Equipment Expectations

Published online: Feb 01, 2020 Feature John Fischer
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This article appears in the January 2020 issue of Sugar Producer.

The diesel engines used to power so many products used in the many areas of the potato-producing world are precious items. The fluids required to keep them filled up and running each workday can be considered just as precious.

Here, we’ll have a closer look at current needs of diesel engines on the farm, because we’re interested in long and healthy lives all around.

The Three Roles of Suitable Oil

The functions of oils for engines remain the same as always: To keep moving parts separated; to draw heat away from hot spots for further disbursement throughout the engine; and finally, to keep the contaminants generated while the engine is operating in suspense so that they can either be collected in the oil filter or dispensed with at the next oil change.

The challenges of today include higher engine operating temperatures and an interest in extending oil drain intervals. Oil companies have responded by introducing the latest API (American Petroleum Institute) category of CK-4—fully backwards compatible and something you should have on the shelf in the shop. It could be a strictly mineral product, a semi-synthetic hybrid, or a full synthetic. Either way, if it meets CK-4, it’s the latest stuff.

Choose a viscosity that’s appropriate for the temperature conditions the engine in which will be operating, keeping in mind that if the temperature drops, you might need something a little thinner. The fact that an oil is synthetic or semi-synthetic does not qualify it for use at lower temperatures. Viscosity is the driver.

And while we’re speaking of oils, keep in mind that the new stuff—FA-4—is strictly for newer engines, primarily on-road engines that have been designed for the lower-dynamic viscosity it provides. In time, when these engines develop a little further, we might very well see more usage for off-road products.

The Pleasing Power of Potent Fuel

From the earliest days of the origination of mineral-based “diesel,” not too much has changed except the recent adoption of ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) having a limit of 15 parts per million of sulfur. Shortly after the introduction of this EPA-mandated product, additional lubricity products quickly blended in as the natural lubricity of sulfur was no longer there.

The challenge of today includes the need to ensure absolute cleanliness all along the distribution chain. Tolerances on modern common-rail injection systems are incredibly close and even the smallest of particles, especially under high pressure, can cause unwelcome damage.

Regarding biodiesel, most off-road engines are able to run up to a 20 percent blend (B20). But be sure to check carefully for each specific engine, as it does vary by the manufacturer of the engine. If you don’t expect to use the fuel within a reasonable period of time, it’s probably best to stick with the standard mineral stuff. As a “bio” product, biodiesel is similar to any food-type product in that has a limited shelf life.

A backup generator on your operation would not be the best place to dedicate your use of biodiesel, as you’re only going to run into trouble with a fuel supply that most likely is not being consumed quickly.

Balance Offered by Faithful Coolants

The requirements of coolants for engines remain essentially the same as always. They offer extended temperature operation (freezing and boiling) and chemical protection over the use of water, which is actually an excellent transferer of heat.

The challenge of today is in dealing with the varied materials used in engines and an interest in extending change intervals. And the world of coolants nowadays is a bit complicated compared to that of oils and fuels.

The familiar “standard” green coolant—inorganic additive technology (IAT)—chemistry remains in usage for many engines. In particular, it is quite common for smaller, lower-horsepower engines.

Driven by an interest to extend drain intervals for on-road trucks, organic additive technology (OAT) has been put in place in many diesel engines. The trick is that each engine company seems to have its own formulas, blends and strategies, making the development of a “universal” coolant in the OAT world been quite the challenge. Of course, the use of just one special material in a particular engine can very well require that only the specific coolant approved by that company will work properly in its product.

The bright side of things when it comes to any coolant is that these are pretty much put into operation once and—aside from the occasional topping off—will not require a lot of time or continuing expense. So it would probably be most advantageous to simply buy the best coolant for each engine, label it as such, and worry about something else.

Bundling Things Up

Diesel engines have been with us for years and likely will be for many years to come. It may be powering a tractor, quietly providing irrigation needs over the course of a growing season, or coming into the picture on a harvesting machine at the end of another successful growing season. In any event, it likely won’t be calling out for your attention. It’s up to each of us to understand each respective engine’s needs ahead of time and take care of them, thereby ensuring a peaceful sleep and long, healthy lives all around.