Optimize Ride-on Trencher Performance

Sept. 28, 2010

Optimizing ride-on trencher performance is important since it can help increase the number of jobs you complete each day. This means you should be able to bid more jobs each year, increase your overall revenue and add to the bottom line.

It starts before you set foot on the job. To determine the most efficient setup for any job, ask these questions before starting:

Optimizing ride-on trencher performance is important since it can help increase the number of jobs you complete each day. This means you should be able to bid more jobs each year, increase your overall revenue and add to the bottom line.

It starts before you set foot on the job. To determine the most efficient setup for any job, ask these questions before starting:

  • What type and size of product are you installing?
  • How many feet of product are you installing?
  • What depth of cover is necessary?
  • What are the restoration requirements? That is, is it a new development or existing manicured yards?

Answering these questions will help you find productive and cost-effective equipment for product installation. You may also want to research the proper installation requirements of different utilities since these vary in each city and state.

Efficient Trencher Operation

Several factors affect operation efficiency. Trencher productivity diminishes if the chain setup and base plates are wider than the tips of the cutter pattern. Productivity is further reduced by running the digging-chain speed too fast in tougher digging conditions. By slowing the chain speed, you increase the torque required in tough situations. If operating in sticky clay or gumbo-type conditions, increase chain speed to help remove clay from the cutting teeth and improve productivity.

The recommended chain type varies based on ground conditions. For instance, in sand, loam or sandy clay, a full-cup cutter setup is suggested. However, in wet clay conditions, you may want to use a partial cup. In compacted ground or frost, your best chain setup would likely be a tiger, shark or full rotary bit setup, or a rotary combo. For rock, the full rotary bit setup is usually recommended.

By selecting the proper chain, you can help increase productivity with the ability to remove more cubic feet of spoil per minute and produce a clean trench. Additionally, you have the benefit of decreasing maintenance costs by reducing premature cutter wear, decreasing shock loads to the trencher and extending the life of the digger chain.

Trench depth is dictated by the amount of ground cover required for the type of product you're installing, along with the amount of bedding required beneath the product. The width is determined by the size of the product you're installing.

For optimal efficiency, remember these daily maintenance rules:

  • Inspect the cutting setup and replace broken or worn teeth or cups.
  • Refer to the operator's manual for trencher chain tensioning guidelines.
  • Maintain the grease schedule according to the manufacturer's instructions, if you have a greaseable end-idler.
  • Check for end-idler tightness and trench cleaner positioning, as well as areas specifically mentioned in the equipment manufacturer's instructions.
Efficient Rockwheel Operation

Rockwheels are becoming more popular in areas where rock formations are prevalent. While they are the preferred attachment in these situations, contractors may not be achieving optimal performance if the wheel is not set up and operated properly.

If running the rockwheel too fast, you are not getting the optimum torque required for the most efficient cutting in rock. Cutter patterns are critical for optimum productivity, while the number of teeth in the cutter pattern depends on the type of rock or concrete you're cutting. Choose the correct carbide size for better rock penetration.

In more solid rock, it's generally more productive to use a shorter gauge tooth and more teeth. Cobble, or small-to-large rocks, found in compressed soil conditions generally get the best productivity with a longer gauge tooth and less teeth to help pull the cobble out of the trench.

Widths and depths are dictated by the product being installed and how much cover is needed. If contractors have more jobs in tougher conditions and the requirements are deeper and wider, a larger unit may be justified. If they have easier digging conditions and shallower product requirements, they may want to have a smaller unit and rent a larger unit as needed.

Another consideration to reduce teeth wear and breakage from additional vibration is to use foam-filled tires. This adds weight low to the ground and reduces the bounce and creasing of air or fluid-filled tires.

Operators need to follow a few daily maintenance rules to achieve optimal efficiency:

  • Replace pockets if they're broken or worn where the tooth will not have the correct cutting angle for maximum production.
  • Replace missing pockets for even tooth wear.
  • Check all hardware for loose or missing bolts around the motor area. Make sure you replace the bolts with the appropriate hardened bolt.
  • Refer to the equipment manufacturer's manual for specific information about the rockwheel attachment.
Efficient Plow Operation

Plowing is one of the most effective installation methods in ground conditions without rock. To maximize operation efficiency, keep the following considerations in mind.

You may be losing productivity while plowing if you are running the shaker too fast. The shaker box only needs to shake fast enough to loosen the ground. If you're carrying the plow, or not operating the plow in the float position and using too much down pressure, you can create excess vibration in the tractor. On units with an adjustable pull arm feature, proper blade angle and using a toe — a piece of steel on the bottom tip of the plow blade that helps keep the blade in the ground to break up soil — will help reduce these scenarios.

You also increase productivity when you use the proper blade length and width. There are water blade options that can dramatically increase productivity in certain conditions.

Plowing is one of the most cost-effective methods of product installation where conditions and/or product size allow. When feeding product with a direct burial chute, you can plow in up to 2-inch product if the tractor is sized properly for the conditions and horsepower requirements. With a pull-style bullet on the bottom leading tip of the plow blade, you can pull in up to 4-inch product with a larger utility tractor if ground conditions allow.

For optimal efficiency, follow daily maintenance rules:

  • Use proper toe size and angle for the ground conditions.
  • Hard surface the leading edges.
  • Check rubber isolators and replace as needed to save vibration and wear-and-tear on the tractor.
  • Check and maintain proper oil level.
  • Inspect bushings, bearings, pins, attaching and pivot points, and all cylinder seals.
  • Keep your blade sharp.
  • Refer to the equipment manufacturer's manual for specific information for your plow model.
Matching the Right Tractor/Horsepower

Once you've decided which attachment is best suited to the ground conditions and product to be installed, select the right tractor to get the most out of the trencher, rockwheel or plow attachment.

When you're installing larger product with significant depth requirements, larger tractors with more horsepower and deeper digging capabilities are ideal. Since physical size is an issue, particularly in new housing developments, most equipment manufacturers are working to optimize the horsepower and hydraulic systems in the smallest footprint to provide the mobility customers require in tight spaces, while providing the most power to perform the jobs.

The engine can drop out of its optimum torque curve when operators don't work the ground drive hard enough, either by not pulling the engine down to the proper torque or by pulling the engine down too far.

Check the operator's manuals for proper guidelines and operating tips to maximize productivity. Generally, a larger unit size and higher horsepower requirements are needed if the job has tougher ground conditions and larger-sized product is being installed.

For optimal efficiency, operators should:

  • Check air cleaner indicator and replace filter as needed.
  • Make sure radiators and oil coolers are clean.
  • Check all fluid levels.
  • Service all grease points.
  • Watch for tire lug wear along with checking all nuts, bolts, sheet metal, pins, and bushings.
  • Refer to the equipment manufacturer's manual for specific tractor model information.

Provided by: Vermeer Corporation, Pella, Iowa

Author Information
Karen Swanson is a technical writer at Two Rivers Marketing Group in Des Moines, Iowa.