Heavy Equipment Maintenance Tips for Earthmoving Season

Keep your earthmoving fleet in top condition with these tips on everything from daily inspections to lubrication and cleaning.

In earthmoving season, earthmoving equipment is in constant use. To avoid downtime that delays projects, and to maximize the lifespan of the machines, heavy equipment maintenance is a must. Follow these tips to do it right.

Conduct regular inspections

Regular inspection is the most important step you can take to keep your heavy equipment in good working order.

  • Visually inspect equipment daily, preferably at the beginning of the first shift. This includes inspecting the heavy equipment undercarriage. If maintenance issues are discovered, the equipment can potentially be repaired before the next workday, keeping the project on schedule.
  • Schedule routine mechanical inspections so that wear and tear issues can be addressed before repairs are needed. Check seals and ensure that moving parts are functioning and well lubricated.

Pay attention to heavy equipment grease and lubrication

Sometimes it's the simplest tasks that get overlooked, like greasing and lubricating heavy equipment such as excavators and skid steers on a consistent schedule. Grease and oil protect the equipment from wear and prevent metal-on-metal contact.

Consult the equipment manual to find out what types of grease and oil are best for the machine, where to apply them and how often. Regular equipment lubrication and greasing helps machines work more efficiency and minimizes wear and tear by reducing friction and torque.

Grease vs. oil

Don't confuse greasing with lubricating a machine with oil. Grease performs the same function as oil, but it’s thicker and lasts longer, so it's the better choice for hard-to-reach areas inside machinery. Grease is critical for wheel bearings and components that move vertically or carry heavy loads. Oil is the better choice for components that subject to intense friction and for high-speed applications.

Grease is also more effective for leakage control, and it provides exceptional seals against contaminants and debris. It can catch dust and debris before it reaches critical components.

Choose the right grease for the conditions

Consider the worksite conditions when choosing a grease. For example, in a wet environment, the grease needs to protect the equipment from rust. During heavy operations like earthmoving or drilling, the extreme pressure on parts requires additives that will protect the machine if the grease is "squeezed out."

Take a seasonal approach to choosing grease. Cold weather requires a grease with lighter viscosity.

Avoid over-greasing and under-greasing

Machines should be greased at least as often as the manufacturer's instructions suggest, but experienced operators and mechanics tend to grease machines much more frequently. Depending on the use and conditions, the machinery may need greasing every day or even several times a day.

Over-greasing and under-greasing can cause big problems, so talk to someone with expertise in this area for guidance. If you apply too much grease, seals and motor windings could suffer damage. Fluid friction can also occur, leading to overheating and higher energy use. Apply too little grease and the resulting friction on bearings could lead to above-average wear and contamination.

Know your grease points

To make greasing easier and eliminate guesswork, use lube tags to mark grease points, and choose the right greasing machine or a grease gun with the correct attachment to get to hard-to-reach spots. Install meters on grease guns to measure how much grease is used at each point, and keep that information for future reference.

Clean the equipment after each use

Moving earth is a messy job. Remove caked-on soil and debris from moving parts and exposed shafts at the end of each workday. This will improve efficiency, prolong the lifespan and increase safety.

Maintain heavy equipment undercarriage

Worksites can take a toll on heavy equipment if you don't make daily undercarriage maintenance a priority.

Perform a pre-shift inspection

Pre-shift, inspect the undercarriage components for signs of excessive wear or missing parts. Look ahead at the day's activities and decide whether the current track tension is appropriate. For example, if the machine will be working on loose or muddy ground, the tension should be loosened. Operating with the tracking too tight or too loose can shorten the life of the undercarriage. Also consider whether the shoe width is adequate for the day's terrain.

Clean the undercarriage at the end of the day

The undercarriage accounts for 20% of a machine's upfront cost but 50% of repair bills, so it literally pays off to take care of it. If the undercarriage is left dirty, the debris will begin to wear on the parts, particularly in freezing weather, when mud hardens and can interfere with the track's guides and rollers. Depending on how much mud the jobsite contains, the best way to clean heavy equipment undercarriage may be with a hose or a shovel.

Use the equipment as the manufacturer intended

Don’t run it on rough asphalt or any other surface that can damage the tracks. Don't make sharp turns, which can de-track the machine and increase wear and tear. Refer to the owner’s manual for specific recommendations relevant to your machine.

Educate employees on equipment maintenance

Create a culture that prioritizes equipment care, and offer regular heavy equipment training. You’ll rely less on a mechanic to perform simple maintenance tasks, including cleaning debris from equipment. And by making these tasks a team effort, you'll increase efficiency and prolong the life of your equipment.

Consider taking these extra steps to create a sense of ownership, reduce maintenance needs and prevent equipment failures:

Pair operators with equipment

Assign operators to specific pieces of heavy equipment, and check in frequently about the status of that equipment. Employees assigned to a machine know it best, and they'll know when something changes about the way it operates.

Create a gap role

A worker who can bridge the gap between operators and mechanics is valuable. They can sort out maintenance priorities, freeing up the mechanic for more important tasks. If they can troubleshoot easy repairs without involving a mechanic, even better.

Heavy equipment experiences a lot of wear during earthmoving season. Keep it in the game longer by conducting inspections and performing preventative maintenance on a regular basis. Good maintenance practices increase uptime and equipment performance, helping you complete projects on schedule and reduce repair costs.

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