When it comes to construction equipment, regular maintenance is one of the most important factors in cost control that is entirely in the hands of the fleet owner.
“Equipment maintenance is one of (if not) the best way to get the most from your investment,” says Andrew Wendling, technology enabled solutions deployment manager for Caterpillar, Inc. “Good maintenance will minimize maintenance and repair costs and maximize production and profit, with the greatest impact on profits. It helps control costs and service intervals, lengthens equipment life, minimizes downtime and adds resale value.”
“Proper maintenance can reduce operating cost significantly, directly and indirectly,” says Roberto Bogdanoff, director, key accounts customer solutions Americas at Volvo Construction Equipment. “Directly for machine downtime and costly unscheduled repairs, and indirectly since equipment that is not operating because it is down can shut down an entire production site, costing thousands and in some cases millions of dollars.”
Manufacturers recommend following a routine daily maintenance schedule that examines key systems and components. This can help heavy equipment owners prevent costly issues from developing, extend equipment life cycles, save time and money – and in the process reduce the fleet’s environmental footprint through more efficient operation.
Routine is Key
Regular inspections and adhering to recommended maintenance schedules are the first steps to reducing the total cost of ownership for your equipment.
“The ABCs of maintenance include following the manufacturers’ recommendations,” Borgandoff says. “Nobody knows the machines better than the manufacturer who designed and built them, so that is the first step.
“Secondly, you should add your own application-related maintenance items,” Borgdanoff continues. “For example, some harsh environments require the air filters to be replaced more frequently, or undercarriages are exposed to corrosive or abrasive soils which would require additional attention to detail. These are items that no manufacturer will know about individual job characteristics.”
“Following the maintenance interval schedule provided by the heavy equipment manufacturer will help ensure the machine is operating as it should,” agrees Shane Reardon, Doosan excavator product specialist. “Performing daily inspections is another simple step for any heavy equipment owner to avoid issues later and extend the equipment’s life cycle.” (See “Daily Maintenance Check”.)
“Daily inspections are important and must done in an organized manner,” Wendling says. “Visual inspections determine operator techniques, while a deeper and more thorough inspection can be done as needed based on machine performance and/or operator suggestions.
“Operators are the best predictors of the equipment,” he adds. “They can see, hear, and smell the condition of the equipment.”
Monitor Maintenance for Enhanced Efficiency
Proper maintenance and condition monitoring will increase uptime significantly and keep equipment working at peak levels.
“Good maintenance will only enhance equipment availability,” Wendling says. “Many times, unplanned downtime is a result of minor repairs that could have been identified during inspections.”
For example, check the powertrain fluid levels and compartments (e.g., hydraulic excavator swing drives). "One can’t overlook the basics during the inspections," Wendling stresses. Also check for items such as broken lights, cracked windows, leaking cylinders, etc. “By limiting the minor repairs (unplanned downtime), the equipment is being productive and making money for the customer.”
Bogdanoff agrees, noting, “Proper maintenance and condition monitoring will definitely prevent downtime and unscheduled repairs. If you can control when you will shut the machine down for repair, then you can plan accordingly so production will not be affected. Also, by condition monitoring, you can catch failures before they become catastrophic failures. If you repair a pin and bushing when the wear starts, this repair may cost around $1,000 and take four hours for the repair. But if you don’t repair on time and the bushing wears out completely, damaging the bore, then the repair cost would be around $5,000 and would take, in some cases, 16 hours. You do the math.”
Keeping detailed records and following the manufacturer’s recommended service schedule can help owners reduce the equipment’s cost of ownership, as well. Utilizing telematics (machine-to-machine communication) with a fleet management system designed to help track maintenance intervals, and checking engine codes, can help improve maintenance by reducing guesswork.
Likewise, reducing the amount of idling that can occur during loading and unloading operations by maximizing utilization is a good practice to increase profitability. “Telematics can help fleet managers monitor excavator idle time,” Reardon says. “It can help to make recommendations to operators when they should shut off the machine instead of idling.”
Get Operators and Technicians On Board
“Good maintenance practices are like good health,” Wendling says. The equipment you use is more productive when it’s in the best shape possible.
Regularly maintaining equipment can improve productivity on a jobsite, which can cut completion time considerably and, in turn, save you big money. Wendling puts this into a language everyone speaks – dollar figures:
- $100 production increase yields $10 profit
- $100 reduction in repairs yields $100 profit
- $10 operating cost control generates the same bottom line profit as a $100 increase in production
Yet, along with a maintenance plan, operators and service technicians need to be properly trained to deal with any problems as they come up. Technological advancements in today’s equipment make them more productive, fuel efficient and environmentally friendly, but they also can add to the complexity of the machines.
“A lot of electronics and sensors basically make the machine tell you what and where something is not working properly,” Bogdanoff says. “To me, what is missing in today’s maintenance teams is training. It is no different when you go to the doctor. You tell the doctor where it hurts, and he will analyze and recommend a treatment or cure. The machine does the same thing — it will tell you what is wrong, but you need to understand the message to define what is going on.”
“Trained operators are key to successful operations and trained technicians are vital, as well,” Wendling says. “With good maintenance, the equipment will perform as designed, thus maintaining the owner's expected owning and operating expenses.”