Bottin agrees, adding, "Tracks should be cleaned and adjusted at the start of each day and, in certain applications, they should be inspected every four hours."
Also periodically examine the undercarriage for unusual wear. "Inspect the undercarriage before you start working," says Neeley. "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."
Be aware of track position
Excavator operators also need to be aware of track positioning. Working over the side should be avoided due to the bending loads that can be transferred to the chain and shoes, says Bottin.
"When working with excavators, it's important to keep in mind the position of the idlers and sprockets in relation to the direction of work," he explains. "Operators should always work in the direction of idlers so that high vertical loads can be transmitted to the frame in a safe way through the links and idler. Working in the direction of sprockets can cause premature bushing cracks or breakage due to the loads being transferred directly to the bushings/sprocket system."
"The effects of impact on the sprocket and final drive can be high-dollar damage," Schaefer adds.
Don't travel with the drive sprockets in the front. "To maximize undercarriage life, always travel in forward when traveling a long distance, [with the idler] in the front of the machine," says Neeley. "There is significantly more external and internal bushing wear when you travel in reverse."
Also pay attention to your speed. "Because an excavator uses end thrust track rollers, when traveling on other than a horizontal plane, side loading of the track rollers is occurring," says Schaefer. "Therefore, travel at a speed that is productive, yet not at a speed that could cause track rollers to overheat and cause damage to the surface of the roller's internal seals." Overheating can cause loss of oil, with roller failure soon to follow.
If the ground is soft, use counter rotation of the tracks, Pooley advises, which allows for easier turns. "If the ground is too soft, then the turn will have to be gradual so that material does not build up against the side rail."
Don't make assumptions
When assigning an operator to a steel track machine, it's important to avoid making assumptions about their previous training or experience.
"Operators are often called upon to operate several different types of machines on a jobsite," says Schaefer. "Assuming an operator has been trained on the proper and most productive operation of a crawler-type machine can be a costly mistake."
Before the operator is allowed to run the equipment, review the importance of speed, direction of travel and proper turning practices, as well as the need to avoid impact and high packing conditions when possible.
"Make sure there is an avenue for the operator to communicate undercarriage abnormalities," Schaefer adds. "For example, unusual noises, loose or missing hardware or adjustment of the track's tension has to be effectively communicated to maintenance personnel."