Big machines usually involve a similarly big initial investment. Investing in equipment means you want it to do the most work it can for the longest possible time. The longer your equipment and tools last and the more efficiently they perform, the better they benefit the companies that own them.
When a machine does not last as it should, sustains damage or fails and causes a job site delay, the benefits evaporate while cost and safety liabilities replace them. In an ultra-competitive world, it pays to take every precaution and preventative measure available to ensure you get your money’s worth out of all equipment — and especially the capital-expense kind.
The Care and Keeping of Your Equipment’s Undercarriage
The steel and rubber tracks on a machine drive its movement. Without them, the machine can’t move, which tends to hamper production. Typically, rubber-tracked equipment is used on soft ground such as dirt, while steel-tracked machines are usually used for harsher terrain like rocky earth.
The undercarriages of machines such as backhoes, bulldozers, and excavators see a lot of dirt and debris. Despite being so close to the ground, they are frequently an afterthought in equipment care. Despite being an often-forgotten component, a machine’s undercarriage is vitally important.
The undercarriage of a dozer accounts for about 20 percent of the purchase price and 50 percent of the maintenance cost of major equipment. No matter the business, heavy equipment is an investment that deserves protection.
The advantages of good undercarriage care matter across industries that use big machines, and those industries vary. A few of them are:
Maintenance of and general attention to the undercarriage can save money mainly by extending machine life, preventing downtime and increasing efficiency.
Tips for Better Undercarriage Care
1. Inspect the Underbelly
Most experts recommend setting up a routine for checking the undercarriage and tracks. This should be done after each use if possible but at least once daily. Ideally, a machine should be inspected at the end of the day when work is finished so it’s ready for the next morning and so debris in the track and undercarriage don’t have a chance to harden and/or freeze overnight.
Many people with good intentions plan for morning inspections, but they come with another possible disadvantage — the natural chaos of mornings. If someone runs late or it’s a surprisingly busy morning, the tasks are likely not going to happen.
Plan to check and/or service all parts of the undercarriage and track, including:
- Drive motor
- Idlers and rollers
- Nuts, screws
- Oil lines
- Rock guards
- Water Lines
Inspect the track to see if it has missing rubber, exposed cables or wearing, which are all signals it could be time to order a new one. Another sign it might be time for a new track is when links underneath the track are missing. A loader or other equipment will still run when one or both tracks are missing a few links, but the track may slip and the overall performance will suffer.
Keep an eye out for cracks in any part of the track, wheels or other parts of the undercarriage, as well as missing, broken or loose parts and uneven wear.
With a little ingenuity on the job site or at the shop, you can devise a place and plan to make undercarriage inspection easier. Maybe the equipment could be lifted or driven onto a grate or over some kind of trench. There are also boom and lift trucks, riggings, cranes, forklifts, container handlers and other types of heavy equipment that can get the tracks and undercarriage off the ground for thorough inspection.
Some owners will look for a piece of well-used equipment just for lifting other equipment, but they have peace of mind knowing the money spent on the one-time purchase will pay off in problem avoidance.
The undercarriage inspection is essential to revealing other issues before they become big problems. You will notice an oil or other fluid leak and are more likely to find loose parts or other potential issues before they become big problems.
2. Clean the Undercarriage and Tracks
Along with daily inspections comes the duty of keeping the undercarriage clean. A shovel, stiff brush or rod helps remove the large, hard chunks of materials such as concrete, rocks, dirt, minerals, wood and other debris. A quality power washer is another tool that essentially clears dirt and buildup from all the cracks and crevices on the underside of a machine.
Chunks of stuff in a steel or rubber track or the undercarriage affect the equipment’s performance and cause excess wear and tear, plus these elements can inflict damage or even disconnect the track. Job sites subject the machines to an array of materials, from rock and mud to trash and gooey messes, all of which should be cleaned to keep the machine running well.
When such things lodge in the complex workings of the track and then get packed in to freeze, harden and otherwise set, the objects can loosen bolts through rubbing and cause rollers to seize and stop. Objects and debris left in the tracks can come out where they’re not wanted and damage parts within the track and its frame.
Lodged objects or excess build-up can cause the machine to perform imprecisely, which is bad on any job but downright dangerous in some environments, such as natural gas or mining. Rocks, caked mud and other unwanted debris stuck in the tracks and undercarriage of a machine also add weight, which makes it harder for the machine to move and reduces fuel economy.
The debris adds friction to the operations, too, which causes excess wear and tear on the equipment as well as premature aging.
3. Know Optimum Operation
How equipment is operated can make a difference in preserving and protecting the undercarriage. For example, a lot of operation on slopes causes more wear and tear than operation on a flat surface. Mushy, muddy, rocky and other kinds of environments each have their challenges from dust and heat to large objects and freeze-packed debris in the track.
Extended operation on abrasive surfaces such as asphalt, concrete or loose rocks will beat up tracks. Operators should be trained how to on make wide, easy turns instead of small, sharp movements. The shoes on a machine make a difference to the tracks. For example, a small shoe would normally be used on hard ground so it can dig in better, while softer ground would call for a larger shoe that spreads the pressure over a greater area.
Avoid operating the equipment excessively or repeatedly on one side or the other because such repetitive motion wears down the track tread, roller flanges, guide lugs and sprocket teeth quickly. The preferred method is to alternate the work movements evenly between the sides.
Achieve techniques for digging, loading and other movements that do not spin the tracks. Spinning expedites wear, and, in some cases, can cause cut tracks. Train operators to mention any difficulty with braking, steering and driving — those can indicate a problem with the undercarriage or track.
On a slope, position the dozer or other equipment straight up and down rather than having it situated sideways on the slope so that all the weight of the machine rests on one side and track. When an operator approaches a slope head-on rather than parking on its side to work, it more evenly distributes the load and avoids excess wear and tear.
Minimize or limit motions in reverse or high speeds. Many types of equipment include those options but are not made to operate excessively in either gear.
4. Check and/or Change High-Wear Parts
The undercarriage of each machine may differ, but, typically, a piece of equipment with a rubber or steel track will have a number of parts that sustain high wear and should be checked routinely: the sprockets, bottom rollers and front and rear idler. It isn’t a bad idea to check them daily, too, but at least make sure they are checked at regular intervals and changed when they appear worn.
Sprockets tend to deteriorate the fastest, so keeping a close eye on them helps you see when to change them. Each idler tooth should have a rounded shape to it, and, if an inspection reveals some teeth that look misshapen, pointed or hooked, it’s probably time to replace the sprockets.
Many experienced equipment technicians and managers will automatically change the sprockets when replacing the track. That preventative action avoids the common scenario of worn sprockets damaging or throwing off the track’s drive links.
The idler and rollers on a track are sealed and lubricated. It is a problem to see any signs of leakage such as drips or other evidence of fluid because an unchecked leak will cause the bearings to fail and then the roller or idler can seize. The lubricant cools some of the machine’s moving parts, so a loss of fluid is likely to cause overheating.
5. Grease Bushings and Other Parts
A well-oiled undercarriage works in favor of cleanliness by pushing dirt out. Oil within the bushings literally enables smoother operation and makes less room for debris to enter the system.
The machine manual or a professional technician can help find the grease points on your particular machines for recommended daily lubrication. Grease fittings accept lubrication more easily after use when equipment is warm than before use when it’s cold.
6. Tune the Tension
The tension of the track is another key to a healthy undercarriage and must be neither too tight nor too loose. Technically, the tension should be set to the factory specifications in the manual, but most experts acknowledge that a slightly looser tension is sometimes used for soft ground.
Tension too tight can blow out bushings, but tension too slack will cause slippage and may even cause the track to detach. Proper adjustment of the tension also puts the equipment at maximum capacity and operating power.
7. Commit to Regular Maintenance
A well-tuned machine creates efficiency and enables operators to do quality, precision work. Consider the big picture while paying close attention to the big three of tracked-equipment maintenance:
- Tension adjustment
Those are important, but any machine has many more parts that need attention not only on the undercarriage but in the cab, middle and within the bottom and track. Regular maintenance and service, as well as needed repairs, are not an added expense but a protection of your investment. Safeguard against accidents and job-site delays. Most of a machine’s elements are essential to its operation:
- Air filters
- Electrical components
All regularly scheduled maintenance works toward the same goal to reduce downtime, idle personnel, delays on job progress and repair costs, as well as increase safety. Daily inspections, regular oil and filter changes, hydraulic checkups and parts replacements all contribute to smooth-running machines and fewer unpleasant surprises.
8. Train All Operators
Experts advise that equipment owners and managers train basically everyone who operates the machines regularly or occasionally. If everyone knows how to inspect and clean, it will be easier to achieve best practices.
Some companies implement programs, be they incentives or hard rules, to encourage the regularly scheduled maintenance. Operators typically appreciate learning something more about the machines and, as a result, tend to take better care of them.
One thing to emphasize during training is for operators to alert the equipment manager whenever they see any service light or hear an abnormal noise. Their contact with the machine can be used as a tool to find and fix small issues before they become big problems.
9. Track the Track, Undercarriage Parts
Good maintenance records can not only help ensure quality operation, they can also help predict when the track and other components might be due for replacement. Tracking takes a bit of record-keeping but can pay off in the data it yields about the life of undercarriage parts and how the various track treads perform.
10. Partner with Professionals
Prime Source offers a full range of services to keep all kinds of tracked and wheeled heavy equipment running at its best. Our expert professionals can help with parts, maintenance, service, repair, equipment sales, specialty welding projects and consultations on everything from the everyday basics to the complex, hard-to-solve issues.
Find Professionals for Your Undercarriage Needs
Multiple locations throughout North Carolina, an extensive inventory and a worldwide network of suppliers enable us to quickly get what clients need. Prime Source serves many clients in the construction industry, so we know a lot about the brutal beating undercarriages and tracks take in that and other work environments.
We can help with worn tracks, broken chains, bad sprockets and unknown problems — with real-time solutions to maintenance scheduling and challenges. It’s part of our mission to help clients achieve their goals and create benefits for their business. Don’t hesitate to let us know what you need to keep your machines running well from top to bottom. Contact us today for help with your machinery’s undercarriage maintenance.