For the next three weeks, I'm going to be highlighting important information about used equipment. This three-part series is from Volvo Construction Equipment and their experts. Part 1 was written by Al Drake, Field Technical Support Specialist, Western U.S. Al spent the early parts of his career as a journeyman field technician in a similar role as current Volvo dealer technicians. He also spent time as a heavy equipment service manager and business owner. Over the past 15 years, Al has worked as a Volvo Field Technical Support Specialist (FTSS) working alongside technicians to troubleshoot construction machine maintenance issues on-site. He’s also a Volvo global certified trainer.
PART 1: FIVE COMMON MISTAKES THAT LEAD TO INCREASED MAINTENANCE
Field support specialists and technicians troubleshoot construction machine maintenance issues onsite every day. Several of the issues they handle are more common than you might think—and they’re preventable. Here are five common mistakes companies make that lead to unnecessary maintenance issues, with tips on how to avoid them.
1. Not reading the owner’s manual
If you’ve been an operator for years, it’s understandable that you may want to skip the owner’s manual and just try the machine out for yourself. Most of us do the same thing when we fly commercial—how many of us actually take out the safety card and follow along during the safety briefing? The reason we don’t is that we’re so familiar with it, we just assume “we’ve got it.” Same concept for operator’s and owner’s manuals.
But there’s valuable information in the manuals that can be used as a quick self-check. If you’re about to operate a machine, and it's one you don’t operate frequently, take some time to go through the manual to get more familiar with all the controls to ensure you understand them.
Here’s an example. On a service call for elevated axle oil temperature on a wheel loader, one of the first things to look for is how long the brake lights are on. Let’s say an operator was driving over a crest, down a hill rapidly, and driving up to a hopper area to dump material. He or she operates pretty fast and continually uses the wheel brake to control speed. Had they referenced the owner’s manual upfront, they could have identified an engine brake feature that actually holds the machine in a lower gear. Instead of stepping on the wheel brake to control speed, they only needed to press a button at the top of the hill to prevent the issue. This is a great example of an avoidable repair had the operator familiarized themselves with all the machine’s controls and features.
2. Prefilling fuel filters versus priming
There’s an ongoing debate about whether or not to prefill fuel filters — and if you do, what the proper method is. Some techs assume they can be very careful and prefill a fuel filter without introducing contaminants, but the likelihood of that happening is very low. Fuel filters have micron measurements that are smaller than the human hair. Even if a tech tries to cap the center hole and let fuel drip into the dirty side of the filter, it’s virtually impossible to keep contaminants out of the clean inner side of the filter. A fuel can, a funnel — and even bare hands — will likely introduce some kind of contaminant. And high-pressure fuel systems today can’t tolerate even the smallest amount of contaminant. The risk of damage isn’t worth the time saved by prefilling a filter.
3. Misuse of attachments
Not using attachments for their intended use is not only unsafe, but it can also be costly. One common example is operators using a hydraulic hammer as a pry bar. The hammer on the end of an excavator arm is designed to be used straight down or at a certain angle. But if it’s also used to dig around or pick up and turn large chunks of concrete or rock, it puts an excessive side load on the tool. That causes excessive wear on the bushing and fractures in the tool, leading to seal issues and leaks. If a hammer has to be rebuilt, it’s very expensive.
It’s the same with teeth on a bucket. While they’re designed to break apart some material, using them to pry can actually break the teeth or break the cutting edge on the bucket, which leads to downtime on the machine and another expensive repair.
Properly sizing buckets to the machine and application is also critical. A bucket that’s too big will slow down a machine, work the hydraulics harder, and drastically cause production issues.
4. Operating too fast
This happens most often on excavators and wheel loaders, and it’s particularly a problem when material is in the bucket. Things like quick starts and stops, fast turns, and rapidly slewing buckets (especially on a slope) mean material is likely falling out of the bucket and eventually has to be cleaned up. That could take up to half an hour, wasting time and fuel.
A common mistake wheel loader operators make is driving into a pile and allowing the tires to spin. When the tires spin, it can cause ruts at the stockpile. And each time the operator drives in or out of the rut, it causes a shake on the machine which knocks material out. These ruts have to be refilled and the material that’s knocked out has to be picked up. Precision (making every move count with minimal cleanup afterward) will improve productivity more than speed.
5. Skipping maintenance contracts and telematics programs
There are many benefits to having a maintenance contract. Yes, they cost money, but if you dissect what you pay upfront versus the maintenance costs over time to evaluate your ROI, a majority of the time they save you money. With a Volvo service contract, for example, you get Volvo-trained technicians who perform routine maintenance, but also continually look at the entire machine to identify other areas that may need attention. What they can discover and proactively resolve saves customers hours of unnecessary downtime. A lot of these predictive maintenance issues can be hard to spot, and if they’re overlooked, they can cost you money.
Customers who take advantage of a machine monitoring program see benefits as well. When telematics data indicates there may be a problem, the right software and trained support staff can diagnose the issue and provide a case alert with a probable cause, recommended solution and potential consequences of not taking action. Knowing what the most likely problem is means dealer technicians can go out and repair a machine in one trip versus two or three. Advanced telematics allows for predictive maintenance to save time and money.