Equipment Maintenance Boot Camp

Sept. 28, 2010

One of the most effective ways of improving your bottom line is by making sure that everything you own with an engine or motor is on a scheduled maintenance program.

One of the most effective ways of improving your bottom line is by making sure that everything you own with an engine or motor is on a scheduled maintenance program.

Controlling fuel costs has to be of great concern to everyone in construction. Fuel prices are almost as predictable as the stock market or next year's election results. Since you can't control the cost of the fuel you should exercise every possible effort to control your rate of fuel consumption. The best way to do this is through an equipment maintenance program. If your equipment is operating at its peak level of performance you are getting the best level of fuel consumption it as long as your operators are properly trained and not abusing the equipment; and the equipment is being used in applications for which it has been engineered and designed. This is not to say that there are innovative uses for equipment because there are. Knowing the equipment and how to apply it on the job can result in using a machine effectively in a non traditional application.

Where do you start creating a maintenance program?

The best place is the manufacturer's owner's manual. Every piece of equipment comes with an owner's manual and somewhere in that manual is a detailed maintenance program. Typically these programs tell you what to do and when to do it. They are very specific and detailed. If you did nothing else other than follow the basic maintenance program you'd end up getting the most out of your equipment over its life and you'd be amazed at how much longer that life would be.

To be effective a maintenance program must follow a schedule of inspections and services. For equipment there needs to be a daily pre-start inspection to make certain that the machine is safe and ready to operate. Typical pre-start inspections include a fluid level check — fuel, coolant, engine oil, hydraulic system oil; a visual walk around looking for missing nuts and bolts, damage, broken lights, and the like; ground engaging tool cutting edges. On many of today's machines some of the pre-start checks are done electronically and reported on a system monitor. Even if the piece of equipment is equipped with this type of system the operator should do a walk-around inspection before climbing on the machine.

Doing the inspection isn't enough. It's essential that a record of that inspection be kept in the machine's history file weather it's a physical paper file or an electronic computer file that's part of an equipment management system.

Service intervals

Service intervals can be scheduled based on different things: days, weeks, months, hours, or fuel consumption. Most equipment maintenance systems are based on hours of use. Older machine were usually scheduled on an interval starting at 250 hours. Recently many equipment manufacturers have extended the primary service interval to 500 hours. Always check with your specific equipment manufacturer to find the recommended interval. Almost all machines have hour meters on them; if not, they are relatively inexpensive additions.

One of the more efficient methods of scheduling your maintenance is based on fuel consumption. While hour-based schedules work, fuel consumption is more accurate because the system takes into consideration the how hard a machine is working or not. While a machine idles the fuel consumption is lower. The harder it works the more fuel it consumes. Naturally overall equipment wear accelerates as a machine workload increases.

The advantages of this system are that you are changing oils, filters, belts, hoses, etc. closer to when they need to be changed rather than at an average time. This saves you money and keeps the machine operating more efficiently longer. To illustrate, a machine that's doing light work or sitting and idling could easily go the 250 or 500 hours while a machine that is working at capacity all day might need to be serviced at 200 or 400 hours. While you may spend more on the earlier servicing you will long-term save by not having to replace or overhaul an engine.

Caterpillar has a maintenance program based on the fuel consumption principle so if you're interested you should contact your local Cat dealer for details.

Fluid analysis

One of the greatest maintenance tools to ever hit the market is oil analysis. The science has its origins with jet engines where oil changes were critical. The technology was used extensively by the military before it migrated to the railroad industry and then to the construction market.

An oil sample is taken at a predetermined interval and sent to a lab where it is analyzed. Through sophisticated technology particles found in the oil are classified by type — silica, copper, lead, aluminum, zinc, ethylene glycol, water, etc. — size and volume. These data are analyzed and the condition of the engine from which the sample was taken is evaluated. In order for oil analysis to work it has to be done regularly so that trend lines can be developed and watched. Excess or high amounts of the various trace elements found in the oil sample are indicative of developing conditions. Some indicate wear while others indicate the ingestion of foreign material.

The trace metals can pinpoint the parts that are wearing, such as bearings, rings or the like, while the foreign materials — silica, ethylene, glycol — can point to a leak in the air intake system or a leaky head gasket.

Watching and following the trends can prevent catastrophic failures. If you can schedule an overhaul just in time you save thousands of dollars and can get the overhaul done in less time. Caterpillar has named their program S.O.S. for scheduled oil sampling but the acronym fits so well ...

In addition to engine oil analysis you should analyze your hydraulic oils as well. Coolant analysis is also available and should be used on a regular basis. These are tools that will help you extend your equipment life and increase the trade-in or resale value of your equipment.

Other tools

Twenty-five years ago you were pretty much dependent on manual record keeping and scheduling to manage your maintenance programs. Today there are numerous computer maintenance programs that make the job of managing maintenance a lot easier. Some of the programs are very sophisticated and able to track what you need to know to get the most out of your equipment. Several equipment manufacturers have developed excellent software programs that they make available through their dealers. Caterpillar, for example, has Equipment Manager which can be used to manage your entire equipment fleet and Product Link which provides two-way communications between your equipment and the dealer.

HCSS has launched an integrated GPS feature that significantly expands the capabilities of its resource management software, The Dispatcher ™. Managers can now make better decisions based on accurate information from the field, helping them utilize equipment more efficiently, lower fuel costs, reduce cycle times, minimize theft, and identify underutilized rentals.

The Dispatcher Resource Management Software is designed to replace traditional magnet and dry-erase boards with an easy-to-use, graphics-oriented program that works similarly, but has far greater capabilities. In addition to viewing all jobs and resources on a visual screen, resources can be scheduled and viewed on a bar chart and plotted on a map using Microsoft's MapPoint™ mapping program. The Dispatcher also is integrated with HeavyBid® Estimating and HeavyJob® Field Management Software.

Qualcomm's GlobalTRACS system automatically monitors equipment usage, location and critical health data and converts the data into actionable information —providing you with the knowledge you need to proactively manage your equipment. This knowledge is your key to maximizing equipment utilization, enhancing productivity, reducing costs, decreasing risk of loss from theft and unauthorized use, and increasing profitability. In addition, the GlobalTRACS system can also be integrated into back-office systems to further improve productivity and streamline processes. It features detailed engine hours, GPS-based location, user-defined management and maintenance reports, multiple maintenance profiles and notifications, virtual and curfew fence security, and definable engine-start curfews, critical machine-health monitoring, easy back-office software integration, reliable message delivery and more. (See Maintenance Products for more information.)

Climax Portable Machine Tools provides in-field service for major equipment repairs. Its portable tools include portable boring machines, AutoBoreWelders, flange facers, key mills, three-axis mills, lathes, and a number of other tools available for sales and rental throughout the globe. All are American made, refined over generations of real-world experience with, and input from, U.S. construction companies. Because of their ingeniously compact dimensions, Climax tools can be operated in exceptionally tight, cramped or remote locations. The BB5000, for example, is a compact, flexible, high-performance boring machine that sets up in 30 minutes. Climax AutoBoreWelders can bore and weld simultaneously with a single setup, with outstanding control and precision, further decreasing repair times and improving productivity. The system has been adopted extensively for maintenance and repair on major construction equipment such as tractors and earthmovers. (See Maintenance Products for more information.)

Sweat the small stuff

Too often contractors will develop and implement great maintenance programs for their major pieces of equipment and forget the small stuff. Your maintenance program needs to include not only your trucks, from pickups to equipment haulers and/or dumps, but also your support equipment.

For example, there's nothing worse than to be on a job where you're faced with removing a gallons of water and your pumps won't work. When the pumping stops so does production. You can avoid this with a preventive maintenance program.

In construction operations, water can be your worst enemy. With high heads weighing heavily on pump shafts at great depths, sand- and silt-laden groundwater eating away at wear parts and large solids threatening to ruin impellers, there are any number of issues that could bring pumping to a halt. When pumping stops, so does production. Whatever type of centrifugal pump you use, the precautions and preventive maintenance plans for aggregate dewatering pumps are relatively similar.

In the current issue of Midwest Contractor there is an excellent article on pump maintenance, "Stop Water From Drying Up Your Operations," by Stephanie Morgan, a technical writer at Godwin pumps. For details check the Online Table Of Contents Page in this issue, page 5.

In the current issue of Dixie Contractor there is an article on portable generator sizing, selection and maintenance by Eric Morse, a technical writer for Two Rivers Marketing for Ingersoll Rand. For details check the Online Table Of Contents Page in this issue, page 5.

A lot of smaller tools are expected to run whenever you need them to. All too often when you're ready to use them you find yourself pulling the starter rope over and over and over and ... Has this ever happened to you? Again, an ounce of prevention ...

In Construction Digest you'll find an article that gives you some "Easy Steps to Maintain Concrete Walk-Behind Trowels." For details check the Online Table Of Contents Page in this issue, page 5.

You can't control fuel prices but you can, to some degree, control fuel consumption through a good maintenance program and this will reduce not only your fuel cost but also your overall operating cost.