Ready. Set. Go

May 1, 2011
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Some may think of motor-grader maintenance as a cost. Proper maintenance, though, is arguably the only way to ensure that you’ll get your money’s worth from the machine. Whether it’s a new piece of equipment or one that has weathered multiple seasons, a commitment to ongoing maintenance consistently pays off in higher productivity, greater efficiency, and a healthy return on investment. However, while we are all too familiar with these truisms, we don’t always follow through—and then little problems become bigger problems. Yes, we’ve all been there. With that in mind, we asked a number of veteran motor-grader product experts to prime the upcoming season with a best-practices maintenance pep talk. So read on, as each shares his top money-saving maintenance tips.

Keep it Clean
“It might sound elementary, but the number one thing that I would recommend is keeping your machine clean,” says Gary J. Atkinson, segment development manager of road, quarry, and aggregate products for Volvo Construction Equipment North America. “Cleanliness has benefits that directly relate to maintenance. If the unit is caked with dirt and grease, it’s hard to see the little things that may turn into big things. For example, on a clean machine, you can easily detect leaks, or see wires that may be rubbing against frame components. Beyond that, I believe that clean machines run better,” he says.

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Atkinson says he’s seen everything from A to Z—almost brand-new machines that look like they’ve been through a battle to six-year-old machines that appear brand new. “It all has to do with the amount of attention given to cleanliness and routine maintenance.

The use of proper filters, says Atkinson, is more important today than ever before. “Make sure filters are up to specification. Recently, we’ve seen people cutting corners by using off-the-shelf filters. We recommend using OEM filters, as we cannot guarantee the integrity of other filters—so user beware. Consider that the cost of that filter is just a small fraction of the cost of major engine overhaul. Also watch fuel filter change intervals, especially with the advent of the new fuel injection systems, and the introduction of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel. Again, you need to run good quality fuel filters,” he says.

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DCM Maintenance
“Everything in the machine revolves around the ability to keep the blade tight and being able to hit the kind of finish-grade tolerances that are required in today’s work environment. It’s all about proper DCM, or drawbar, circle, and moldboard maintenance,” says Dan Gillen, worldwide product application specialist for motor graders at Caterpillar.

DCM maintenance is often overlooked as it is more difficult and more time consuming. For example, says Gillen, greasing the circle pinion gear is an out-of-sight and out-of-mind task that often gets neglected. “Make sure that the circle is properly adjusted and that the sacrificial wear inserts between the drawbar and the circle, and between the moldboard and the moldboard rails, are maintained properly,” he says.

“On finish work, operators will tighten up their DCM. But when they are not doing finish work, they may feel that they are able to get away with a looser DCM. But in doing that, they will wear out their wear strips more quickly and will have to re-shim. Bottom line: Components will suffer if they are not properly adjusted over time,” says Brent Schwoerer, product support service engineer for Caterpillar.

“Don’t let dirt and aggregate build up so high in front of that blade that it is forced into the circle teeth, wear inserts, or circle drive gear,” says Clark Miner, motor-grader product consultant with John Deere. “Try to avoid driving over truck piles for knockdown if you can. If that is not convenient or possible, then clean out that circle as soon as possible by putting the machine in vertical bank-cut position and let the dirt fall out, or blow it out with a pressure washer. Does this sound extreme? Well, it is not. Vertical bank position will take a little over one minute to get into and another minute or so to put the blade back under the machine. Learn to do it if you don’t know how. It will make you a better operator, and the machine will last much longer as a tight unit.”

Maintain a Good Cutting Edge
“Always work at a speed that makes sense for the job. The faster you go, the more you’re going to generate heat and friction on that cutting edge—so slower speeds are better,” says Gillen. “Use a narrower cutting edge if you want to penetrate some material. If you’re working in abrasive material where you are not penetrating; you may wish to go to a thicker cutting edge.”

Gillen explains that there are basically three positions of the moldboard. One is rolling the moldboard all the way forward for penetration as that is going to put the cutting edge like a knife blade into the ground. This will maximize the ability to penetrate material. Once the material is penetrated, then tip the moldboard back so that the top of the blade is just a couple inches ahead of the bottom of the moldboard blade cutting edge. This allows an optimal cutting and carrying position. And, occasionally, the operator should tip that moldboard back to sharpen the cutting edge again. Using a combination of these three positions, he says, will keep the cutting edge sharp and in good condition.

Schwoerer says that the above practice can help to develop a more even wear pattern on the cutting edge itself, which will increase its overall wear life. “We offer different types of cutting edges for specific applications, such as serrated or carbide tips. Often, customers may avoid the use of carbide tips due to cost. But if owners are experiencing an increase in the frequency of cutting edge replacement, they may wish to reconsider. Start out by trying just one carbide tip and compare the life of that edge as to the former, and run the math. It can definitely be a money saver in certain applications,” he says.

“Consider flipping bolt-on cutting edges to keep them sharp and even out wear, and use GET [ground-engaging tools] appropriate for the application,” says Tim O’Brien, marketing manager for Case Construction. “Operate with the moldboard at a proper blade pitch for the application. Case’s unique Multi-Radius Involute moldboard cuts, mixes, and rolls material off the moldboard more efficiently. This saves horsepower and increases fuel economy. Also, it saves wear on the blade and GET edges and end bits.”

Cooling Systems
As the summer season comes into full swing, Atkinson says that dealer service managers often become inundated with calls regarding machines overheating. “And during my experience as a retail dealer, almost invariably the cause is dirty radiators and heat exchangers. Once again, keep the machine clean. Those cooling systems are tested and developed with the consideration that they are not going to be totally trashed with a bunch of dirt and debris in between the fins of radiators and heat exchangers,” he says, adding that Volvo motor graders offer an option for automatic reversing fans that can be preprogrammed to stop and reverse at varying intervals to automatically blow the dust and debris out of the cooling system, thus reducing the manual maintenance of keeping the cooling system clean.

Many major manufacturers, says Atkinson, are moving toward hydraulically driven fans. “With a hydraulic fan drive you can do all sorts of neat tricks. For example, you can reduce the fan speed to deliver the kind of cooling performance you need based on the demand. In other words, during the winter, although the engine might be running wide open, the fan is only running at one-third speed—so that conserves a lot of horsepower which is ultimately translated into a fuel savings,” he explains.

“Let’s talk about washing coolers and radiators. If your plan is to take a few seconds and just mist them with a pressure washer, don’t even start,” says Miner. “The reason is that dust and lime is one thing when dry, but something else once it gets wet. Most of this dirt or dust will ‘set up’ like concrete if allowed to get wet and is not blown out of the coolers. You must be able to position the nozzle to direct the water straight through that fin opening, one fin at a time. This is going to take some time, but once you start and determine a logical progression, it will get the job done right. Try to look on the back side as you spray to make sure that water is coming out of each of the openings. When done, that cooler or radiator will be clean.”

Next, Miner says to check the coolers and radiator for damage or leaks. “If a leak is obvious, get it fixed as soon as possible. Additives for stopping leaks may have a short-term advantage, and a long-term detriment. It is best to get the repairs made that are needed. Bent fins need to be straightened to facilitate airflow. And check for mountings that are damaged or missing. Pay special attention to foam seals around and next to them. These seemingly unimportant little strips of foam ensure that air goes through the coolers and radiator instead of around it. They must be there. Replace them if they are not. The same goes for shrouds and deflectors. They all have a purpose,” he stresses.

“Check for debris buildup in coolers more often, even daily,” says O’Brien. “This is even more important with machines that use CEGR for Tier 4, as there are more and larger coolers in a small space with higher heat rejection. Use compressed air to maintain the radiator cores,” he says.

Ease-of-Maintenance Features
As to ease-of-maintenance features on newer motor-grader models, Atkinson says that most manufacturers have gone to extended greasing intervals using newer high-tech bearings in various locations to reduce the need. “On Volvo motor-grader models, all grease points are weekly,” he says.

But Atkinson says that the biggest news this year is the roll-in of the EPA Tier 4 mandates. “Beginning this year on motor graders in the 175-horsepower range and beyond, customers will see the hardware required in meeting Tier 4 requirements—such things as the diesel particulate filter [DPF], which features a regeneration process that elevates gas temperatures to promote oxidation that burns off soot in the DPF. To a certain extent, this process is semiautomatic, but still calls for some operator intervention. As such, to maximize DPF efficiency, additional operator training is recommended.”

Gillen points to number of features on the new Cat M Series 2 motor graders that contribute significantly to ease of maintenance. “First off, our swing-out cooling fan allows the operator to swing the fan out for easy access to the cooler cores, so that they can be kept clean from dirt and debris. Also, all of the daily checkpoints and fluid level indicators are grouped on the left-hand side of the machine,” he says.

There are also improvements in controlling airflow and fuel delivery, says Gillen. The M Series 2, according to Cat, features an innovative air-management system, which uses optimized turbocharging to work with an electronically controlled, common-rail fuel injection system to provide extremely clean, efficient combustion and optimum fuel economy.

“But perhaps the biggest differentiator for the new M Series 2 is our top adjust circle,” says Gillen. “It tremendously reduces the amount of service time required to keep the component adjusted by allowing field serviceability and requiring only one person to complete the adjustments via access at the top of the A-frame-type drawbar. There is no longer a need to make adjustments by going underneath the circle. This has resulted in more than a 75% reduction in the time needed to complete the adjustments. Anyone who has been around motor graders knows that this is an important development,” he says.

“To better understand the needs of our customers, Deere continually brings in operators, mechanics, superintendents, and owners to provide feedback as to the design of our graders,” says Mark Johnson, motor grader product consultant for John Deere. He stresses that all operator daily maintenance—even fueling—is performed on one side of the tractor and at ground level. “The extended life of oils and filters has allowed Deere to increase service intervals, decreasing the yearly cost of maintenance and increasing the uptime of our customer’s motor graders,” he says.

Johnson also says that Deere has eliminated 56% of grease zerks when compared with its previous model. Also, the operator can maintain all wear inserts on the circle with a nine-sixteenths-inch wrench. Only the wear inserts that are worn need be replaced, saving the owner money. “You no longer have to shut down the grader for a full day to maintain the circle. Putting the moldboard back to factory tolerances can now be done by the operator in about 10 minutes,” he says.

According to O’Brien, Case Construction offers options for accumulators in both the moldboard lift and sideshift hydraulic circuits to cushion and protect from shock loads due to hitting rocks and other obstacles. “Without accumulators, these types of shocks can cause expensive failures or increased wear and looseness of the moldboard linkage and circle mechanisms,” he says. “Also, Case is unique with its outside teeth for the circle drive mechanism. This automatically allows dirt to fall out of this area more easily than the inside teeth of competitive models. Outside teeth are easier to see and access for regular, required greasing.”

Other things to consider, says O’Brien, are maintaining bushings in the circle drive and slides on sideshifts. “Case graders have shimmable bushings in the cylinder pivot ball sockets. This enables Case to continually maintain the cylinder mounts to ensure accuracy during control and moldboard placement,” he says.

Motor graders are a major investment and are routinely expected to be on the job for 15 years or more. But unfortunately the old phrase “out of sight, out of mind” still comes into play. Service ports that are hard to find or to reach, or hoses that are loose or rubbing together in an area where they can’t be seen, will sooner or later cause downtime. Consequently many manufacturers are changing designs to eliminate problem areas and incorporating technologies that minimize maintenance. Yet, proper maintenance remains the lifeblood of the machine. Those who never lose sight of that are sure to hit the ground running.