Cover Your Tracks
Operating and maintenance techniques can extend undercarriage life.
By Tom Nenne
Steel tracks are designed to perform in tough underfoot conditions, but long hours in wet, muddy, slippery, rocky, or abrasive materials can translate into rapid wear and high repair costs. The undercarriage on a large dozer can account for 50 percent of the repair and maintenance costs for the machine — even when the operator and maintenance personnel use best practices.
Abrasive wear is the primary type of wear experienced by undercarriages, which is impossible to avoid in aggregates operations. But the operator can take a number of steps to maximize service life and drive down operating costs, and service personnel can ensure that undercarriages don’t experience excessive wear due to maladjustment. Frequent and proper inspections also can avert premature failures, which result from little problems growing into big ones.
Long before your dozer or excavator goes to work, you will make decisions that influence undercarriage wear and subsequent maintenance costs. A number of different track designs are available now. Though the most wear resistant have higher initial cost, selecting such an undercarriage often results in lower life-cycle costs. Generally speaking, the more you work in high-horsepower, high-torque applications, the faster your undercarriage will wear. Work with your equipment dealer to select the undercarriage design that is best suited to your site conditions and application.
One rule of thumb applies to all undercarriage designs, however. Always use the narrowest track shoe possible that meets your flotation requirements. Wide shoes operating on hard surfaces put tremendous strain on the shoes, pins, and bushings. The result is accelerated wear.
Also, if you work in very sticky materials, consider using center-punched track shoes to reduce material packing in the undercarriage area when specifying undercarriages. To further limit material packing and debris buildup, use roller guards only when necessary. They’re designed for high-impact underfoot conditions.
Tips to extend undercarriage life
1. Start every shift with a clean undercarriage. When mud and debris build up on the lower part of your machine, components wear at a faster rate, so don’t begin work until the undercarriage area is clean. If a cleanup didn’t happen at the end of the previous shift, take a few minutes to get the job done before you go to work. And if you’re operating in very cohesive or abrasive materials such as mud or clay, you may need to clean the undercarriage more than once during a shift.
2. Inspect the undercarriage before you start working. In addition to ensuring that the undercarriage is clean, spend a couple of minutes on a visual inspection. Check for loose bolts, leaky seals, and abnormal wear patterns. When you spot potential problems early, you can often prevent them from turning into bigger issues that significantly reduce component life or cause unscheduled downtime.
3. Don’t spin the tracks. Track spinning delivers several hits to the bottom line. It reduces production, so your revenue potential declines. It increases fuel consumption, without a corresponding increase in productivity. And, it accelerates undercarriage wear, so your costs escalate. Grouser bars are especially prone to wear problems associated with track slippage.