Owning Hydraulic Breakers - Five Important Points

By Eric Morse | September 28, 2010

They give a beating and they take one. They leave a job site much different than when they arrived. They are destructive, which is why contractors like them so much.

Hydraulic breakers turn compact loaders and excavators into powerful demolition machines, breaking concrete, asphalt, rock and other materials. Often, these materials need to be removed before replacement or new construction can begin. That means contractors who use hydraulic breakers are under deadline. Like any piece of equipment, keeping a hydraulic breaker maintained is the key to keeping it running productively so contractors can stay on schedule. Running a hydraulic breaker correctly makes it easier to maintain.

1. Sizing hydraulic breakers to the carrier

Because there are many types of compact loaders – skid-steer, compact track, all-wheel steer, and mini track – and there are many sizes of compact excavators, contractors need to make sure that the hydraulic breaker is the right size for the carrier.

Greg Rostberg, marketing manager for Bobcat Company, says that the first thing contractors need to check is the rated operating capacity of the compact loader or the lift capacity of the excavator to make sure that the hydraulic breaker can be used on the machine.

Second, the auxiliary hydraulic flow rate and pressure on the compact loader or excavator needs to be in the correct range for the hydraulic breaker to function efficiently. Both of these capacities will help determine the breaker that is the best size for use on a compact loader or excavator.

“A good resource for any contractor using hydraulic breakers is their local dealer,” says Rostberg. “Dealers have experience and knowledge with hydraulic breakers and will know which hydraulic breakers will properly fit on a compact loader or excavator.”

2. Maintaining a hydraulic breaker

The point and bushings are the most important parts of a hydraulic breaker to maintain, and keeping these components lubricated is critical to keeping the hydraulic breaker functioning. “It is easy to tell if lubrication on the point and bushings is required because a film of lubricant should always be visible on the point,” says Rostberg.

As a general rule, the point and bushings should be lubricated with oil once every two to four hours of operation. However, jobsite conditions will determine how often lubrication is required. A dusty job site or one where the hydraulic breaker must work in a horizontal or inverted position calls for more frequent lubrication of the point and bushings.

Every piece of equipment on a job site requires daily, weekly and yearly maintenance checks. Hydraulic breakers are no different. Rostberg suggests that contractors perform maintenance checks on a hydraulic breaker at the same time the checks are done on the compact loader or excavator carrying the attachment.

Daily Inspection: Before operating a hydraulic breaker, the operator should make sure the unit is in proper condition to be operated. This includes checking the following components to make sure they are not loose or damaged: attachment pins, retainers and locks; bracket cap bolts and nuts; tool retainers and locks; and hoses, connectors and ball valves.

If these components are loose or damaged, they should be replaced before the breaker is operated. If any nuts, bolts or retaining hardware are missing, they should be replaced before working with the breaker.

Hydraulic breakers work with material that is abrasive and becomes jagged during the demolition process. This material may cut small holes in hoses. Before beginning work each day, all hoses, connectors and ball valves on the breaker and the loader or excavator should be inspected for any sign of leaks. If a leak is found, the equipment should be repaired before it is used.

Jobsite conditions will cause wear on a breaker, and operators should look for cracks or other signs of excessive wear on the cradle, bracket cap or side plates. Cracks or excessive wear on the breaker require immediate attention.

The lower bushing is another area that will show wear. Each manufacturer has a different method to check the lower bushings. Rostberg says that Bobcat® hydraulic breakers come with a tool that operators can use to check the bushing and the retainer pin for wear. The tool shows whether there is too much wear for the breaker to be used.

Weekly Inspection: Weekly maintenance also involves looking for cracks and excessive wear, this time on the surface of the point, on the retainers and retainer bores, and on the piston strike face. Cracks or wear on these components should be addressed if found.

Bolts and nuts also need to be inspected each week. Rostberg suggests contractors use a torque wrench to check the tightness of the bolts and nuts each week.

Every 100 hours of operation, inspect the couplers on the hydraulic breaker side. Constant pounding of hydraulic oil on the accumulator and back pressure wears out the couplers. “Sometimes contractors say they can't unhook their hydraulic breaker,” says Rostberg. “The reason is that they have never changed their coupler.”

Annual Inspection: At least once a year, Rostberg recommends that contractors check the hydraulic system flow and pressure on the breaker to make sure they are operating normally.

3. Maintaining hydraulic breaker carriers

Performing daily, weekly and yearly maintenance on the compact loader or excavator carrying a hydraulic breaker is important to keep the attachment working properly. A loader or excavator that is not maintained can damage the breaker.

Most important is the hydraulic system on the loader or excavator because the system powers the breaker. Hydraulic breakers are demanding on compact loader and excavator hydraulic systems, which is why some manufacturers recommend that routine hydraulic system maintenance is cut in half when breakers are used on these carriers.

Systems that support a compact loader or excavator hydraulic system, such as cooling equipment, also need to be maintained. “Efficient cooling of the hydraulic system will prevent heat-related damage and failures to the carrier and the breaker,” says Rostberg.

4. Operating a hydraulic breaker

No matter how well a hydraulic breaker and the compact loader or excavator carrying the attachment is maintained, the attachment won't last long if improperly used.

An important operating tip for any hydraulic attachment is to make sure that the hydraulic oil on the carrier is warm before it enters the attachment. “It's crucial that warm oil goes into a cold hydraulic breaker,” says Rostberg. “If cold oil goes into a hydraulic breaker, the seals will hammer out quickly.”

Once a breaker is ready to be used, the operator should follow some best practices in breaking material. A breaker that is improperly operated will need more maintenance than would otherwise be necessary.

The first step is to make sure that the breaker is large enough to handle the job. When material is extremely hard, thick or if there is little time to complete the work, a larger hydraulic breaker is a better option than a smaller model because it will have the power to handle the material and will be able to break large areas more quickly.

Where the hydraulic breaker works on the material is important. “When the breaker operates closer to the edge of the material, there is higher production because the material will fracture more quickly,” says Rostberg.

Rostberg says that operators should not force the breaker to increase production. “Let the breaker do the work,” says Rostberg. “Operators who try to get a breaker to work faster than it should can end up damaging their machines.”

Rostberg also recommends that contractors purchase a breaker that has features that aid performance. Bobcat manufactures breakers that have the energy chamber with the diaphragm positioned on the top of the piston, which ensures consistent nitrogen pressure and performance. Unlike piston-sealed hydraulic breakers without diaphragms, the Bobcat model does not require periodic recharging, reducing maintenance.

5. Storing a hydraulic breaker

Many contractors may not consider storage of the hydraulic breaker a maintenance item, but it is just as important as daily, weekly and annual maintenance checks. When a breaker is not stored properly, the attachment could be damaged internally.

Storing the breaker correctly will extend the lifespan of the attachment. Rostberg says that contractors need to check the manufacturer's recommended storage procedures because some breakers need to be stored upright while other models can be stored horizontally.

A majority of horizontal breakers need to be stored upright. If these breakers are stored horizontally for an extended period of time, they will not work properly. If the breaker needs to be stored upright, Rostberg says that contractors should make sure the weight of the machine rests on the frame and not on the point.

Rostberg says that when a contractor is going to store a hydraulic breaker, the attachment should be kept full of oil to protect the internal components. Keeping the hydraulic breaker full of oil will prevent internal contamination or oxidation. “Cap the hoses as soon as they are disconnected from the compact loader or excavator to prevent contaminants from getting into the hydraulic breaker,” says Rostberg.

Before storing the breaker, Rostberg recommends contractors lubricate the point and bushings to protect these areas.

Contractors expect their equipment to be ready when work needs to be done. Making sure that the equipment will be ready is the responsibility of the contractor and his or her crew. Using the right size of hydraulic breaker; following a manufacturer's recommended daily, weekly and annual maintenance guidelines for the hydraulic breaker and its compact loader or excavator carrier; and operating and storing the hydraulic breaker properly will keep this valuable attachment working at its destructive best.