With undercarriage maintenance representing half of the owning and operating costs of a steel track machine, any extension in track life drops straight to the bottom line. And one of the largest influences on track life is the operator.
"Maximizing undercarriage life begins in the operator's seat," says Dick Schaefer, senior product manager, undercarriage, Komatsu America Corp. "The operator is the key ingredient to controlling undercarriage cost per hour. Therefore, operator training is a must."
Even with recent changes in track systems, the basics still apply. "Undercarriage technology has improved over the years with better shock absorbing systems, but the basic [excavator] track remains the same as it has for the last 20 or so years," says Dave Pooley, Hyundai Construction Equipment U.S.A. Inc. "Application and operator awareness make the difference in the longevity of the undercarriage."
High speed has always been detrimental to steel tracks.
"Traveling at high speed adds additional wear and stress on undercarriage components and increases the potential for serious damage," says Guido Bottin, vice president of operations, Berco of America Inc. "Wear on tracks is directly proportional to speed. So non-productive, high-speed travel should be limited, and every work action of the jobsite should be planned carefully. Track adjustment and alignment are also very important when operating at high speeds."
Of course, high-speed operation can't always be avoided. "There are times when a job requires higher speed operation, but the fact is wear accelerates as speed increases," says Thomas Neeley, world-wide undercarriage support manager, Caterpillar. "Links, rollers and idlers are particularly vulnerable. Keep them working longer by controlling your speed."
Schaefer adds, "While there is not a specific 'proper' operating speed, a well-trained operator knows how fast is too fast. "
Avoid abrupt turns
Rapid turns also place unnecessary stress on the undercarriage. "The operator must avoid pivot or hard, tight turning whenever possible," says Schaefer. "Tight turning of a machine exerts a high degree of stress on undercarriage components. Keep in mind that when we are talking about undercarriage, we are talking about a system. One component is reliant upon another component in order to function."
Actually, any time you change directions wear is occurring. "Changing directions while driving adds wear to the undercarriage, particularly on links, bushings, sprocket teeth, roller flanges and track guides," says Bottin. "Needless to say, the more abruptly and aggressively the operator turns, the more forces are produced contributing to wear on the components. In some extreme situations, these forces and loads can even lead to de-tracking. Therefore, planned ahead, gentle turning is always preferred, especially on terrains providing a lot of friction on the tracks."
In addition, avoid always turning to one side, since this can cause uneven wear. "Alternating the turning directions when possible is always recommended," says Bottin, "as well as making slow turns and periodic sprocket inspection to ensure bushing impact to sprocket is correct."
"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," Neeley explains. "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 are turning and change directions whenever possible."
"When moving material, an efficient operator will keep blade loads productive, yet will avoid loading the blade to the point the tracks slip," says Schaefer. "Track slippage can affect more than just the machine's undercarriage. It can adversely affect the entire drivetrain."