Heat stress isn’t just for workers.
Summer heat is physically stressful not just for construction workers but for equipment, too. Scorching temperatures, coupled with longer work days, increase the wear and tear on critical parts. Just as it’s essential to keep employees hydrated and enforce breaks, it’s important to follow some best practices to help keep your excavators, trucks and loaders running smoothly.
Daily maintenance tips
Treat your equipment to a daily inspection and look for these issues in particular.
Coolant and oil: In summer, engines get hot and thirsty. Your daily maintenance checks should ensure the machine has the proper coolant level, coolant/water ratio and oil levels recommended by the manufacturer. Radiators must run totally full to prevent oxygen from entering the cooling system.
Grease: Hot temperatures reduce the adhesive properties of grease, so use thicker grease. Consult the manual to find out what type of grease is best for the machine, where to grease and how often. Keep in mind that grease can get “squeezed out” during heavy operations like earthmoving or drilling. When dust and silt mix with grease, it increases wear and tear on the equipment, so clean your equipment regularly.
Belts and hoses: Discolored hoses and loose belts offer the first hint of overheating, so take a glance.
Hydraulic system and air filters: As you walk around the equipment, check for signs of possible hydraulic leaks, excess oil and grease, leaks around seals and loose bolts. Also give the air filters a once-over.
Tires: Hot conditions weaken tires and can cause a blowout. Check tire pressure regularly. Tire pressure increases with the temperature, which can lead to over-inflation. On the flip side, an underinflated tire heats up quickly.
Brakes: Check them. Steamy summers can cause the loss of brake friction because the brake components cannot absorb the additional heat.
Cooling system: Summer working conditions require maximum airflow through the oil cooler. Check that the radiators and inlets and outlets of the cooling system are free of debris. Accumulated dust that cakes can clog the cooling system, so use compressed air daily to clean it.
Scheduled maintenance tips
Keeping your equipment running requires an organized approach that emphasizes operating life and safety. Along with conducting a daily inspection, set a schedule for a deeper maintenance routine. Whether working with excavators, wheeled loaders or skid steer loaders, your scheduled maintenance routine should cover:
- Hydraulic oil level
- Engine oil level
- Transmission oil
- Radiator coolant
- Tire treads
- Fan belt tension and wear
- Track tension
- Fuel pre-filter
- Drive shaft
- Protective shields and roll cages
- Attachments and attachment points
- Swing gear
- Air filters
- Safety locks3
Make sure the coolant matches the manufacturer’s specifications. Older equipment may use a silica-based coolant. Newer equipment usually includes a tag near the coolant filler that indicates the use of an organic acid technology (OAT) coolant. Anti-freeze used in summer must have a higher boiling point to prevent cooling water from boiling.
Clean and check seals, filters and breathers, since dry, windy summer days can push dust and contaminants into equipment systems. Check the transmission, pistons, bearings and major assemblies for signs of wear or lubricant build-up.
Many times, manufacturers specify the replacement of parts at certain intervals for equipment used in hot environments. Use software calendaring tools to schedule your maintenance, and use a log to document part replacements5 as well as lubrication and repairs.
Give the machines a break
Straining the engine by making the machine do what it wasn’t intended to is an even worse idea in summer. Don’t push a machine to handle terrain or a load it isn’t meant to handle or use an attachment or accessory that’s not designed for it.
Along hot temperatures, summer also ushers in higher humidity. Leaving equipment outside in humid conditions for an extended time allows moisture to accumulate, which can lead to rust and corrosion. Direct sun can harm electronics, exposed rubber parts and plastic assemblies. When possible, store your equipment in a dry, sheltered location. Use tarps as a temporary cover when you can’t.
John Ross has written about industrial, automotive and consumer technologies for 17 years.