Ten Tips for Extended Undercarriage Life
It’s pretty common knowledge that though an undercarriage roughly makes up 20-percent of the equipment price, maintaining that undercarriage will likely command more than 50-percent of the overall maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise when thinking about the burden an undercarriage must endure. It’s charged with engaging the most extreme environments on a daily basis, all the while supporting tons of weight and handling the forces that come with digging, lifting, dozing and any number of other high-impact tasks.
Though today’s best undercarriages are designed and built to better handle abuse, wear is inevitable. That being said, there are several simple maintenance tips one can employ to maximize undercarriage life, achieve greater day-to-day productivity and inevitably save thousands of dollars in maintenance costs.
1.Keep It Clean
The first and most straightforward maintenance tip is to keep your undercarriage clean. Excess dirt, dust and debris are commonplace on any jobsite, and all can accelerate wear when stuck in an undercarriage. Simply remove obvious chunks of debris during the workday, and use a pressure washer and/or shovel to clean out the rest at the end of the day.
2.On the Lookout for Loose
It’s obvious that loose or missing parts will lead to excessive wear or, worse yet, potential undercarriage failure in the field. Even so, every day there are operators ignoring missing bolts or track segments that shift underfoot when hopping out of an excavator’s cab. The best practice is to conduct a daily quick inspection before firing up the machine, looking for anything out of the ordinary. The tougher the environment, the more frequently you should inspect. It doesn’t take long to tighten a loose bolt, but the same can’t be said for a machine that needs field service because the track has fallen apart.
Undercarriages are designed with a distinct front of the track (where the idler is) and a distinct back (the sprocket). Sprockets aren’t designed to handle the brunt of machine travel. Whenever traveling in reverse, wear is increased to the sprocket specifically and undercarriage components overall. Therefore, travel forward as much as possible, leading with the idler that is best designed for that movement and stress.
Speaking of the idler, it’s worth repeating that this component is designed for excess stress. So make sure to concentrate any working or digging over the idler side of the machine. With an excavator, for instance, that means digging out over the front of the machine. Any time an operator is digging out over the sides of the machine, component wear is increased.
5.If the Shoe Fits, You Won’t Wear It
The shoes of a quality undercarriage are meticulously designed for the trailing edge of the back portion of the shoe to fit perfectly with the leading edge of the following shoe – thereby supporting each other during operation. So keep an eye out for any bends or dings where the shoes interlock. If a shoe is bent, over time it will result in bending the adjoining shoe, which leads to bending the next shoe, and so on. It’s a vicious domino effect that can be avoided when taking care of the problem early.
Incorrect track tension will lead to increased track wear, so it’s important to make sure the tension is properly set. What’s the right tension? It depends largely on the application. As a general rule, when working in softer material, the tracks should be more loose. But make sure not to be too loose on rough, hard surfaces or it’s possible to de-track the machine, which will make for a very bad day. The best route for finding proper track tension is to refer to your machine’s operating manual. The information you find here will be specifically geared to the machine as a whole, taking into account overall weight, machine power, capabilities, etc.
7.Seek For Leaks
Going hand-in-hand with keeping the machine clean and conducting daily inspections, spotting an oil leak is not something to be taken lightly. This can indicate a failed seal, which could lead to a major failure in the rollers, idlers or track drive. In the event of a leak, make sure to get the offending part serviced immediately. While looking at the final drive for leaks, inspect the sprocket for tooth wear and make sure all bolts are present and tight.
8.A Turn for the Better
With standard undercarriage designs, the same side/surface of the bushings connect with the sprocket every time as the track revolves. Over time, as regular friction occurs between the sprocket and bushings, it results in one-sided wear of the bushings and pins. Therefore, a maintenance staple of undercarriages over the years has been to “turn” the bushings and pins to extend wear life. This means rotating the bushings 180-degrees to provide a fresh surface area, and flipping the pins end-to-end. Since this is not your typical field service routine, it’s a much more expensive maintenance activity, and, thus, it’s not always viewed as cost effective with smaller, less expensive tracked vehicles.
If you want to avoid this problem altogether, consider Berco’s Robustus track system that features rotating bushings, so the sprocket engages the bushing surfaces in an even fashion. Because there’s even wear on all sides of the bushings, there’s no need to “turn” the pins or bushings throughout the entire life of the undercarriage.
9.Don’t Be a Job site Potato
Even idle equipment needs some exercise from time to time. If you have a machine that will be stored for a long period, it’s important to exercise the tracks every two or three months as pins have a tendency to seize when stuck in one position under the excessive weight of the machine. Simply fire up the vehicle and drive forward and back for a few minutes before moving back to storage.
10.Buying Cheap Will Cost You
This is not necessarily a “maintenance tip”, but it’s important to not choose an undercarriage based solely on price. Though you may save money in the short term, it’s the total cost of ownership you should consider first and foremost. That doesn’t mean you need to buy the most expensive undercarriage either. Just make sure to investigate how the product was made, the quality of materials used, and the process employed to form those components.
A quality undercarriage should be designed and built from the ground up, with every component to fit perfectly with adjacent components and the system overall. On the other hand, there are undercarriages on the market that are not so much a designed system, but rather an assemblage of pre-manufactured parts. It may save you money and basically get the job done, but you’ll have to be much more diligent about watching wear and replacing parts on a more regular basis to avoid a dreaded breakdown in the field. In the end, you’ll spend more time and money on maintenance – and service headaches – than you will save on going the cheaper route.