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Keeping Construction Equipment Expenses in Check

Thu November 17, 2022 - National Edition #24

Using the right amount of lubricant matters. Too little can increase the risk of friction and equipment wear, while too much can build up and cause performance issues.
Using the right amount of lubricant matters. Too little can increase the risk of friction and equipment wear, while too much can build up and cause performance issues.
Using the right amount of lubricant matters. Too little can increase the risk of friction and equipment wear, while too much can build up and cause performance issues. Proper lubrication with the correct type and amount of oil, grease and fluids avoids equipment failures and keeps the business running smoothly. Varying demands put on lubricants require significantly different physical and chemical characteristics. Consistent use of the correct oil maximizes the life and performance of equipment.

Keeping machinery expenses in check is always a challenge for contractors. And as fuel costs continue to rise this year, the challenge seems even greater. Many heavy equipment fleet owners are doubling down on efforts to lengthen the life of their off-road machines, making a concerted effort to operate rigs in their care at top performance levels by utilizing fluid analytics.

"Perhaps nothing is so important and so often overlooked in machinery maintenance as fluid levels," said Indianapolis, Ind.-based Caterpillar dealer McAllister Machinery. "Analyzing engine oil, fuel, coolant and hydraulic fluid tells an internal tale describing the health of your machine."

These analyses also are indicators of maintenance effectiveness and predictors of potential failures, believes the company.

Why, How of Fluid Analysis

Fluid analysis detects problems early, so they can be repaired before they become major failures, said McAllister.

The process helps in scheduling machine downtime and in developing a complete service history for a machine. It improves the opportunity to get top dollar for used machines when the decision is made to offload older rigs through resale or trade-in.

"For maximum protection, you need oil sampling for all major oil-lubricated systems and coolant sampling for your cooling systems," advised McAllister. "By pinpointing fluid troubles early, you can avoid shutdowns for unplanned repairs and even catastrophic failures."

Hand in hand with fluid maintenance goes monitoring equipment condition. It should be an overall part of a contractor's preventive maintenance plan, said the Caterpillar dealer.

A dedicated program of equipment condition monitoring helps prevent breakdowns and unnecessary repair costs that can rob a company of efficiency and profit.

McAllister's list of key elements involved in the monitoring process includes advanced fluid diagnostic capabilities that allow the equipment manager to better assess the condition of a rig.

"Regular care and preventive maintenance of machines are priorities for heavy equipment," said McAllister. "That includes routine machinery maintenance you do as the owner as well as outsourced maintenance with assistance by equipment professionals."

Set Maintenance Schedule

An unexpected breakdown, forcing unscheduled maintenance, can be a huge crimp in a project schedule, especially if the machine plays a major role on the job site.

Poor equipment productivity due to downtime and neglect is a leading contributor to increases in unexpected project costs, believes Phillips66 Lubricants.

Approximately 800 to 900 productive hours annually is what a contractor can expect from a piece of equipment, according to the company, based in Houston, Texas.

"Based on a 40-hour work week that translates at best to a productivity rate of only 62 percent," Phillips said. "That means most pieces of heavy equipment have a productivity rate improvement window of nearly 40 percent, which can have a big impact" on the bottom line.

Phillips believes one of the easiest and most impactful ways to improve productivity is to adhere to a preventive maintenance schedule for each piece of equipment.

At the same time, a dedicated, fleet-wide preventive maintenance program reduces downtime and increases revenue.

"Preventive maintenance occurs on a pre-determined schedule, regardless of whether the equipment shows problems operating or not," according to Phillips. "It allows you to identify and address any defects before they can evolve into more expensive and large-scale issues."

Though maintenance tasks will be dictated by an equipment manufacturer's recommendations and the vehicle itself, most rigs have engines that require similar checks, including:

  • Engine oil: Use top quality engine oil and other lubricants, advised Phillips66.

"Although engine oil represents just a small fraction of your total maintenance costs, it can have a big impact on your bottom line."

Skimping on quality or selecting the wrong type of engine oil can lead to more serious issues, costly repairs, longer downtime and lower productivity later on.

"Find the right high-quality oil for your vehicles and keep your equipment running smoothly."

  • Fluid levels: Check the coolant, transmission, brake, fuel and other fluid levels, advised the company. Frequent drops in fluids indicate a leak that must be identified and repaired.

"As with engine oil, make sure you are using correct type of high-quality fluids to prevent costly repairs."

Among Phillips' tips for extending the life of heavy equipment is to regularly maintain and service your machines with high-quality lubricants.

"Regularly inspecting and changing the oil and other lubricants is the most important part of preventative maintenance," said the company.

Because the demands put on a lubricant vary greatly with different components and operating conditions, lubricants have significantly different physical and chemical characteristics.

That's another reason consistent use of the correct oil maximizes the life and performance of equipment. "Don't top off with an incorrect oil for convenience," said Phillips.

But using the right amount of lubricant matters too. Too little can increase the risk of friction and equipment wear, while too much can build up and cause performance issues.

Prevent Equipment Failure

As Phillips sees it, in an ideal world there would never be breakdowns and equipment would operate 100 percent of the time at 100 percent capacity.

"But in the real world, equipment failure happens. The business impact can range from minimal and easily fixed to catastrophic."

A catastrophic failure happens suddenly and causes a rig to cease operation, not only damaging the machine, but causing collateral damage as well.

Equipment continues to operate during a functional failure, but it cannot function according to design specs and likely requires a shutdown to correct the problem.

Understanding the why behind equipment failure can prevent an occurrence. It's your first line of defense against unexpected equipment downtime, said Phillips.

Surface degradation, consisting mainly of corrosion and mechanical wear of machine parts, results in equipment failure in 70 percent of cases.

Corrosion is particularly problematic in equipment operated in harsh climates or conditions where moisture, dirt or salt can contaminate components.

Water increases the speed at which oil oxidizes, which ultimately leads to the part operating within an acidic environment.

Corrosion of vital industrial parts is among the most common causes of equipment failure, said Phillips.

Mechanical wear — abrasive or adhesive — happens when machine surfaces mechanically rub against each other.

Abrasive wear occurs when particle contaminants, such as dirt or wear debris, cause metal surfaces to become pitted and scored.

Adhesive wear occurs when two surfaces come into direct contact with each other and transfer material from one surface to the other.

To prevent machinery failure caused by surface degradation, keep machinery and internal parts well lubricated and sealed particle contaminant ingress, said Phillips.

The company advises contractors to make sure equipment is well maintained and has parts regularly replaced.

"Also, keep it clean and stored in an appropriate place, and only allow it to be operated by those trained to do so."

Proper lubrication — using the correct type and amount of oil, grease and fluids — is integral to avoiding equipment failures and to keeping your business running smoothly.

One of the best ways to prevent corrosion and wear, lubrication also protects against heat and contamination and decreases noise in bearings.

"When equipment is properly and regularly lubricated, it has the highest chance of maximum service life," according to Phillips.

Avoid Improper Greasing

Improper lubrication results from lack of procedures, over- or under-greasing, poor labeling, the wrong lubricant, mixing products and improper handling and storage.

"Without the right technician for the job or the correct procedure, improper lubrication may occur," warned Phillips.

Over-greasing, the company said, leads to higher operating temperatures and aggressive machine contamination. While highly damaging under-greasing can cause noise, it can go unnoticed in a loud environment.

Correct labelling decreases the risk of cross-contamination and resolves confusion over which lubricants to use.

Applying the wrong lubricant can cause component failures and voids equipment warranty. Mixing products leads to component failures.

"Maintenance personnel need training on the correct ways of handling and installing bearings and using lubricants," advised Phillips. "Even the most minute particles can enter a small dent and cause contamination."

Key is implementing and adhering to documented lubrication procedures and making sure every technician is properly trained on them.

In fact, it is one of the most important things you can do to make sure your equipment is properly lubricated at all times.

Another critical step is integrating a labeling system and determining the output of grease guns while calculating the regrease requirements for bearings.

Doing so will avoid both over-and under-lubrication, and is a great place to start the program, said Phillips66.

"Finally, check the owner's manual to ensure that you are using the OEM-recommended lubricant for each piece of machinery."

Consistently using the correct, high-quality lubricant "is the most important thing you can do to avoid costly equipment failures and to keep your equipment and your business running smoothly." CEG

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