Planning Dozer Maintenance

Nov. 1, 2010
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The gauge is whether a contractor opts for heavy maintenance—as opposed to preventative or job-site actions—instead of equipment replacement.

Probably the first people in the industry to see what’s coming down the pike are those in the remanufacturing business.

Jerry Schaefer runs Schaefer Enterprises in Wolf Lake, IL, a company that offers rebuilt components, as well as good-condition take-off parts and components, and sells them to repair shops.

Economics is the driving factor behind a decision to overhaul or replace a dozer, Schaefer points out.

“When the job is done, is it cheaper to replace the whole thing, overhaul it, buy a rebuilt unit or a used unit?” are questions contractors consider, Schaefer points out.

In the early part of the economic downturn, Schaefer noticed that the only parts moving in the market were small parts.

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“As time went on, we began to see higher-priced, bigger components,” says Schaefer. “If contractors had more than one machine and one of them broke down, they just let it sit. But some work goes on all of the time, so now I think they’re forced into fixing some of the major problems with their machine. Early in the recession they were not.”

Rob Shear, general manager for the Springfield ReManufacturing Corp.’s (SRC’s) office in Lexington, KY, says that during the early part of the United States’ financial crisis the trend was on shutting machines down for lack of work—as well as for a lack of credit—in the construction industry.

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“We saw a sharp downturn in the remanufacturing of our products,” he says, adding that he’d never seen anything of the like before.

“In the last recession of 2002 and 2003, remanufacturing came roaring back and was on the leading edge of recovery,” Shear says. “It wasn’t until the spring this year when we really started to see things hum again. Now, things are actually up a lot.

“It was different this time because of the nature of recession,” he adds. “In a normal business cycle, when things bottom out is when remanufacturing starts to come back up, but I think what happened this time is a lot of customers weren’t even running their machines or they were cannibalizing machines to avoid the expense of buying parts and components. It was a hard recession for us on the parts side, but things have picked up considerably in the past eight months.”

Downtime (or uptime, on the flip side) is the primary factor that drives the decision to overhaul or replace a dozer.

“From a contractor’s perspective, one of their biggest concerns is uptime,” says Shear. “They want their dozer to be up and running as quickly as possible.”

SRC produces remanufactured engines, transmissions, dozer power modules, differentials, driveline components, and hydraulic components for construction, mining, and quarry machines.

The company remanufactures for the OEM, who sells the parts to distributors. The three major companies for which SRC remanufacturers parts are Komatsu, Dressta, and Case.

“They can buy a remanufactured component from a dealer, put that component right in and be up and running versus having to repair the component, which takes time,” says Shear. “Up time is the biggest advantage to using the components that we or other remanufacturers would offer.”

John Harper, senior marketing manager of parts and service for Case Construction Equipment, agrees that “up time” is a major factor influencing heavy maintenance decisions.

“You can usually get a replacement engine installed in six to eight hours, but an overhaul may take up to 40 hours,” he says. “If it’s a vital machine, you may not be able to afford that much downtime, unless you schedule the work between projects or between construction seasons.”

Cost is another factor, Harper says.

“If you’re just replacing rods and mains, an overhaul will be more affordable, but a complete overhaul may wind up costing more than a new engine when you factor in the labor rates and component costs,” he says.

Rick DeAndero, owner of American Independent, a Riverside, CA, company that dismantles and rebuilds machines, says contractors should ask themselves several questions when determining whether to overhaul a machine or replace it:

  • How old is the machine?
  • What is its value?
  • What is its overall condition?
  • Is it compliant with upcoming air quality requirements?
  • Is there work for it?
  • What is its worth in terms of parts, components and scrap?
  • What is its replacement cost?

There are occasions when, downtime notwithstanding, red flags warn of the need for quick action.

“Once there’s a catastrophic failure, you really have to do something,” says Shear. “That’s when the remanufactured components come in.”

Short of a catastrophic failure, there are contractors who monitor the status of their machines and change components out at predetermined intervals.

That’s a practice recommended by many OEM companies and Shear also believes it’s a sound idea to maximize uptime for the machines.

If a contractor isn’t confident about getting the same kind of performance from an overhauled machine as he’d get with a new machine, then it may be time for a new machine, says Harper.

A typical lower overhaul usually includes new rods, mains, and piston sleeves, and an upper overhaul focuses on the valves, valve guides, and valve seals, he says.

“If it’s a parent-block engine, you can have the cylinders re-bored and fitted with larger pistons,” he says.

“Obviously bearings, seals, and labor are typically involved in an overhaul,” says DeAndero. “But the majority of rebuild cost lies in what we call ‘hard parts’—some of which can be worn beyond reusability because of long service hours, or they can be damaged as a result of a failure or contamination.”

Some contractors opt to upgrade dozers during an overhaul.

“This depends on the age of the machine and how many technology improvements have been introduced since it was manufactured,” says Harper. “Upgrades make sense if they enhance machine performance and lifetime sufficient to pay for themselves.” Almost all components have updates, says DeAndero. “We pay attention to them all but use our own judgment as to whether or not they are worthwhile.”

There are two factors contractors consider when deciding whether to upgrade during an overhaul, says Ron Hessel, manager of parts marketing services for John Deere.

“When a customer looks at replacing major components; he may ‘re-life’ it, where he will typically replace the engine, the final drive, the transmissions,” he says. “Basically you’re getting a new machine at somewhat less than the cost of a new machine. If a customer is intending to keep that piece of unit for another life cycle of the machine, then they will re-life it and update components.”

Another option: “If they maintain their oil cleanliness, take oil samples on a regular basis, and other major components aren’t showing any wear whatsoever but for any reason they may have one component that is showing wear, they may just replace that one component and the machine is up and equal to new.”

The more data points of oil sampling the customer has, the better business decision the customer can make whether to replace a component, re-life the dozer, or trade it in.

“It really comes down to feeling the health of the machine,” says Hessel. “We talk about machine health. Just like we take physicals and we understand what our internal bodies are doing and we adjust accordingly, having oil samples allows a customer to better manage his machine and make those investments accordingly.”

When it comes to actually doing the work, some large contractors do all of their own work with dedicated facilities and maintenance staff with machine-specific training from the equipment manufacturers.

Case recommends others use an authorized dealer for major maintenance on its dozers because dealer-installed genuine remanufactured parts offer the same warranty protection as that of a new machine.

While the work can be done in-house, by job shops, or by the dealer, “obviously the OEM is going to encourage the customer to use the distributor,” Shear points out.

“We’ll incentivize customers to do that,” he says.

The warranty might be better if the distributor does it, Shear adds. “From a contractor’s perspective, you have to balance the total costs, not just the hard costs,” he says. “You can always find a cheap repair, but if you’re looking at the long-term, you’ve got to look at the total cost.”

Shear says the OEM warranty is generally going to be the best of all options.

“Komatsu provides a one-year unlimited warranty on their construction and mining components, including remanufactured parts,” says Shear. “That’s better than what you would find a lot of times with a third-party remanufacturer or job shop.”

Says Harper: “You won’t get much, if any, warranty on an overhaul, but a good reman engine from the manufacturer will come with a warranty that’s usually just as good as a new engine, depending on who does the labor.”

He adds that Case will provide a full warranty for a remanufactured engine installed by a certified dealer.

“If you choose to replace the engine with a genuine reman engine, you should expect product lifespan and performance similar to that of a new engine,” Harper adds.

John Deere has a reman program that enables contractors to optimize the uptime for their dozers, says Hessel.

“A contractor is able to repair major components by taking a remanned component and replacing the failed or soon-to-fail component in a much faster time frame, saving him money and keeping his machine running quicker,” says Hessel.

The re-man components may be equal or better than new specs, “so the customer is really not losing anything as it relates to the quality, reliability and life of the component,” he adds.

Contractors can order reman parts through a dealership. If it’s not available there, it can be obtained from a distribution center within two days.

The warranty is good for 12 months if a dealer installs it. If a customer installs it, it’s a standard 90-day parts warranty.

American Independent competes against OEMs and is another option for contractors.

“We have observed that, in our area, most contractors prefer to use independents or perform their own repairs,” says DeAndero. “However, when it comes to municipalities or very large interstate fleets, the dealer is preferred because of its nationwide network to support warranty. Across the country, this dynamic swings both directions, depending on how strong the dealer is and if there are any reputable independents in the area.”

DeAndero adds that his company is “big on reconditioning or supplying used parts instead of new as a more intelligent approach to rebuilding with an emphasis on understanding parts mortality as they relate to other weaknesses in the component. “Dealers tend to want to install new parts, since it is more convenient and profitable for them,” he adds. “In our case, the incentive is the exact opposite—often resulting in lower rebuild costs. We offer competitive warranties to that of the dealers, including extended warranties up to three years or 6,000 hours.”

On components sold by Schaefer Enterprises, used parts are accompanied by a 30-day warranty. On an overhaul or rebuilt, it’s normally 90 days.

“Normally, we’ll try to sell a used part anywhere from 35% to 50% of what it would cost from the OEM; it could be a lot less,” says Schaefer. “It depends on how good a moving part it is. On the rebuilt or overhaul components, it’s going to vary from 40% to 75% of what they could get it for.”

It’s a marketing issue, Schaefer points out. “What’s the competition? What does it sell at? Will a guy go to an OEM as opposed to buying used or rebuilt?”

Manufacturers have taken heed to contractors’ needs to get the most from their existing dozers. Case in point: John Deere.

The JDLink Machine Monitoring System is an equipment-monitoring and information delivery system that collects, transmits, and manages information in real time about machine health date as well as where and how construction equipment is being used.

It is offered in four levels: standard, advanced, ultimate, and direct. As it relates to machine health, the standard level provides information on machine service hours. The advanced level builds upon that with information regarding fuel and equipment utilization, and the ultimate level adds current and stored monitoring of component pressures and temperatures, fuel consumption, transmission gear selection, and full-featured diagnostic information retrieval. The direct level can download machine operating history and diagnostics directly to a laptop.

“It senses what’s going on with your tractor systems and is accessible to an Internet Web site to understand if your tractor is operating properly,” says Dan Drescher, product marketing manager for crawlers for John Deere Construction and Forestry.

“You can see the number of hours it has on it so you can do routine maintenance on a scheduled basis and also locate the tractor if you’re not quite sure where it is.”

In January 2011, John Deere is launching a new telematics platform that will gather extensive machine health information, says Clint Allaman, product marketing manager for JDLink for John Deere.

At that time, JDLink Ultimate becomes standard on the company’s 750 and 850 model dozers, with three years of free service.

“From the perspective of warranty or health, it packages a lot of information,” Allaman adds. “There also is preventative maintenance scheduling that can be done through JDLink and through other machine alerts, letting the customer know that something is going on with the machine and needs to be maintained or it can just set up certain preventative maintenance parameters.”

JDLink can be used as a proactive or reactive tool if a situation with the equipment arises, Allaman points out.

“The idea is using the technology to get ahead of the issues as they arrive,” he adds.

The technology works through an onboard device called modular telematics gateway (MTG). That interacts with John Deere’s onboard computing systems to gather ongoing data, transmitting it to a server.

The data can be set to report daily, multiple times per day, or randomly. It reports to the server and then becomes available on the Web site.

Critical items—known as dashboard alerts—can be delivered to contractors via text message and e-mail so problems can be caught ahead of time rather than after the fact, when a contractor has to enter a reactive mode, says Allaman.

“Being able to set up maintenance scheduling is a big thing, so one thing with JDLink is—depending on the machine or the contractor’s service practices—it can be set up for notifications at certain hour intervals for machine maintenance,” he adds.

One fleet manager can track the data indicating when preventative maintenance needs to be done, resulting in overall improved machine health and productivity, Allaman says.

There also is a geofencing feature that allows contractors to track the machine as a means of theft prevention and safety.

“You want to make sure the machine doesn’t cross into an area where it shouldn’t be,” Allaman says.

John Deere also is rolling out another new system that builds upon the base of JDLink.

Fleet Care takes it one step beyond JDLink and all other existing telematic platforms.

“It not only takes machine health information, but also rolls together oil-scan data plus machine inspections and does interpretative analyses to recommend things to contractors, such as preventative maintenance or other alerts that can help them catch issues before they become critical issues,” says Allaman.

In the end, preventive maintenance may be the best approach to mitigating time and expenses involved in heavy maintenance.

DeAndero says his company always encourages its customers to inspect screens and filters during routine service; his company provides a kit to do so.

“This good habit, along with oil sampling and scheduled component rebuilds prior to failure, can provide substantial savings in operating cost,” DeAndero points out.

At the Walsh Group in Chicago, IL, a top-ranked general contracting, construction management and design-build firm, managers consider many aspects when deciding how to handle heavy maintenance on any of its more than 100 dozers in its fleet.

“The age of the unit factors in and certainly we look at the level of the tier of the engine for the emissions and the total amount of the overhaul versus the market value of the unit,” says Mark Lynes, senior equipment manager. “We would never spend more on an overhaul than we value the piece at.”

The Walsh Group runs a mix of John Deere and Caterpillar dozers.

“We’ve had really good luck with the 450, 550, and 650 sizes in John Deere. Our larger dozers are Cats, and we probably have 25 of those,” says Lynes.

The company typically does not overhaul dozers.

“We’ll do some major repairs, but our philosophy has been to run the units up to the overhaul point, so we would never overhaul an engine in the transmission to get an extended life out of a unit,” says Lynes.

“Our philosophy not only with our dozers but with everything is that we run everything up to its overhaul life and start it back over,” he adds. “We’ll buy new or trade it in and generally run a dozer for 7,000 to 9,000 hours before the major maintenance overhaul expense occurs. We scrub the cycle again and replace them.”

Whether the work is done in-house or outsourced depends on the nature of it.

“If it’s just blade work or frame work or anything we can do in the shop, we’ll do those ourselves,” says Lynes. “But if it involves heavy components—a transmission or engine—generally we’ll let the dealer do that for the warranty implications.”

Warranty considerations are “absolutely important” with respect to major components, Lynes says.

“It’s riskier to rebuild a transmission or engine yourself, because if something goes wrong you’re going to pay for it again; whereas, if a dealer does it, normally they’re going to give you some type of rebuild or reman warranty similar to new,” he says. “That’s generally why we let them do the major components. It might cost more upfront, but we certainly get that added warranty than if we did it ourselves. If a problem develops, you’re going to end up eating the cost to do it yourself, so it’s a bit of an ‘insurance’ to have the dealer do it.”

It’s not common for The Walsh Group to upgrade during an overhaul.

“Normally, we’ll put the same components back in,” says Lynes. “If we get to an overhaul decision and it needs an engine and we’re seeing it has an older-tiered engine in it for emissions reasons, we typically wouldn’t overhaul it. We’ll salvage that unit and buy new. We have not upgraded with engines or transmissions; usually we put the original equipment back in.”
Rental Snapshot:
Dozer Maintenance
When it comes to renting a bulldozer or other earthmoving machine, both the contractor and the rental company contribute to productivity, according to Tom Hilmer, manager of maintenance and technical services for United Rentals. Hilmer says that while one of the benefits of renting is that maintenance shifts to the rental company, the contractor is in the best position to be vigilant once the equipment arrives onsite.

“A good preventative maintenance program by factory-trained technicians is key,” Hilmer says. “Prior to each dozer rental, the machine should be serviced according manufacturer specifications—no exceptions. But renters also have to bear in mind that these machines often operate in very harsh environments. It’s possible that a dozer may need additional service in very short order.”

Hilmer offers this advice to contractors who will rent a dozer for as little as 48 hours: “It’s very important to do a walk-around inspection daily. That means not just a visual check for damage and fluid levels, but things that may go overlooked, like track tension, undercarriage component wear and the cutting edge of the blade. If you continue to operate a dozer with a worn cutting edge, it not only impacts efficiency, but can also add costs to the rental.”

The operator is a rental company’s eyes and ears on the job site, Hilmer says. “We encourage the use of manufacturers’ checklists during dozer inspections, and we urge our customers to call us immediately if anything seems ‘off’.’ Filter replacement, track tension, cutting edge rotation, or replacement and other maintenance may have to be performed more frequently than normal if site conditions are very dusty or rocky. We’re prepared for that. Both parties in the rental transaction are after the same end result: the best possible experience for the contractor.”