Advanced Undercarriage Components Ensure Compact Track Loader Productivity in Tough Conditions

Compact track loader manufacturers are designing today's models with durability in mind. Components in the tracks and undercarriage enable them to handle tough underfoot conditions, uneven terrain and slope operations with ease. Still, optimum component life requires regular maintenance and proper operating practices.

Features such as single-flange front and rear idlers and crawler-style rollers on New Holland compact track loaders help to prevent detracking on inclines.
Features such as single-flange front and rear idlers and crawler-style rollers on New Holland compact track loaders help to prevent detracking on inclines.

Working in deep mud. Traveling through abrasive sand. Pushing snow. Maneuvering on uneven terrain. Handling these difficult conditions is all in a day's work for many compact track loaders.

"While uneven terrain, slopes and muddy or snowy ground conditions can be very challenging and tough on skid-steer loaders, compact track loaders are designed and built to handle these types of conditions," says Jodi Gulbraa, product marketing specialist, Terex ASV. "Correct operation of your compact track loader will ultimately determine overall efficiency and performance of the machine."

"Contractors have found unbelievable numbers of applications to test the versatility and performance of a compact track loader," adds David Steger, product and training manager, Takeuchi. "This is fueled in part by their size and the availability of attachments. But the main factors are the traction and power delivered by these workhorses. These aspects often result in the machine being placed in very demanding conditions? while still providing the productivity other machines can only dream about."

Critical components
The tracks and undercarriage (rollers, idlers, sprockets and track chain) are primary reasons why a compact track loader can successfully navigate in rugged applications and conditions.

"The undercarriage is as important to the machine as the attachment or engine, [since] it is the combination of components that brings the machine to its assigned task," says Dave December, brand marketing manager, New Holland. "Without the undercarriage, a compact track loader can do limited work."

However, track and undercarriage components can also be negatively affected by the applications to which they are subjected.

"When you compare a compact track loader to other machines, those components most susceptible to [decreased] durability and longevity are the ground-engaging pieces, such as the cutting edges, tracks, etc.," says Mike Fitzgerald, Bobcat. "That's where most of the [repair] cost will be incurred. When you look at the overall machine - the structures, the engines, the hydrostatics, the hydraulics, etc. - those are built to take the duties of what customers do in the normal working world... Tracks, rollers, idlers, sprockets - components like that will be the most costly and most frequent repairs you will run into."

With that in mind, manufacturers focus on building durability into those components.

"We've gone through several different internal component designs," Fitzgerald asserts. "When we started in the track business, our rollers and idlers were castings with serviceable bearings. Bearings have been changed to bushings that are permanently sealed and lubricated. The track carriages are solid mounted to the frame so that we get good connection for long-term durability."

New Holland offers a tapered track frame to shed mud and other material to keep the track system clean and minimize damage to the undercarriage while working in muddy conditions. An elevated drive sprocket also increases component life by keeping the motor assembly out of material and moisture.

Still, it's important to clean the undercarriage regularly. Mud can work its way into every nook and cranny, and can cause damage if left to harden.

"Rollers are not allowed to turn," says Steger. "This causes damage to critical components, keeping abrasive material in constant contact with wear surfaces, accelerating undercarriage wear and accumulating around motors and in the belly pan of the machine. [It acts] as an adobe-type insulator that keeps heat in the component, raising its operating temperature."

Clean out the undercarriage thoroughly and often when working in wet conditions. "This is especially important when working in cold areas, because what is mud or snow during the day can turn to a block of ice overnight, leaving your jobsite frozen in time," says Steger.

While abrasive soils such as sand don't necessarily affect the tread, they can wear out the metal embeds in the sprockets. "In sand conditions, we will sometimes see owners/operators run their track 'loose'," says Fitzgerald. "That can reduce stress on the metal embeds so you can minimize some of the wear and extend the longevity. They may also rotate the track from side to side to get a new wear surface. It's best to check with your local dealer, who can provide the best procedures for your operation."

Built to traverse challenging terrain
Uneven, difficult terrain and multiple surfaces are among the most demanding conditions compact track loaders will encounter.

"Continuous travel on uneven ground for extended periods of time will test the reliability of the loader's undercarriage," says December. "When operating on slopes, the weight shifts and places a certain amount of stress on one undercarriage at a time. Given that compact track loaders normally weigh twice as much as their wheeled skid-steer loader counterparts, that's a considerable amount of stress."

Single-flange front and rear idlers on New Holland units help prevent detracking on inclines, as do the crawler-style rollers by using a larger inner diameter flange positioned between the track tabs. And steel-embedded track cables and crossbars resist stretching while transferring the power of the drivetrain through the track and to the ground.

When working in these conditions, it's even more important to know the terrain. "Scaling the terrain with a heavy attachment or full load places a lot of stress on the frame," says Steger. "[To accommodate for that] Takeuchi's undercarriage uses ? thicker metal and a welded frame that is integrated into the whole machine."

All Terex ASV undercarriages have a torsion axle suspension, and two models offer a second-stage suspension for the bogie wheels. "This enables them to navigate over objects and uneven terrain with ease, while the operator enjoys a comfortable ride," says Gulbraa. "The suspension reduces vibration and shock to the machine, which also improves undercarriage and machine life, ultimately lowering operating costs and increasing overall productivity."

A greater number of bogie wheels also provides more even weight distribution, lowering impact when traveling over rocky or rough terrain. "Less impact helps to increase track life and overall undercarriage life, as well," says Gulbraa.

Some operator comfort features, such as roller suspension, can indirectly enhance durability. "It minimizes some vibration back into the machine," says Fitzgerald. "While there is not a direct correlation, it can add to the machine's overall durability."

Developments in tracks
Tracks have also undergone an extensive amount of development since the first compact track loaders were introduced.

Terex's all-rubber track is lighter in weight than steel-embedded tracks, says Gulbraa, which extends the life of the undercarriage components and eliminates rust and corrosion.

Bobcat offers a C-pattern tread type to provide traction, yet minimize cracking. "It's critical to balance natural and synthetic rubbers to make sure the track is cut and abrasion resistant," says Fitzgerald. "You can build a track that is super cut and abrasion resistant, but in order to do that, you have to make it from very hard rubber. Then it doesn't bend around rollers and idlers very well. You have more potential for cracking of the track. That leads to other issues of internal damage. There's a fine balance as to how you design and build rubber track."

Takeuchi incorporates a full steel-on-steel undercarriage in the design of its track loaders. The foundation of this system is the forged steel mandrels embedded into the rubber track and wrapped with continuously wound steel cable.

"These mandrels mesh with the drive sprocket, much like a bicycle chain engages its sprocket," says Steger. "We differentiate ourselves where the lower and rear rollers contact the track. Instead of riding on a layer of rubber that can be damaged, our rollers contact the high-strength mandrel through its incorporated contact pad. This allows any material that gets in between the track and rollers to be pulverized into small pieces instead of damaging the rubber of the tracks, resulting in a more durable, longer lasting track."

Because track and undercarriage designs do vary, it's important to evaluate your options and select a configuration suited to your primary applications and conditions. "If you are considering a track loader, it is probably due to the benefits that the track system can provide," notes Steger, "so evaluate the entire market to see what's best for you."

CTL Operating Tips

Operating style has a lot to do with how a machine holds up over time. "Careless operation can take money out of your pocket," says David Steger, Takeuchi. "Evaluating your operating style and adapting certain practices can ultimately lower your operating and maintenance costs, and oftentimes improve productivity."Compact track loaders are very responsive when compared to mini-excavators and small dozers, and respond similar to a skid-steer loader, notes Dave December, New Holland. "As such, they will be operated much like a skid-steer loader," he says.

The following operating tips can help to extend the life of the undercarriage and belts, and reduce operating costs:

Follow maintenance procedures - "Actions such as greasing and checking fluid levels and servicing the machine regularly may be the most important things you can do for your machine," says Steger.

"Take the time for daily inspections and proper maintenance to repair/replace individual failing parts before they affect other components," says December. "That will extend the life of the undercarriage and save a significant amount in replacement cost and downtime, which in itself is lost revenue."

Keep the machine clean - Cleaning the machine, especially the belly pans, undercarriage and coolers, goes a long way toward keeping the machine in tip-top condition. "It also gives you the opportunity to inspect every area to see if there are any problems," says Steger.

Use common sense - Just because the machine can do a certain task, doesn't mean it's safe or practical. "Use common sense while lifting and carrying to prevent overloading," says Steger. "Be sure to consider the machine's ability, operating conditions and your skill level when operating on uneven terrain."

Turn the machine with care - "Avoid making quick turns by counter-rotating," says Jodi Gulbraa, Terex ASV. "Make gradual turns whenever possible, and use the three-point turn system."

Executing wider turns will save a lot of wear and tear on the tracks and cause less ground disturbance. Also minimize 360° rotations from a stationary position when possible.

Check track tension - At least weekly, check track tension to ensure it meets manufacturer recommendations. Properly tensioned tracks will give the best performance and will extend track life.

Consider your surface and terrain - Avoid driving sideways on a slope. Working on surfaces such as asphalt and concrete may prematurely wear out the track. Climbing over broken rubble and rebar can cut and prematurely damage the track.

"These are all valid operations," says Mike Fitzgerald, Bobcat. "But understand that utilizing the proper operating techniques and working the machine appropriately will help extend the longevity when working on these surfaces. We saw one asphalt contractor increase track life from about 600 hours to 1,000 hours just by changing some operating practices, such as minimizing spinning on asphalt and loading trucks on a dirt surface. They're still below what's considered 'average,' but they accept that they will not get as many hours on a set of tracks as a contractor who is only leveling dirt around houses."