Real-time wear measurement is possible in fluid lubricated components utilizing radioactive tracer technology (RATT). This technology has been applied to internal combustion engines since the 1950’s, but has only recently been applied to hydraulic components. This paper presents the application of radioactive tracer technology to measure wear rate of pistons and slippers in a large variable displacement, high pressure, axial piston pump under various operating conditions. To apply this technology, new piston and slipper assemblies were exposed to thermal neutrons in a nuclear reactor to produce characteristic radionuclides (isotopes) in the slippers and pistons. These isotopes act as tracers, which when worn off in an operating pump can be measured by monitoring the gamma-ray activity in the circulating fluid. The accumlation of wear particles in the unfiltered circulation loop is monitored continuously as the pump is operated under various transient and steady state conditions. The steady state wear rate is determined by the rate of accumulation of radioactive wear particles in the loop over a period of time, usually less than a few hours. This first time application of RATT for wear analysis in a large hydraulic pump has shown positive results. This technology can be applied to determine wear sensitivity of hydraulic pump parts for an endless array of factors, such as speed, pressure, displacement, temperature, contamination level and composition, and duty cycle. Break-in, start-up, and transient wear affects can also be observed. Comparisons can also be made between the wear of different design features and materials.

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