No Worse for Wear: Smart Techniques Improve Track Life

Tue March 25, 2014 - National Edition
Amber Reed

Compact track loaders feature exceptional flotation, traction and versatility, which enables operators to work on adverse terrain such as in mud, sand, snow and undeveloped sites.
Compact track loaders feature exceptional flotation, traction and versatility, which enables operators to work on adverse terrain such as in mud, sand, snow and undeveloped sites.
Compact track loaders feature exceptional flotation, traction and versatility, which enables operators to work on adverse terrain such as in mud, sand, snow and undeveloped sites. Another way to increase track life is to avoid traveling over transitions, like a curb or a ledge.


Tracks on a compact loader can make all the difference for contractors looking to be productive and profitable year-round. Although buying or renting a compact track loader may seem like a large upfront expense compared to using a skid steer loader, by employing smart operating techniques to increase the life of the tracks and undercarriage system any contractor can get a good return on investment.

“The undercarriage on a compact track loader works as a system, which means wear is unavoidable,” said Jamie Wright, product manager, Terex Construction Americas — manufacturer of Terex compact track loaders. “On any tracked machine, the undercarriage is the most costly part of the machine. It can make up almost 20 percent of the machine’s price and nearly 50 percent of its maintenance cost. Such valuable components should never be abused or neglected.”

The key to extending the life of the undercarriage components on a compact track loader is to recognize the factors that contribute to undercarriage wear and make adjustments to reduce their effect, whenever possible. According to Wright, there are four major factors that influence the life and longevity of a compact track loader’s undercarriage: terrain, application, operation and maintenance.

Terrain

Compact track loaders feature exceptional flotation, traction and versatility, which enables operators to work on adverse terrain such as in mud, sand, snow and undeveloped sites. However, working in such abrasive conditions can increase wear to a loader’s undercarriage components.

“For example, jagged construction or demolition debris may cause more wear than sand or finished landscaping,” said Wright. “And, working in level terrain causes less wear than rugged, heavily sloped areas. The terrain you are operating in will greatly affect the wear and tear on the loader’s tracks.

“On a flat surface, the machine’s weight is spread through the roller wheels to the full ground contact area of the track. This means that minimal machine weight is applied to the track lugs, and wear is distributed evenly over the entire track surface.

“On slopes, the loader’s weight shifts so the roller wheels increase contact and pressure to the sides of the track lugs,” added Wright, “which can cause uneven wear on the outside of the tracks.”

Even though compact track loaders work well in demanding terrain, Wright recommended that operators follow some commonsense approaches to operating and maintaining their machines to make the tracks last. For example: When operating in rocky conditions, especially in gravel or loose stone, operators should not twist and turn the loader unnecessarily. Counter rotating the tracks will cause them to dig into the stone, which will allow the stone to get into the bogies and inside the track.

Immediately after any job is completed, check the track components and remove job site debris.

"Mud can push small rocks into the bogies and track components, and these need to be removed by power washing and/or a shovel," said Wright.

Application

Demanding applications, like excavation and dozing, maximize the torque and horsepower that is transferred through the sprocket to the tracks. Whereas less demanding jobs, like backfilling, require less torque and horsepower.

“The amount of torque and horsepower required by an application has a direct correlation to the amount of wear to the loader’s track components,” said Wright. He recommends that operators vary the type of applications their loaders are working in as often as possible to increase track longevity.

Operation

The most common cause of premature track failure is from operating technique.

“Many operators run their compact track loaders as if they are skid steers — skid steer operators do a lot of counter-rotating and spinning the tires to get the bucket filled to maximum capacity,” said Wright. “A compact track loader’s track drive is different than the wheels of the skid steer. Compact track loaders have enough traction that the tracks do not need to spin to fill the bucket, and counter rotating the tracks will cause them to dig into the stone, which will allow the stone to get into the bogies and inside the track.”

Wright recommends taking the time to turn, rather than counter-rotating, to extend the track’s component life.

“A better approach is to make a three-point turn with the loader,” said Wright. “This will save a lot of wear and tear on the tracks, and it only takes a few extra seconds to execute.”

Another way to increase track life is to avoid traveling over transitions, like a curb or a ledge. If it is necessary, Wright recommends that operators maintain a 90-degree angle with the transition and to make sure that both tracks are fully supported by the ground.

Although compact track loaders excel at working on inclines, these conditions can be tough on the tracks. Wright suggests that when working on inclines that operators should avoid making sudden changes in direction, that they should move slowly and always carry loads low to increase machine stability.

And, one of the most important things Wright recommends to operators for extending track life is to keep material in front of the loader.

“We recommend working the pile from the sides and then the middle to reduce the amount of material getting into the tracks,” said Wright.

Maintenance

The undercarriage components of the compact track loaders are designed to wear evenly. According to Wright, if some components wear more quickly than others, it can affect the productivity and wear of all the components. Performing recommended maintenance as outlined by the loader manufacturer’s guidelines will help extend the life of the tracks and reduce machine downtime.

“These machines shine in tough applications and following a preventative maintenance program is the key to extending track life,” said Wright.

As with any machine, a daily visual inspection of the undercarriage is recommended. The operator should look for abnormal wear or prematurely worn undercarriage components, such as track lugs or bogie wheels and idlers. Especially when working in muddy conditions, check the track components for debris immediately after the job.

“Mud can push small rocks into the bogies and track components, and these need to be removed by power washing and/or a shovel,” said Wright.

Keeping proper track tension also will add longevity to track life. If the track is too loose, it could disengage, which increases the chance of wear and damage. If track tensioning is too tight, this can result in increased roller and idler wear and the track tearing.

“Check the track tension during your walk-around or inspection routine — tracks should be tensioned according to the owner/operators manual,” said Wright.

Wright also recommends that contractors consider an all-rubber-track drive system, such as offered on Terex compact track loaders, to increase track and component life. Tracks made with steel imbedded in the rubber can rust and corrode, which will decrease service life.

“Additionally, since there are no holes in the track for the sprocket to mesh, the track can be made with composite materials rather than a steel skeleton. This feature means that Terex tracks are more flexible and generally last longer than steel-imbedded tracks,” he said.

“Understanding the service limits of various undercarriage components is an important part of owning and operating any compact track loader,” said Wright. “Components that have reached the end of their service life should be replaced immediately. Failure to replace worn components can accelerate wear or cause failure of other related components. It can also adversely affect the overall cost of ownership and machine value.”

Wright also suggests that equipment management is the key to successfully extending the life of not only the track but also the compact track loader itself. He recommends that a company assesses its current and future needs, such as scope of the jobs ahead of them and new tasks that need to be performed.

“Know the loader’s operating capacity when considering a machine for the job, analyze the weight of the material and how quickly the material needs to be moved,” said Wright.

Choosing a compact track loader that is too small for the job can lead to an overload situation, which can substantially reduce track life and shorten compact track loader life, while potentially increasing the number of repairs required.

Because costs can be reduced with proper compact track loader operation and machine maintenance, tracks can make all the difference in your productivity and profitability. At the end of the day, usage conditions greatly influence the life and longevity of a compact track loader.