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9 steps to prepare your fleet for 2016

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Posted by Sophia Rostron

January is a great time for businesses to take stock of their operations and evaluate how to work more efficiently, and more profitability, in the coming year. For those in the construction industry, it's important to consider what steps can be taken to extend the life of your fleet and positively impact your bottom line. So how do you get the most from your equipment? How can you boost machine productivity to get the highest return on investment from each machine in your fleet?

Here are some simple tips you can start applying today: 

Regular Maintenance

The number one thing that can be done to retain value and extend the life of your excavator is to perform basic maintenance as recommended by the operators manual. Make sure that you’re checking your filters, sampling the oil, greasing the attachments, checking fuel quality - these simple maintenance procedures will keep your costs down and prevent any premature failures.

Vibration, shock, high temperatures, friction and age all contribute to the breakdown of parts in heavy machinery.

  • Vibration can come from gears and belts that are out of alignment
  • Shock can come from accidents and from poor operator technique
  • High temperatures can come from extended use, friction, poor lubrication and worn parts, among other reasons
  • Age affects many key components. Over time, belts will warp. Seals will dry and crack. Bolts will loosen and stretch out of shape. Age is a factor to monitor in equipment.

 It's important that you keep good records, and have a strong maintenance and repair schedule. Should you discover wear and tear on any moving parts within your heavy equipment, be sure to quickly perform the necessary replacement of any worn parts.

Proper maintenance will ensure not only safe operation, but extended service life. 

Cooling System

Heavy equipment is typically utilised in environments with a high level of dust and debris. It is essential to make sure that your radiator and cooling systems are cleaned out regularly, otherwise you run the risk of overheating the engine and causing other problems. We’ve designed our excavators with tilt-out coolers to make it easy for operators and technicians to access in order to blow them out.

Undercarriage

Something as simple as making sure the undercarriage is kept clean can prevent costly wear and tear, and prolong the life of a machine. It’s also important to check for wear on your pins and along the track regularly. Look for scouring along the hydraulic cylinders, idler and sprockets - any kind of debris in there can speed things up along those wear points and lead to costly downtime. It’s also important to make sure that the track tension is set properly - having it too loose or too tight can cause unnecessary wear on those components.

Buckets and other Attachments

If you’re working with a worn-down attachment, it’s going to make your excavator work harder - burning more fuel, and taking more time and wages to perform the job at hand. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on the teeth, wear plates and other crucial points on your attachments. A worn bucket or a poorly maintained breaker attachment can tear up an excavator arm and cause lots of unnecessary wear on the machine, so always take the time to make sure that your attachments are properly maintained.

Fuel Quality

Fuel quality is extremely important with the engine systems that we're using in today’s machines. Most manufacturers are using a high-pressure common rail (HPCR) system now on their engines, and any kind of debris that is going to filter through that fuel system will damage those injectors to the smallest micron readings. Any kind of contamination can cause unnecessary wear on the system, so it is more critical than ever to make sure that you are getting your fuel from a reputable service provider. Keep an eye on fueling procedures to make sure there aren’t opportunities for dust and debris to contaminate the fuel, DEF and other fluids.

Operating Modes

Most manufacturers offer multiple operating modes on their excavators, so it’s important for operators to take advantage of these options. This may include an 'auto-idle' feature that kicks in after minutes of inactivity, or an 'auto-shutdown' feature that shuts the machine down to help further reduce fuel consumption. 

Operator Training 

Many types of large machinery have multiple operators. One of the ongoing inspections on any checklist should be overseeing the correct operation of the equipment.

Large machinery should be inspected as soon as it is purchased. Operator training is usually done at that point, but training needs to be kept up. Employees come and go, skills become rusty and poor operation leads to breakdowns.

Operator manuals can be revised for the specific work situation. They can be rewritten in simpler language. A short manual can be provided to each operator for easy reference. And, if you operate in a paperless environment, you can rest assured operators use the most current version of each manual.

One other note is to identify best practices, which can then be applied to other facilities or geographic locations. The knowledge you learn about how to maintain your equipment can become quite valuable – be sure to best leverage this important knowledge and use it at every applicable location.

Telematics and Machine Control

One of the best ways to improve production and machine utilisation, simplify maintenance procedures and protect your equipment investment is through the utilisation of telematics and machine control. Telematics systems can give you unprecedented data on how your machines are being used in the field-idle time, operating practices, total utilisation, etc. 

Machine control improves productivity and reduces the amount of re-work on a job site. Over time, intelligent equipment utilisation through machine control can reduce the wear and tear on your machine components and ground-engaging tools, lower maintenance costs and fuel consumption, and extend the life of your machine – all while drastically improving productivity.

Environment

There are many seals and filters in place on heavy machinery to keep working parts clean and free of contamination. Seals should be inspected regularly to make sure they’re in good condition. Filters should be inspected and changed regularly. Breathers should be kept clean to avoid creating a vacuum in the cab which will suck contaminants into the cab. The electronics in the cab are susceptible to breakdown if contaminated. This impacts the clutch, for example.

Large machinery should be stored in a shed or other building if at all possible. Exposure to wind and weather can lead to rust and rot. The machinery should be run periodically if it is not in use.

These nine considerations will help you lead your team to better manage overall operating costs, sharpen your bids and improve the profitability of your business. For an owner/operator, people control means cost control - efficient project delivery is highly dependent on the performance of the workforce. It's important to know how to take these 9 tips for extended fleet life and make sure your workforce steps up. Get started right now by checking out this free eBook on how to better manage your team. 

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Sophia Rostron

Sophia Rostron

As the Content editor at plantminer.com.au, Sophia works behind the scenes to keep our blog machine in motion. A student of Law and Business, she's very dependent on coffee and loves any excuse to travel.