4% to 8%. All such additives are susceptible to shear breakdown and so the
initial VI index achieved is seldom maintained in practice, the extent of the breakdown
being dependent on the rate of shear experienced by the oil. In general an initial loss may
be expected during the first few hours of working in the system after which the viscosity
index should remain appreciably constant through the useful life of oil, unless continually
subjected to high shear stresses in a particular part of the system.
Modern polymeric viscosity index improvers show very much better viscosity retention
at even high shear rates than their earlier counterparts but still have limitations at
extremely high pressure. For very high pressure applications where no shear loss can be
tolerated synthesized hydraulic oils are to be preferred as they do not use polymeric
thickeners and show no shear loss.
Pump ability
Pour point depressants may be employed to lower the temperature at which the oil
remains fluid and will continue to flow as a liquid. These are usually polymerized
phenols and esters, used in concentrations of up to about 1%. The presence of viscosity
index improvers or the removal of wax by initial treatment will also be effective in
lowering the pour point of the compounded oil.
Other types of additive used in crankcase and gearbox oils, such as detergents,
dispersants, and oiliness additives are not used in the formulation of hydraulic oils.
The relative flow characteristics as a function of temperature for there fluid. At very low
temperature, flow is controlled by the rate at which oil can get from the reservoir into the
pump. As temperature increases, flow increases until it reaches a maximum. As the
temperature further increases, relative pump ability starts to drop again as the fluid loses
viscosity and internal leakage increase, thus reducing pump output. It should be pointed
out that these curves are meaningful only on a relative basis for comparing oils. For
instance, the curves shown age for an 8gal/min vane pump. For a piston pump they
would be different with much lower flow more rapidly. Also the pour point of an oil and
its pump ability at low temperatures are not necessarily related.
To maintain good pump ability at high temperatures oils are formulated with a high
viscosity index. However, a high viscosity index is not necessarily an indication of good
pump ability at high temperatures.
Water In oil Emulsions
Water in oil emulsions are low viscosity mineral oils containing water dispersed in the
form of fine droplets. Water content may range up to 60%, the fire-resistant properties of
the fluid being directly related to this. Fire resistance is provided by the high
temperatures causing the water content to evaporate in the form of steam, separating the
source of heat from the coil content and providing a ‘snuffing’ action on any flame.
Similar additives may be included as for mineral oils, notably oxidation inhibitors, anti-
wear and anti-corrosion additives, and also emulsifying agents to maintain the emulsion
in stable form. Viscosity index improvers are not such. Their actual viscosity is dependent
on the rate of shear, and at very high shear rates reverts to that of the oil content itself.
This generally limits their application to systems or components which do not produce
high localized rates of shear, eg such emulsions would generally be unsuitable for use
with high speed pressure vane pumps or with rolling bearings.
Properly formulated, water in-oil emulsions can be quite stable, although some separation
may occur if the fluid is allowed to strangle. This will tend to result in an oil-rich layer or
emulsion, or even a pure oil layer forming at the top of the tank level. This need not be
significant, for there is usually sufficient agitation on restarting to re-form a consistent
emulsion as the fluid as the fluid is circulated through the system. A more likely cause of
trouble is where separation is caused by the presence of contaminants, as such separation
may be more permanent (largely because the emulsifying agent has probably been
exhausted by the presence of contaminants). Basically therefore, water-in-oil emulsions
are most reliable in clean systems; they also have strictly limited working temperatures,
in common with other water-based fluids, and the possibility of water loss through
evaporation and subsequent modification of the fluid make-up.
In general, if there are no leaks in the system, any loss of fluid volume in a water-in-oil
emulsion can be replaced by topping up with water. However, if there is fluid leakage,
topping up must be done with water/oil mixture, otherwise the balance will be upset and
the lubricity of the fluid may be adversely affected, (or the fire-resistance adversely
affected if topped up with oil).Manufacturers of this type of fluid generally supply a
topping up concentrate (which will usually also contain an anti-corrosion additive) and
specific instructions for its use.
Water-in-oil emulsions are the lowest cost fire-resistant fluids, and such as are widely
employed in industrial hydraulic systems where protection against fire hazard is required.
They are not, however, suitable for use in high temperatures as previously noted.
Water-Glycol Fluids
Water-Glycol fluids originated as straight water-glycerin mixtures, with the glycerin
content adjusted to give the required degree of protection against freezing in water
hydraulic systems. The glycerin content employed can range up to 50%. A secondary
advantage offered by such mixtures is a raising of the viscosity of the fluid and an
improvement in viscosity index. Cost, however, is hydraulic systems are preferable to
water systems for low temperatures applications for all general uses, even where a large
bulk of fluid is involved.
Water-glycol mixtures have, however, been further developed as industrial fire-
resistance fluids mainly around Hi drolubl H-2, offering superior protection to water-in-
oil emulsions, and lower cost and minimal compatibility problems compared with
phosphate esters. Nitrile rubber seals, in fact, are equally suitable for mineral oil fluids
and all water fluids. The lubricating properties of these mixtures are gently improved by
the incorporation of anti-wear and load-carrying additives to provide satisfactory
lubrication under boundary film conditions, and their viscosity is increased by the
addition of polymer type thickeners, which also provide a high viscosity index. They are
reasonably stable, although they do need close control and regular checking of water and
alkaline content.
The water content controls the fire-resistance of the fluid (increasing water content).
Evaporation and loss of water are likely during service, more especially at higher system
temperatures, and so the system design should aim to minimize such losses. Topping up
is normally fluid manufacture. Water alone, or glycol alone, should not be used to top up
a water/glycol mixture to compensate for volumetric-loss.
The use of water-glycol fluid inevitably calls for bearing loads to be de-rated, a typical
figure being about one-third of the rating for an oil lubricated bearing. The use of such
fluids is not generally recommended with rolling bearings, or for gear pumps operating at
pressures above 35 bar , or components with close clearances relying on boundary film
lubrication. Also the maximum service temperature of water-glycol fluids is generally
low in order to avoid evaporation and loss of water content, with the frequent need for
checking and topping up.
Phosphate Easter Fluids
Phosphate eater fluids were originally based on triasyl phosphates prepared from
xylenols and cresols. They are now normally wholly synthesized with marked
improvement in quality control. Viscosity temperature characteristics and reduced
toxicity. Chemical stability can be further enhanced by selected additives.
The performance of modern phosphate ester is more or less directly comparable with that
of mineral oils, particularly as they can be rendered in a wide range of viscosities. Their
viscosity index is lower than that of mineral oils, but can be enhanced by viscosity index
improvers. Bulk modulus is higher, however, which means that phosphate ester fluids are
superior to mineral oils as regards compressibility effects at higher pressures.
The chief disadvantages of phosphate ester fluids is their very high cost, followed closely
by their complete lack of compatibility with conventional elastomers and paint finishes.
Until comparatively recently butyl was the first choice material for elastomeric seals and
packings, with possible alternatives in the more expensive Viton and silicone rubbers.
Currently ethylene propylene rubbers have replaced butyl and become the first choice
elastomer for use with phosphate ester fluids.
About the only paints which are compatible with phosphate ester fluids are epoxy based
or polyurethanes. The latter have somewhat limited compatibility and so that former are
preferred for painting reservoirs, etc., in which the fluid is used. It should be noted that
the conventional paints used for external finished are readily stripped by spilt or leaking
phosphate ester fluids.
A rather more minor disadvantage of phosphate ester fluid is their higher specific gravity
compared with mineral oils. Maximum service temperature is generally higher, however,
and phosphate ester fluids can be worked at temperatures up to about 150 c (300 F)
without degradation of the fluid
If a change is made from a system using a mineral oil fluid to a phosphate ester fluid, a
complete change of seals is necessary as well as a change of paints used on the reservoir.
Fluid manufacturers can specific the change - over procedure necessary.
Halo genated Aromatics
These are a further class of synthetic lubricant, based on chlorinated hydrocarbons. They
could be classed as mild, extreme pressure lubricants, with gravity at least comparable to,
and probably better than, phosphate esters. Not all chlorinated compounds are good
lubricants, however; polychlorinated diphenyls have a relatively poor performance in this
respect. Specific gravity is again high (1.43) but such fluids can be produced wide range
of viscosities. The cost is very high.