A New Approach to Maintenance in the Field

Sept. 1, 2004

When it comes to maintenance in the field, several buzzwords are currently circulating throughout the industry, and it would be wise to implement the approaches behind these terms if you want to keep up with the competition. The buzzwords are consolidation, portable power generation, and periodic maintenance.

According to John Luck, product manager with Miller Electric Manufacturing Company of Appleton, WI, consolidation is the key to maintenance in the field.

Miller Electric is a leading supplier of welding equipment and related systems for construction, maintenance and repair, manufacturing and fabrication, and other applications. The company offers a complete line of welding and plasma-cutting products for field maintenance and repair of construction and contracting equipment, as well as for outfitting service vehicles.

While individual needs and preferences will cause equipment selection to vary, Luck says the following five pieces of Miller equipment are among those most commonly used:

Bobcat 250 NT engine-driven welding generator. This unit offers stick, TIG, MIG, and flux-cored welding outputs up to 250 amps and 10,000 watts of generator power to run tools and lights. Gas, diesel, and liquid propane versions are available, as is a battery-charging option. The Bobcat is, by far, the most popular welding machine for service trucks.

Big Blue Air Pak diesel engine—driven welding generator. This unit offers stick, TIG, MIG, and flux-cored welding outputs up to 600 amps, air-carbon arc gouging with carbons up to one-half inch in diameter, 20-kilowatt 3-phase/12 kilowatt 1-phase continuous generator power when not welding, and 100 pounds per square inch at 60 cubic feet per minute of compressed air through its built-in Ingersoll-Rand rotary-screw compressor. This unit also has optional AC/DC battery charge/jump-start capabilities. The Big Blue Air Pak is the most popular engine drive for heavy-duty maintenance. Miller’s Big Blue 500 offers similar welding performance without the compressor.

XMT 350 CC/CV inverter-based welding power source. This multi-process welding machine weighs just 80 pounds and features Auto-Line primary power management technology, which means it can plug into any type of primary power in the world, and draws fewer amps of primary power. Contractors use this type of machine when the job site has power, or they can run it off a generator that supplies at least 12 kilowatts.

Suit Case 12VS portable wire feeder. While stick welding still dominates many field applications, wire welding processes can speed up time-intensive jobs, such as hard facing.

Spectrum 2050 plasma cutter. This 76-pound unit cuts through metal up to seven-eighths of an inch thick and gouges metal of any thickness using only compressed air for “fuel.” It also features Auto-Line capabilities.

How does Luck’s firm handle maintenance in the field on smaller equipment? Is there a different approach to smaller equipment than larger equipment?

Luck says these questions are interrelated from a welding perspective, as “size” first depends on the diameter of the electrode needed for the repair, rather than on the size of the equipment itself.

“The biggest differentiator in welding equipment selection for field repair is whether or not the air-carbon arc-gouging process will be used to remove worn or torn metal and old welds,” Luck says. “Carbon arc gouging efficiently removes metal as fast as possible by using larger-diameter carbons, and this process usually requires an output of at least 400 amps, with 500 or more being preferable. Simply put, we recommend equipment service trucks be equipped with a Bobcat for running smaller electrodes and use a Big Blue/Big Blue Air Pak for gouging and running large-diameter electrodes.”

But it isn’t that easy. There are many other things to think about, including both preventative-maintenance programs and field repair of broken or worn components. In addition, how do you approach such components as tracks, hydraulic cylinders, and belts, or problems like clogged cooling systems or damaged wiring? How is all this accomplished or maintained with normal tools, average skills, and a minimum of equipment, such as truck-mounted welders, and pneumatic and hydraulic servicing gear?

Luck notes that engine-driven welding generators such as the Bobcat and especially the Big Blue Air Pak consolidate many functions into one machine. This provides process versatility and reduces the space occupied on the vehicle. For those with average skills, Miller designs operator-friendly control panels that use common welding terminology and symbols. For example, to stick weld with the Big Blue Air Pak, you turn the control knob to a color-coded position that says “Stick.” Other Miller equipment with similar process capabilities, such as the XMT 350, also uses a similar control switch. This provides a basis for understanding welding machines the first time an operator encounters them.

“To help determine which engine drive is right for your application, Miller offers a free engine-drive buyer’s guide,” Luck concludes. “It can be downloaded from the engine-driven product page at MillerWelds.com or obtained free by calling 1-800-4-A-MILLER.”

Other Perspectives, Equipment

According to Brian Wilcher, marketing director at New Albany, IN—based Dynamic Power Source LLC, portable power generation is the key to maintenance in the field.

Dynamic Power Source has been a leader in the development and manufacturing of “portable power generation” packages and solutions (called the PowerBox) since its inception in 2001.

“The breadth of the PowerBox’s all-inclusive welding, generator, and compressor capabilities enable its use in the many industrial, construction, agricultural, fleet, and service activities that our clients engage in,” Wilcher says. “The Power Box is a 3-in-1 welder, generator, compressor, and…provides enough power to simultaneously weld, run pneumatic tools, plasma cut, provide air, and do much more.”

According to Wilcher, the PowerBox allows users to enhance their efficiency and equipment maintenance in the field by easily bolting the unit onto a standard pickup truck, flatbed, or service body vehicle. The PowerBox is designed specifically to meet the power needs of the construction, excavating, agricultural, and mining industries. It offers the power that users need for their tools, all from one source.

Some of the advantages of the PowerBox include:

  • Self-driven
  • Theft and weather resistant
  • Allows several people to work from one unit simultaneously
  • Compact, leaving the majority of the truck bed open for carrying cargo
  • Easily accessible controls
  • Portable unit is easily installed or removed (it has only four mounting bolts)
  • Unit weight is less than comparable separate components

Other features include 10-gallon air storage tanks, a 12.5-gallon fuel tank, 3.1 cubic feet of secure storage for units without a welder, a compressor for pneumatic tools, a standard 12-volt battery, a Kohler gasoline engine or Kubota diesel engine, and easy access for routine maintenance, Wilcher notes.

“Specifically, the key components of the PowerBox effectively assist users with emergency as well as preventative maintenance programs in the field,” he adds.

For example, the welder can provide up to 350 amps of welding, which would allow one to repair cracks in equipment blades, damaged brackets, or tracks on a dozer or excavator. The generator can provide up to 12,800 watts of power, allowing users to run lighting units, electric tools, and drainage pumps. The compressor can provide up to 70 cubic feet per minute of air at 145 pounds per square inch and allows users to run multiple impact wrenches, inflate tires, or perform a host of other applications.

According to Mark Kern, manager of product support for the Charles Machine Works Inc., it is important that dealers and manufacturers work together to develop service-maintenance programs for professionals in charge of maintenance in the field. Charles Machine, based in Perry, OK, manufactures Ditch Witch products.

“As a manufacturer of equipment we are not directly involved with service maintenance,” Kern says. “We rely on our independently owned dealerships to manage the sales and service of our products. That being said, we have developed service-maintenance programs primarily for the convenience of our dealers.”

Typically, Kern says, the service maintenance differences that occur between smaller and larger models of the same equipment are very few. “The key thing to remember with differences between smaller and larger models is that the support equipment required may be quite different,” he notes.

Preventive maintenance is not the preferred term, Kern adds, as there may be some liability implications with “preventative.” “We like to say ëperiodic maintenance’ or something along that line. This phrase is becoming more common.”

The objective of the Charles Machine maintenance program is two-fold: (1) to ensure proper lubrication and machine performance, and (2) to identify any potential repair issues prior to catastrophic failure.

“When we say ëfield repair’ we mean going to the job site and getting a machine back in service. Whatever that takes,” Kern notes.

Kern believes that field service will continue to grow. “Customers want to keep their units on the job, so having periodic maintenance performed in the field is growing. When a unit goes down, often it is easier and faster for the service man to get to the unit than to load the unit and get it back to the shop. Of course, field service availability then becomes the challenge.”

According to Jeri Kannenwischer, public relations and advertising manager for Ditch Witch, it all starts with training. “There’s a strong belief that training improves on-the-job productivity by increasing an employee’s level of confidence and skill,” Kannenwischer says. “As a result, training has always been an integral part of the Ditch Witch customer service effort.”

Kannenwischer says that whether it’s in the field or at the Ditch Witch Worldwide Training Center in Perry, the firm’s training specialists take a dynamic approach to instruction that goes beyond a classroom education. “The result is added-value training that can translate into bottom-line productivity and performance.”

Beyond the Ditch Witch worldwide headquarters, Kannenwischer adds, much of the success of the brand is due to the company’s worldwide network of independent dealers. Whether it’s earth-boring equipment, trenchers, plows, drills, trailers, electronics, vacuum excavators, or mini-excavators, DitchWitch dealerships are dedicated exclusively to Ditch Witch products and services.

“Our dealers have a reputation for being partners in their customers’ success,” Kennenwischer says. “Wherever underground construction is underway, there is a Ditch Witch dealer who stands ready to help with innovative solutions to challenging, real-world problems.”

According to Brian Brown, vice-president of marketing at the Quincy, IL,based Knapheide Manufacturing Company, meeting customer expectations is the primary focus when it comes to maintenance in the field.

Knapheide was founded in 1848 and has evolved into the nation’s premiere producer of steel service truck bodies and platform stake,style truck bodies.

“Our company has seen a lot of changes over the years, but one thing that will never change is our focus of meeting customer expectations,” Brown says. “Our product lines include service bodies, utility vans, crane bodies, line bodies, platforms, and dump bodies in addition to tool boxes, hoists, and caps for trucks. A service contractor can outfit his service truck with almost any equipment imaginable at any one of our distributors nationwide. More information about our distributors and our product lines can be found on our Web site at www.knapheide.com.”

How does Brown see the future of maintenance in the field? “We see that this important segment of our industry continues to strive for increased efficiency and resulting decreases in the time it takes to make repairs,” he concludes. “We see ourselves as assisting this effort through the production of products which allow the servicing entity to be organized and capable of carrying the tools necessary to get the job done. We will continue to develop durable, reliable products to assist this effort just as our distributors will continue to put together packages of the best equipment for the job.”

Focus on Fluids

According to Mark Betner, a spokesperson for CITGO Petroleum Corporation, utilization of oil analysis offers benefits and enhancements to the maintenance program. Based in Tulsa, OK, CITGO is a refiner and marketer of transportation fuels, lubricants, petrochemicals, refined waxes, asphalt, and other industrial products.

Betner offered Grading & Excavation Contractor magazine these goals of maintenance in the field:

  • Prevent failures
  • Optimize oil-drain intervals
  • Detect operator problems
  • Work more accurately with equipment suppliers
  • Schedule repairs more efficiently
  • Maintain more cost-effective part inventories
  • Evaluate engine oil performance
  • Determine cause of hydraulic leakage and component failure by utilizing hydraulic particle-count analysis instead of routine oil analysis
  • Enhance resale value of equipment by maintaining oil-analysis history
  • Maintain wear trends on components

Another product that could help keep equipment out of the garage is John Deere’s new Super Caddy, a filtering unit that eliminates fluid contamination.

“A lack of visibility to machine fluids can give people a false sense of security,” said Amy Asselin, a service marketing specialist with John Deere. “Super Caddy checks particle counts and allows a technician to see, clean, and flush particles and water from any machine in the shop or field.”

Super Caddy features a B7 1000 filter with a new, patented design. The filter pleat distributes the load to make use of space more efficiently, which enables it to distribute pressure evenly and hold more dirt. The flow is from the inside out, and the core is in the tower, making disposal easy. The mobile unit, which is available at participating John Deere dealers, can be transported to the machine onsite for thorough cleaning.

The top mistake technicians make is mixing lubricants, according to Asselin. Fluid additives are specifically designed for each type of application—for example, an engine requires detergency and anti-wear additives, but the hydraulic system needs antifoam and viscosity stability. Anti-wear additives are formulated differently for different applications, and they trigger protective mechanisms at different temperatures.

“That’s why mixing is a bad idea—the main reactions are rust, changes in viscosity, oil film strength debilitation, oxidation, foaming, and copper generation,” Asselin says. “Super Caddy keeps fluids completely separate as it filters and cleans by carrying separate filters for each fluid type onboard.”

Onboard sensors provide information about particle count and percentage of water saturation as the technician filters the oil. A variable-speed drive allows the technician to change the flow of the pump depending on fluid viscosity or temperature. In fact, the system is so sensitive that it actually can tell the technician if the oil is too cold to give an accurate reading, which keeps the system from giving a false signal when oil is still below 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

“This advanced system helps equipment owners significantly extend hydraulic component life,” Asselin says. “The system can boost the effectiveness of any preventive-maintenance program.”