Whether your construction machine travels on steel or rubber tracks, its undercarriage components take a beating. You can’t prevent them from wearing out all together, but there are ways to slow the process. One of the most important things you can do is improve operating technique.
PROTECTING STEEL TRACKS
Steel tracks are designed to perform in tough underfoot conditions, but long hours in wet, muddy, slippery, rocky or abrasive materials can translate into rapid wear and high repair costs. Take these steps to maximize service life and drive down operating costs.
- Start every shift with a clean undercarriage. When mud and debris build up on the lower part of your machine, components wear at a faster rate. So don’t begin work until the undercarriage area is clean. If a cleanup didn’t happen at the end of the previous shift, take a few minutes to get the job done before you go to work. And if you’re operating in very cohesive or abrasive materials like mud or clay, you may need to clean the undercarriage more than once during a shift.
- Inspect the undercarriage before you start working. In addition to ensuring that the undercarriage is clean, spend a couple of minutes on a visual inspection. Check for loose bolts, leaky seals and abnormal wear patterns. When you spot potential problems early, you can often prevent them from turning into bigger issues that reduce component life significantly or cause unscheduled downtime.
- Don’t spin the tracks. Track spinning delivers several hits to the bottom line. It reduces production, so your revenue potential declines. It increases fuel consumption, without a corresponding increase in productivity. And it accelerates undercarriage wear, so your costs escalate. Grouser bars are especially prone to wear problems associated with track slippage.
- Watch your speed. There are times when a job requires higher speed operation, but the fact is, wear accelerates as speed increases. Links, rollers and idlers are particularly vulnerable. Keep them working longer by controlling your speed.
- Avoid unnecessary reverse operation. Operating in reverse—even at slow speeds—compounds bushing and sprocket wear. So don’t run in reverse unless you have to. Again, avoid unproductive reverse operation.
- Alternate turning directions. If you’re always turning in the same direction, the undercarriage components on one side of the machine will wear at a different rate than those on the other side. More specifically, turning left all the time accelerates wear on the right side and vice versa. To ensure even wear, pay attention to the way you’re turning—and change directions whenever possible.
EXTENDING RUBBER TRACK LIFE
Most of the operating tips that help extend the life of steel tracks can also have a positive impact on rubber undercarriage components. It’s always good to begin each shift with clean undercarriage and a quick visual inspection. It’s also helpful to avoid track spinning, excessive speed, unnecessary reverse operation and constant turning in the same direction. There are several other ways operators can prevent premature wear of rubber undercarriage components, particularly those found on multi-terrain loaders.
- Make gradual turns instead of counter-rotations. Counter-rotating a multi-terrain loader accelerates wear on the tracks and other undercarriage components. Don’t use that technique unless job conditions demand it. Instead, turn the machine gradually while slowly moving forward or reverse. Gradual turns minimize cuts, tears and excessive wear in the undercarriage. They also reduce damage to soft or sensitive work surfaces.
- Work up or down a slope whenever possible. Working across a slope can shorten undercarriage component life, so try to structure the job with minimal cross-slope activity.
- Watch transition areas. A transition is any place where you encounter a change in slope or elevation. It could be a curb, a ledge or a spot where a level surface turns into a sloped one. Try to minimize travel over transitions as this accelerates undercarriage wear. If you must go across a transition, position the machine 90° to the transition. Avoid working along a transition where one track is not fully supported by the ground. Without ground support, the undercarriage is subjected to side stresses that can result in rapid, excessive wear.
- Backdrag with loader arms in the FLOAT position. Some skid steer operators like to apply enough down force on the loader to raise the front tires off the ground, maximizing down pressure on the bucket when backdragging. Don’t use this technique with a multi terrain loader. You’ll just lose traction and reduce undercarriage component life. Instead, keep the loader arms in the FLOAT position while backdragging. If more pressure is needed, add enough to smooth the surface, but not so much that the front of the machine is lifted off the ground.
THINK OUTSIDE THE CAB
Although improving operating technique is an excellent way to prevent premature undercarriage wear, several other factors that don’t involve the operator also affect component life. Some are within your control, but others are not.
- Application refers to the type of work you do. Dozing, ripping, loading, grading, digging and trenching are a few examples. This factor is largely beyond your control, but generally speaking, the more you work in high-horsepower, high-torque applications, the faster your undercarriage will wear.
- Material type is another key contributor to undercarriage wear that is outside your control. The rule of thumb, as you might expect, is the more abrasive the material, the more rapid the wear rate.
- Terrain, a third uncontrollable factor, describes the contours and slopes at your job site. The more time you spend in rugged, sloped areas, the faster your undercarriage will wear out.
- Configuration refers to the way your machine is equipped and is therefore something you can control. To minimize undercarriage wear on steel-track machines, always use the narrowest track shoe possible that meets your flotation requirements. If you work in very sticky materials, consider using center-punched track shoes to reduce material packing in the undercarriage area. To further limit material packing and debris buildup, use roller guards only when necessary. (They’re designed for high-impact underfoot conditions.)
- Maintenance discipline plays a big role in undercarriage component life. One of the most critical maintenance practices is track adjustment. Tight track is the number-one “track killer.” But whether your track is too loose or too tight, improper adjustment accelerates wear which can increase downtime and repair costs. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for track adjustment, and always perform the adjustment in the machine’s working environment. A second important maintenance process is cleaning the undercarriage. To maximize wear life, remove mud and debris at the end of every shift, or more frequently if necessary.
TALK TO THE EXPERTS
Undercarriage components are expensive, whether they’re made of steel or rubber. To get long life and maximum value from your investment, consult your Stowers Product Support Sales Representative. He really knows the undercarriage business. Ask for advice on operating techniques. Explore relevant application, material and terrain issues. Fine-tune your maintenance processes. Working together with the experts at Stowers, you can manage your equipment investment over the long term, achieving the highest possible production at the lowest total cost.