Reliable Ride-Ons

Fleet age has reached unprecedented levels in the rental industry. Factoring in all types of equipment, it currently averages 50 months. Because rental companies are keeping capital pieces of equipment around much longer than they used to, they need to do all they can to keep their fleet running. This article will look at ways to get the most out of your ride-on trenchers.

Proper maintenance is essential to keeping ride-on trencher units operating efficiently. Performing routine maintenance and repairing minor problems as soon as they are identified reduce the chance of breakdowns in the field, and an effective maintenance program extends equipment life and protects the value of equipment, says Jason Proctor, heavy equipment product manager with Ditch Witch.

Reliable equipment is a must for a rental business and its rental customers. "Unreliable equipment results in machine downtime, thus reducing rental hours," says Proctor.

In addition to reducing unplanned downtime, preventive maintenance minimizes the operating expense over the projected life of the ride-on trencher and allows customers to choose equipment that looks well maintained, says Jon Kuyers, utility products segment manager with Vermeer Corp.

"Reliability is important to keep the rental customer satisfied without downtime and keeps the extra expense of loaner units and field repairs minimized."

The most important pieces

As always, the first step for rental businesses when it comes to maintenance is to follow the recommendations for service found in the operator's manual, says Proctor.

"Service schedules and requirements vary with trencher make and model, so recommendations of manufacturers should be followed carefully. Refer to the operator's manual for correct operating and maintenance procedures," he says.

After that, there are two key items to keep in mind so your ride-on trencher performs at the top of its class. These include engine maintenance and wear items, such as chains, teeth and sprockets.

"Engine maintenance, including checking and changing engine oil along with air filtration, is critical to protect one of the most expensive parts of the machine," says Kuyers.

Check engine oil and coolant levels on a regular basis, adding the correct fluids as necessary. Change fluids and filters at prescribed intervals, more frequently when operating in adverse or dusty conditions. Lubricate all service points, and maintain the hydraulic system at intervals prescribed by the manufacturer.

"Chain maintenance is also critical, as are the cutters, which if not changed when worn, will dramatically lessen the life of the chain and also put undue stress on the engine and hydraulic system," notes Kuyers.

If the proper attention is not paid to these items, they can create downtime and lead to large repair bills. "In many cases, the lost downtime or travel expense is greater than the cost of the part that should have been maintained with a proper maintenance program," says Kuyers.

Primary wear parts

Digging teeth, digging chain, and sprockets are the primary wear parts on chain-type trenchers. The process of digging a trench causes wear to these components - the more difficult the soil conditions, the more often they must be replaced, says Proctor. Operating a trencher with worn or damaged teeth, chain and sprockets reduces digging efficiency and places extra stress on the machine, causing unnecessary wear and possible damage to other components.

Inspect digging teeth and chain daily or after each job, says Proctor, who offers the following advice on replacing teeth:

When hard-faced surfaces of cup teeth are worn away, it is time to install new teeth.

Replace teeth to conform to the tooth pattern on the digging chain.

Also keep a close eye on insert bits, which are designed to rotate during trenching. If dirt or small pieces of rock lodge in the sockets (that hold each bit), preventing rotation, teeth will wear unevenly. Simply turning a bit usually removes dirt and debris. If a bit can't be easily turned by hand, remove it and clean the inside of the socket. Check for bit wear, and replace insert bits before they completely wear away. Continued use of worn bits eventually can damage bit holders on the chain, resulting in unnecessary expense.

A worn digging chain does not run smoothly and can generate shock loads which may damage other parts of the machine including the engine and transmission. Inspect digging chain, including roller links, for wear and correct tension. Operating equipment with worn chain links will cause sprocket teeth to completely wear through roller sleeves, damaging the pins that connect chain links.

Improperly tensioned chain reduces trencher performance, and the chain could slip off the sprockets. Putting a chain back on sprockets in the field is not an easy task, says Proctor. Refer to the operator's manual for proper chain tension and procedures for making adjustments.

Worn teeth indicate it is also time to inspect sprockets, replacing them if necessary. When new sprockets are installed, it is best to replace the digging chain also. Operating old, worn chain on new sprockets causes premature sprocket wear, and running new chain on worn sprockets causes excessive chain wear and could result in chain failure.

"Purchase replacement teeth, chain, sprockets, and other components that meet the specifications of your equipment," says Proctor. "Inexpensive will-fit products may be less expensive to buy, but they often cannot withstand the severe stresses encountered during trenching."

Manufacturers, for their part, are trying to do everything they can to make their equipment easier to maintain. Easy access to service points, use of components that do not require lubrication, and extended periods between service intervals are some of the strategies that help you take better care of your equipment.

The benefits of equipment maintenance are dependable performance and less risk of a breakdown on the job. "Well-maintained equipment is safer to use and retains more of its value than neglected or indifferently serviced machines," says Proctor.

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