In today's construction market, it's tempting to cut corners when replacing or maintaining key components. This is particularly true of rubber tracks, which have become increasingly popular on compact excavators, compact track loaders, asphalt pavers, crawler carriers, high-speed dozers, etc.
While purchase price is important given the current state of the economy, it is also important to consider the overall hourly cost of the track.
"Buying the cheapest you can get is not always the best option," says Jared Steier, product manager for rubber tracks, Solideal USA. "You need to know who you are buying from. There are products that do a better job than others. You can't call and scream at the Internet. You need someone who will pick up the phone."
"There is a huge difference on who your track supplier is," agrees George Zafirov, marketing manager, McLaren. "Make sure you understand the history of the product -- where it comes from and if there are complaints. Basically, do some research. There are dozens of sources for track."
Rubber tracks are a highly engineered wear item, states Dennis Hare, who sells rubber track as a business manager for Veyance Technologies, exclusive manufacturer of Goodyear Engineered Products. "While materials may look similar, performance can vary greatly," he points out. "We have several different compounds that perform in different applications. And we are typically producing about a dozen different tread designs."
Construction methods for rubber tracks vary by manufacturer, and there are differences in the amount of rubber, the quality of the steel and the way the cables are connected (continuous wound vs. overlapping connections).
"When we make rubber tracks, different layers of track use different kinds of rubber," says Zafirov. "For example, the tread is always hard rubber and the inside is a softer rubber, because the inside is supposed to flex while the tread on the track needs to withstand the conditions. We use five layers of rubber compound, depending upon which part of the track the rubber is supposed to go." Some manufacturers may use just one kind of rubber throughout their track construction.
Construction technique can also make a big difference. For example, if the steel cables aren't the same circumference within the rubber track, the shorter cable can cut the tracks internally. Quality manufacturers have developed methods to ensure all of the cables are the same circumference. "These small differences make a track more expensive, but then you don't have an agent that cuts from the inside," says Zafirov.
You need to understand your machine, as well. For instance, a track with a continuous wound steel cable may be an asset on a compact track loader with high pushing forces, but may not be as important on a compact excavator. "A continuous cable track on an excavator is not a huge advantage because that is not a feature that is required for operation," says Zafirov. "When it comes to mini-excavators, it is more about rubber compounds and durability rather than the steel cables. It is going to be the rubber cracking from sun exposure."
Conditions Influence Longevity
Veyance Technologies has seen an increasing popularity in smooth tread patterns for asphalt paver tracks. "Customers tell us the smooth tread improves the paved surface, as well as makes the edge of the track more cut resistant, while providing better wear life," notes Hare.
McLaren carries a number of tread patterns, including application-specific treads. "Some have more aggressive structure than others," says Zafirov. "Our new Turf Glide series for compact track loaders has a smooth tread pattern that is very turf friendly."
But even specialized rubber tracks can't meet the needs of every environment. "Wear characteristics vary drastically depending upon the job environment," says Raymond Oh, North American sales and marketing manager, DRB America. "It would be wise to first check if your piece of equipment is suited for the job. Often, sharp edges of projectiles and rocks cause cuts and tears on the rubber track. Other times, outside objects get stuck in the undercarriage components and destroy the tracks from the inside of the undercarriage."