8 Tips on Caring for a Tracked Excavator

From adjusting track tension to problem warning signs, here’s what you need to know to keep your machine in good shape

8 Tips on Caring for a Tracked Excavator

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There are many trenchless technologies that allow your utility to dig differently these days when taking care of underground infrastructure projects. But sometimes a more traditional excavation approach is still needed. Tracked excavators may be a familiar sight out in the field, but that doesn’t mean maintenance is any less important. Here are some tips to help keep your excavator running and productive.

1. Bucket teeth, pins and bushings among the high-wear items to watch

“Bucket teeth are an important item to keep an eye on because worn teeth make it hard to fill the bucket, which affects productivity,” says Michael Boyle, product consultant manager for John Deere.

He says when bucket teeth come off or become worn through to the tooth adaptor, they should be replaced by cutting off the adaptor and welding a new one back onto the bucket.

Pins and bushings also experience high wear.

“Pins and bushings get a workout because excavators constantly move,” says Adam Kolacki, senior service engineer for Caterpillar. “If you don’t grease, you get an unpleasant noise. More importantly, you will get pin galling, which can lead to expensive repairs.”

2. Make sure you have the proper track sag/tension

“Increased wear occurs to the undercarriage if the tension is too loose or too tight,” says Boyle.

He says to adjust track sag, lift the tracks off the ground about 3 or 4 inches with the hydraulics of the boom and arm. Then rotate the tracks while the machine is off the ground — three times forward and three times in reverse to get the material out of the track rails. Go to the center of the undercarriage and measure the distance between the bottom of the roller mainframe and the top of the grouser.

“The specification is different for each excavator, so you have to check the operator’s manual for the correct distance,” Boyle says.

If the tracks are too loose, the operator will likely complain about the machine rocking and you’ll be able to see extra wear as the pin moves in the sprocket. When turning, the tracks may crack and pop or come off if the machine is on a slope. If the tracks are too tight, the excavator loses track power and extra wear occurs.

“It is better to have tracks too loose than too tight,” Boyle says.

3. When tackling scheduled maintenance, figure in the job’s time constraints

“If the job is on a time schedule, it would be best to check and see if the engine oil and filter is due for a change or the hydraulic oil and filter,” Boyle says. “It might be better to complete a required service prior to starting the project versus causing downtime during it to complete the service.”

He also recommends regularly checking for leaks, frayed hoses, broken parts, or cracks in components and replacing or repairing as needed.

“And always measure the undercarriage to see if the amount of wear will last the length of the job,” adds Boyle. “Remember that the application will determine many of the maintenance practices.”

4. Take into account job site conditions

Maintenance practices will have to be changed up depending on the conditions of the job site. For example, says Boyle, in a sandy environment, a utility might want to keep the tracks looser than usual to prevent sand buildup in the rails. In a high-debris environment, extra cleaning will be required to keep the cooling cores debris-free. John Deere offers reversing fans on most of its excavators to help with this.

“The operator can set the reversing fan on automatic where it will reverse once an hour for 25 seconds or the operator can manually reverse the fan by pushing a button or switch,” Boyle says. “This feature keeps debris and dust off the radiator/coolers, reducing the need to shut the machine down and clean cooling cores.”

5. Before making repairs, consider the environment

“Leaks or simple component changes can be done in the field,” says Kolacki. “Anything that requires extreme cleanliness for disassembly such as pumps, valves, engines or fuel systems ought to be done in the shop.”

6. Don’t be stingy with the grease

Among items that often get overlooked by operators is applying an adequate amount of grease to the linkage, Kolacki says.

“It’s typically missed, particularly in more extreme applications,” he says. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep the machine greased daily and even hourly in certain applications.”

7. Problem warning signs

A few top indicators of a problem include abnormal noises, bad oil samples and overheated components.

“For the do-it-yourselfer, refer to the owner’s manual for guidance,” Kolacki says. “If you like to have it done by a professional, contact your local dealer. Their service techs are trained to do the work right.”

8. Operating tips

Damage or premature wear can also be avoided by regularly practicing certain operating procedures. For example, the machine’s arm and boom joints can potentially be damaged by sweeping large piles of material too quickly with the bucket.

“Many times an operator will swing into large piles at full swing speed and cause extra stress on the joints,” Boyle says.

He also recommends using a pivot turn when moving the machine to reduce track wear. “To make a pivot turn, the operator lifts the front of the tracks off the ground about 3 to 4 inches and uses swing torque to turn,” Boyle says.

Kolacki adds that operators should be sure to use the appropriate tool attachment for the application.

“Don’t use a bucket as a hammer. Pick the correct tool for the application and the machine,” he says. “At Caterpillar, we have matching guides to help operators do just that and maximize the machine’s performance.”


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