Midseason Maintenance, Peak Performance

Nov. 1, 2012

If equipment is maintained, people can see that. Conversely, if it’s not, they can see that as well-and if they can’t, word of mouth will surely alert them. “You can tell if equipment has been abused,” says Lee Fullbright, product support manager for LBX Co. LLC.

Proper, ongoing maintenance makes a “drastic difference” in the value of a machine for resale, the life of a machine and unexpected downtime, Fullbright continues. “If you’re rough on equipment or neglect routine maintenance, no one wants to buy it used. People won’t buy used equipment at local auction if it’s not maintained.”

Forget Me Not
Equipment must be maintained year-round, including during peak times as necessary. “When machines are busy, service is often delayed,” says Diego Navarro, global fleet solutions manager with John Deere. “Contractors are trying to produce as much as possible without stopping.”

Photo: Bobcat
Sticking to a regular maintenance schedule based on the manufacturer’s recommended guidelines helps equipment work harder and last longer.

When the whole fleet is working, however, there may be even more maintenance requirements. “Contractors try to compensate at night,” Navarro believes, “but they may do only the essentials, like oil changes…and still they’re sometimes late.” Perhaps because they’re rushed, they sometimes miss things, like greasing or checking for leaks. Every missed item has consequences. “If they forget to grease, it causes wear-especially if they’re working in dirt or water. If they miss fuel filters, it affects the engine’s duration and power, resulting in

But even incomplete maintenance is better than none. “Skipping intervals is not recommended,” says Mike Ross, director of operations for Takeuchi-US. “Operators with a disciplined approach to maintenance have the fewest problems. If you don’t make time for maintenance, it will eat into profits because you’ll end up doing major repairs.”

In addition to “turning repairs into maintenance,” according to Michael Jerred, manager of technical services for Gehl Co., midyear maintenance can reduce the time needed when it comes to fall maintenance. Knowing that it’s easy to put off during peak season, he suggests using weather downtime to do maintenance. “Get items on the list so you can order parts and schedule maintenance in advance. Identify problems before failure occurs.”

Ron Miller, product support manager for Case Construction Equipment, says some contractors default to reactive maintenance rather than a proactive approach during this period. “Spring or pre-spring maintenance is more proactive and a preventive style of maintenance. Once the unit goes to work on the job site, taking care of it becomes more…routine, for which manufacturers outline recommended practices and intervals in their operating manuals.”

No manufacturer recommends skipping maintenance intervals, confirms Aaron Kleingartner, segment application marketing manager with Doosan. “It can lead to premature wear of pins and bushings, or it may compromise the engine, transmission and hydraulics, and require earlier replacement. For peak efficiency, you need to do regular maintenance.”

Sticking to a regular maintenance schedule based on the manufacturer’s recommended guidelines helps equipment work harder and last longer, according to Stu Thompson, national product support manager for Terex Construction Americas. Conversely, missing an inspection or skipping a regular maintenance check could lead to downtime or other unnecessary expense.

Hourly Rate
Most contractors are already active by spring, Navarro observes. The machines are out of storage and working; therefore, he believes there is no transition during peak construction season-“nothing different” in maintenance routines from spring to summer.

But it depends on where you’re located, notes Kleingartner. In the north where winters are cold, machines are stored. In Texas, Georgia, and Florida, the machines are working almost year-round. That means that maintenance is based on hours, not the season. Even in northern regions, Ross says, “if you do good spring maintenance after a machine sits over the winter, timing [of maintenance] is based on hours.”

“Normal” running maintenance should be done about every 100 to 500 hours, as outlined in the operator’s manual, even two to three months into the season, Jerred notes. The customer needs to monitor and inspect the units, Miller says, ensuring that all preventive maintenance items are completed accordingly. “Examples of this would be checking oil levels and service as required by the manufacturer, keeping the machine clean of debris and foreign material and most importantly, repairing items as problems arise.” Doing so will minimize downtime.

Maintenance schedules, however, should be altered according to conditions, particularly weather and environment. “The typical schedule is the maximum if operating conditions are optimal,” Kleingartner explains, “but the specific application and geography affect the schedule.” In dry, dusty areas, air filters need to be changed more frequently; wet conditions typically result in the need to grease more often.

Midterm Exams
Most people follow the book on hours instead of basing maintenance on how the machine feels, Navarro says. “Don’t limit yourself to what the book says. Condition-based maintenance increases the life of the machine tremendously. Sensors, oil analysis, and inspection tell you how the machine “˜feels.'”

In order to determine how a machine feels, Jerred recommends simple steps for mid-year maintenance. “A lot of people commonly ignore a general inspection.” When conducting an inspection, check the rubber for degradation near the exhaust and where it’s exposed to sun. Crimped-on fittings can hide oil seepage behind the crimp. Hydraulic hose fittings come loose. Belts should be checked when the oil is changed.

A significant aspect of condition-based maintenance involves oil sampling. Monitoring the condition of the oil optimizes drain intervals so that you get the most out of the fluid you’re paying for. Fluid analysis identifies dirt, wear particles, fuel dilution and coolant-contaminants that can cause catastrophic failure or significantly shorten equipment life. LBX’s Fluid Analysis Program helps extend oil drain intervals and equipment life by identifying minor problems before they become major failures. Fewer oil changes minimize maintenance costs and maximize uptime.

While maintenance of daily grease points is “usually OK,” Jerred says, high-hour locations often get overlooked and grease zirks can be broken or damaged. Takeuchi’s grease zirks are yellow so they’re easier to see when doing maintenance. Easy-access covers also encourage regular greasing.

If pins and bushings aren’t greased daily, they could seize together, requiring buckets to be rebushed. But, as Ross points out, it’s important that greasing be done properly as well as daily. “Look on both sides of the pin to see if the grease is spread evenly. The bushings are grooved so the grease spreads around the pin in channels.”

Greasing is also necessary to maintain proper tension if tracks are loose. “In crawlers, tension is essential to extend the life of tracks,” Navarro elaborates. “Tracks are better if they’re not too tight. The different between loose and tight tracks is about 300% more wear. It’s a very expensive part of the tractor.”

The job site can also affect the life of the tracks, Kleingartner says. The type of material being moved and the geography of the site-including elements such as ice and water-can impact tracks. “Keep them lubed and greased. Check wear patterns, links, pins and bushings.” And don’t forget to check the tracks on excavators that are rarely moved.

It’s easier to check items if they’re clean. Keeping machines clean also reduces wear. If hydraulic system cleanliness is neglected, it becomes a carrier for contaminants, which it can then transfer to attachments or other machines. “Chassis and hidden areas fill up with dirt and debris,” Jerred explains. “That could cover wires and components. Skid-steers and track loaders are compact, so cleanliness is very important. Scrapers have big, open areas that collect dirt.”

The undercarriage has to remain clean, with no buildup of material, Jerred continues, to prevent damaging the rollers and seals. “Rubber tracks can wear away on the inside almost without being noticed,” he says. “They can get cut or sliced, or lose tension.” Gehl’s RT series features a new track loader with automatic track tensioning to address that issue.

Tire inspections should be part of every maintenance routine, and should include more than just air pressure. “Are there cuts on the inside?” Jerred asks. “Look at the inside tire wall hidden up against the chassis. Make sure it’s in good condition.”

“Tires are overlooked a lot,” Navarro believes, “but are very important for traction and productivity. They last longer with the correct pressure, but most people forget about the pressure differential: On a loader, there should be more pressure in front than in back. If it’s wrong, you burn more fuel and put stress on the power chain.”

John Deere Fleet Care monitors tire pressure, analyzes data from the lab and makes recommendations. The exclusive program also analyzes data, fluid analysis and machine inspection results to identify problems, determine their criticality and recommend corrective actions to take before they cause unexpected downtime.

“You need to be proactive,” Navarro concludes, “but don’t collect information you don’t use. If you’re overwhelmed, you end up doing nothing…until there’s an emergency. There’s no time to analyze data, too much information, too many places to go, unfriendly tools-how do you use telematics? If you have lots of machines, you don’t have time to look for information on location, hours, fuel consumption and maintenance.”

Do It Yourself…or Not
When it comes to doing maintenance, nothing is difficult, Jerred claims. “It can be done by skilled technicians in a controlled environment, but if the environment isn’t clean, take it to the dealer.”

According to Kleingartner, 98% of normal service can be done by the contractor. “Doosan designs equipment so the customer can do maintenance themselves,” he says. “We make maintenance easy with centralized grease points-multiple points from one ground-level location-and access panels for daily maintenance.” Likewise, LBX located most filters-engine oil, fuel and air-so they can be changed from the ground.

Other features that assist Doosan customers with maintenance include a service display panel to configure reminders for fluids maintenance and a telematics system that alerts the shop manager and the operator to prevent catastrophic failures.

Similarly, at Takeuchi access is the primary focus in making maintenance easy for the contractor to perform: panels are located to easily get to, cabs tilt up and engine access is a matter of only three to four bolts. For reference, a maintenance chart on the inside of the cab includes diagrams.

With contractors extending warranties to five years or 10,000 hours, and keeping equipment longer in order to defer the cost of buying new until the economic outlook is better, they increasingly rely on dependable machines. The manufacturers know that maintenance is more likely to get done regularly if it’s simple and affordable, so they make it easy for the end users to perform routine maintenance in-house.

According to experts at Terex, “most regular maintenance tasks can be handled by anyone experienced in construction machinery.” In fact, the best person to complete daily maintenance is the operator-the person who knows the most about the machine’s particular sounds and performance. Nevertheless, they should build a relationship with their local equipment distributor because out-of-warranty issues or problems that can’t be fixed by the contractor’s in-house crew will need to be addressed by trained technicians.

“Several factors can influence what tasks are performed by the customer or outsourced to a dealer,” Miller states. “Typically, general maintenance items such as oil and filter changes and daily checks are performed by the customer or operator. More complex repairs are often sent to the dealer, whose staff has proper training and tooling for diagnosis and repairs.”

Because a contractor’s function is “to build things, not to repair tractors,” Navarro says more of them are depending on suppliers for service. “Outsourcing services is cheaper. The machines are more sophisticated, with diagnostics and emissions. You need training and software programs to work on them.”

But contractors can’t expect everything to be done by the dealer, Navarro continues: normal maintenance, small repairs, daily inspections and daily greasing should be performed in-house. Service packages-maintenance agreements-offered by the dealer make it an attractive option for the rest.

For the past 10 to 15 years, an increasing number of customers have been turning to dealers for maintenance, Fullbright says. One reason is LBX’s enhanced plan maintenance that covers preventive maintenance (oil change, filters and fluids) and repairs. “Dealer packages follow extended warranty terms: four or five years is typical. That includes regularly scheduled maintenance, with a per-hour cost priced in. It’s an ironclad way to predict costs.”

LBX conducts enhanced planned maintenance seminars to teach dealers how to develop customized programs that help them increase parts and service revenue and sales of new equipment; build customer loyalty by saving them money; and ensure proper maintenance to reduce downtime and increase trade-in value. An enhanced planned maintenance program goes beyond traditional operator manual specifications and oil changes. It addresses successful marketing, travel times, guaranteed cost contracts, safety inspections, trade-in values and more.

Tiering Up
Tier 4 interim engines, due this year, can change maintenance schedules, Kleingartner says. “It’s important to use ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel-15 ppm-because it affects the life span of the filters.”

With the higher tier engine, fuel is a major concern. “They’re less forgiving,” Jerred explains. That makes fuel filters more important with T4i and Tier 4 engines. “Tier 4 engines have turbos to get horsepower and meet emissions. They draw in more air, so the air intake system requires more maintenance.” Because the final filter is finer to prevent solid particle contaminants from passing through, it plugs up sooner, requiring more frequent changing. Even so, as he points out, “Fuels are high-spec today; filters are cheap maintenance.”

T4i engines also require low-ash oil. For trucks with EGR systems, ash from the oil can plug the diesel particulate filter. If the right oil isn’t used, this can add to downtime in order to complete more frequent regeneration cycles, which reduces truck productivity and increases fuel consumption.

Like most manufacturers, John Deere has been working to prepare for Tier 4 for years. Their machines feature an auto-regulate option for regeneration of filters. “It’s built to be easy,” Navarro says. “The machines run clean; there’s no loss of power during regeneration.”

Not only does Kleingartner recommend removing and cleaning the diesel particulate filter at 3,000 to 4,000 hours, he also suggests that be done by a dealer or certified emissions system technician. “When matter is reduced to ash, it’s considered hazardous material and needs proper handling.”

The EPA requires that the ash-cleaning interval be at least 4,500 hours for machines at or above 175 horsepower. For engines below 175 horsepower, the EPA minimum interval requirement is 3,000 hours. Based on more than 700,000 hours of testing in the lab and in the field, along with 5 million hours of use on more than 20,000 T4i engines on the market, John Deere has been able to extend the interval to up to 15,000 hours on machines at or above 175 horsepower and as long as 8,000 hours on machines below 175 horsepower, reducing interruptions in productivity.

Diesel particulate filters in aftertreatment devices on John Deere T4i engines need two types of periodic cleaning. First, an onboard process known as regeneration oxidizes soot collected inside the DPF. It typically occurs automatically with no impact to machine operation. Second, ash cleaning is required to remove accumulated ash inside the DPF. This process is needed less frequently and involves having a dealer or qualified service provider exchange your filter for a clean one.

T4i regulations, introduced to reduce exhaust emissions, have resulted in changes that reportedly increase fuel economy by 5% to 15% for Terex trucks, which rely on selective catalytic reduction technology. However, the system contains more components for technicians to learn how to maintain. Because of that, Terex offers a checklist for operators and technicians to help maintain performance:

  • Don’t run out of Diesel Exhaust Fluid (for trucks using SCR engine technology).
  • Don’t try to substitute DEF with water or fuel (for trucks using SCR engine technology).
  • Don’t consistently bypass the regeneration process (for trucks using Exhaust Gas Recirculation engine technology).
  • Don’t try to “trick” the emissions system; it will only lead to major engine issues.

Improperly operating and maintaining the engines can burn out the dosage module for DEF and shorten the life of the diesel particulate filter or the converter. Not paying attention to emissions alerts can lead to the engine derating to the idle position, so the truck cannot operate properly.

Fuel quality is a big issue, states Takeuchi’s Ross. Eliminating water and rust in the tank is critical, he says. “If fuel sits a long time, condensation and algae growth occur. They can damage the engine components and the fuel system.”

Algae grows in water and feeds on the fuel, Jerred explains. The algae then plugs the filters, contaminating the system. “You have to kill it.”

Water isn’t good in any diesel fuel system, Jerred continues. It can cause serious damage to downstream fuel components. Look for signs of water in the fuel separator daily, he says. “There are warnings on the fuel separator.”

With fuel injector pumps running anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000, it’s something contractors want to keep an eye on. Because it can be difficult to find and fix the damage, Ross advises taking the equipment to the dealer to flush the tank and fuel system. “It’s difficult to remove and drain, so let an expert do it.”

In addition to checking the machines, Jerred reminds contractors to be vigilant about outside fuel storage systems and tanks on refueling trucks. “Know your fuel. Be careful of water in all your fuel.”

High-Tech Future
The use of electronics to operate and diagnosis problems with machinery will only increase, Ross believes. To troubleshoot a common rail system or alert the engine that a new filter has been installed, for example, a technician must hook into an electronic harness system. “The owner/operator has to take machines to their dealers for diagnosis,” he says. That contributes to the creation of a tighter relationship between dealer and end user, as well as between manufacturer and dealer because “the manufacturers train the dealers, who now have more touch points with the customer.”

Navarro foresees all information being collected electronically in the future. “You cannot use paper or traditional methods. It needs to be more advanced through electronics.”

There are numerous programs that focus on tracking and controlling expenses, Navarro continues, but “there’s no application on how much you can save by extending the life of your equipment. If you double the life of the machines, that’s proven savings.” The way to extend the life of your equipment, he adds, is through diligent maintenance.

“Too often, little things can be an indication of larger problems,” says Jamie Wright, product manager with Terex Construction Americas. “Owners, operators and service technicians should never ignore warning signs.”

Warning signs of potential issues can come from programs such as JDLink, John Deere’s machine monitoring system; Fleet Care, a proactive machine health program; and Service ADVISOR, for remote dealer diagnostics, grade control and payload weighing. JDLink provides maintenance tracking via an easy-to-use website. The JDLink Ultimate level delivers the most comprehensive data, including diagnostic trouble codes, equipment utilization and fuel consumption data, in addition to machine location, curfews and geofencing. JDLink Select is a more basic service level that provides machine-engine hour, maintenance tracking, location, and geofencing capabilities.

However potential issues are detected and regular maintenance schedules tracked, all manufacturers concur that it’s important to take care of machinery, no matter what the season.