Control Construction Equipment Spending: CEG

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

Keeping machinery expenses under control 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 redoubling their efforts to extend the life of their off-road machines, making a concerted effort to operate the rigs under their care at peak performance levels using smooth analytics.

“Perhaps nothing is as important and often overlooked in machine maintenance as fluid levels,” said the Indianapolis, Indiana-based Caterpillar dealership. McAllister Machinery. “Analyzing engine oil, fuel, coolant and hydraulic fluid tells an internal story describing the health of your machine.”

These scans are also indicators of maintenance efficiency and predictors of potential breakdowns, the company believes.

Why, how of fluid analysis

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

The process helps plan machine downtime and develop a complete maintenance history for a machine. This improves the possibility of getting the best price 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,” McAllister advised. “By identifying fluid problems early, you can avoid downtime for unscheduled repairs and even catastrophic failures.”

Fluid maintenance goes hand in hand with monitoring the condition of equipment. This should be an integral part of a contractor’s preventative maintenance plan, the Caterpillar dealer said.

A dedicated equipment condition monitoring program helps prevent unnecessary breakdowns and repair costs that can rob a business 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 maintenance and preventive maintenance of machinery are priorities for heavy equipment,” McAllister said. “This includes routine machine maintenance that you as the owner perform as well as outsourced maintenance with the help of equipment professionals.”

Define the maintenance schedule

An unexpected breakdown, forcing unscheduled maintenance, can be a huge obstacle to a project schedule, especially if the machine plays a major role on the jobsite.

Low equipment productivity due to downtime and neglect is a major contributor to rising unexpected project costs, Phillips66 Lubricants believes.

About 800 to 900 productive hours per year is what a contractor can expect from equipment, according to the Houston, Texas-based company.

“Based on a 40-hour workweek, this translates to a productivity rate of just 62% at best,” Phillips said. “This means that most heavy equipment parts have a productivity rate improvement window of almost 40%, which can have a big impact” on the bottom line.

Phillips believes that one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve productivity is to follow 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 takes place on a predetermined schedule, whether the equipment has operational problems or not,” according to Phillips. “It allows you to identify and resolve defects before they turn into more expensive, large-scale problems.”

Although maintenance tasks are dictated by an equipment manufacturer’s recommendations and the vehicle itself, most rigs have engines that require similar checks, including:

  • Engine oil: Use premium motor oil and other lubricants, advises Phillips66.

“Although engine oil is only 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 problems, 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 coolant, transmission, brake, fuel and other fluid levels, the company advised. Frequent drops of liquid indicate a leak that must be identified and repaired.

“As with engine oil, be sure to use the right kind of high-quality fluids to avoid costly repairs.”

Among Phillips’ tips for extending the life of heavy equipment is regular maintenance and servicing of your machines with high-quality lubricants.

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

Since the demands placed on a lubricant vary greatly depending on the components and operating conditions, lubricants have very different physical and chemical characteristics.

This is another reason why consistently using the correct oil maximizes equipment life and performance. “Don’t top off with the wrong oil for convenience,” Phillips said.

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

Prevent equipment failures

According to Phillips, in an ideal world, there would never be any breakdowns and the equipment would operate 100% of the time at 100% capacity.

“But in the real world, equipment failures happen. The impact on the business can range from minimal and easily repairable to catastrophic.”

A catastrophic failure occurs suddenly and causes a rig to shut down, not only damaging the machine, but also causing collateral damage.

The equipment continues to operate during a functional failure, but it cannot operate to design specifications and likely requires a shutdown to correct the problem.

Understand why equipment failure can prevent an event. It’s your first line of defense against unplanned equipment downtime, Phillips said.

Surface degradation, consisting mainly of corrosion and mechanical wear of machine parts, leads to equipment failure in 70% of cases.

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

The water increases the rate at which the oil oxidizes, which ultimately causes the part to operate in an acidic environment.

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

Mechanical wear – abrasive or adhesive – occurs when machine surfaces mechanically rub against each other.

Abrasive wear occurs when particulate contaminants, such as dirt or wear debris, cause pitting and scratching of metal surfaces.

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

To avoid machine failures caused by surface degradation, keep machines and internal parts well lubricated and sealed from contaminating particles, Phillips said.

The company advises contractors to ensure that equipment is well maintained and that parts are regularly replaced.

“Also, keep it clean and stored in an appropriate place, and only allow it to be used by people trained to do so.”

Proper lubrication – using the right type and amount of oil, grease and fluids – is essential to preventing equipment failure and 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 best chance of having maximum life,” according to Phillips.

Avoid improper lubrication

Poor lubrication results from lack of procedures, over- or under-greasing, wrong labeling, wrong lubricant, product mixing, and improper handling and storage.

“Without the right technician for the job or the right procedure, improper lubrication can occur,” Phillips warned.

According to the company, excessive greasing leads to higher operating temperatures and aggressive contamination of the machine. Although very damaging under-lubrication can cause noise, it can go unnoticed in a noisy environment.

Proper labeling reduces the risk of cross-contamination and resolves confusion over which lubricants to use.

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

“Maintenance personnel need training in the proper ways to handle and install bearings and use lubricants,” Phillips advised. “Even the tiniest particles can penetrate a small bump and cause contamination.”

The key is to implement and follow documented lubrication procedures and ensure that every technician is properly trained in them.

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

Another critical step is integrating a labeling system and determining grease gun output while calculating bearing re-greasing requirements.

This will prevent both over-lubrication and under-lubrication, and is a great starting point for the program, Phillips66 said.

“Finally, check your owner’s manual to make sure you’re using the OEM-recommended lubricant for each piece of machinery.”

Using the right, high-quality lubricant consistently “is the single most important thing you can do to prevent costly equipment failures and to keep your equipment and your business running smoothly.” CEG

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