Improving machine performance

Everyone in the construction equipment business knows the old sayings “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and “a dime of routine and preventive maintenance is worth a dollar in repairs.”

Owning and operating construction equipment is an expensive investment. Even a small construction company can have hundreds of thousands of dollars tied up in equipment. Aside from the cost of purchasing and running machinery, there’s also the cost of performing routine and preventive heavy equipment maintenance. It’s an investment that can’t be neglected.

Equipment maintenance is any process used to keep a business’s equipment in reliable working order. It may include routine upkeep as well as corrective repair work.

Construction companies realise just how important it is to maintain their equipment. They know what they put into their equipment maintenance program completely pays back. The return on their maintenance investment is huge, and that’s important regardless of company size.

There are two types of construction equipment maintenance. Construction companies practice routine maintenance and preventive maintenance.

·         Routine maintenance: This type refers to the regular maintenance that all construction equipment undergoes on a fixed schedule. The usual maintenance tasks are oil and filter changes as wells as lubrication, checking fluid levels and testing pressures. Routine maintenance also includes procedures laid out in the manufacturer’s operation manual. That might include fluid or failure analysis.

·         Preventive maintenance: Outside of routine maintenance work, equipment preventive maintenance takes a broader scope. Construction equipment preventive maintenance looks for problems in the making. Then mechanics or service technicians take steps to stop or prevent potential machine failure. They take preventive action before something goes seriously wrong.

Regular heavy equipment maintenance involves scheduling routine tasks to ensure machinery operates at peak performance. Preventive maintenance also involves visual inspections, technical monitoring and oil analysis to anticipate problems and fix them before they become serious. Every regular maintenance step should be a routine part of a company’s preventive maintenance plan.

Preventive maintenance takes a team approach to properly looking after equipment. It involves following the original equipment manufacturers recommendations as well as applying what a specific company’s experiences tell it about a particular piece of machinery. Effective preventive maintenance also includes input from operators and front-line mechanics. No one knows equipment better than the people who build it, run it and repair it.

Monisha Manoharan, Assistant Professor, Sivaji College of Engineering and Technology, Tamil Nadu, says “The cost of maintenance of any equipment is in tune of 200 to 250 percentage of cost of equipment. It has become imperative for going in for maintaining the equipment during its expected life cycle.”

Equipment that is utilised without improper maintenance procedures will depreciate faster than the equipment that is maintained properly. Pavers and compactors require more than just regular upkeep; machinery operators are required to follow specific guidelines to ensure safe and proper use.

Before utilising any type of road construction equipment, understand the safe operation and maintenance requirements. Your equipment operator should be capable of not only understanding but resolving the myriad issues that may come as a result of improper operation. Talk to your equipment manufacturer or supplier about the safety and maintenance guidelines before any operation.

With our rich experience over two decades in the field of maintenance and after sales service, PMS provides AMC services for wide range of construction, infrastructure, earthmoving machinery, mobile cranes and other equipment.

Maintaining heavy equipment

Trained handlers: For most part of their shelf life, the heavy machinery go through most damage due to mishandling by un-experienced people. Most people handling the machines are not qualified enough to use the machines appropriately. Ensure that your machines are handled by company trained or appropriately certified operators to minimise the wear and tear on the machine due to man handling. People responsible for regular maintenance of the machinery should ideally be certified by the OEM to handle the machine, problem shooting and its up keep or be working with a certified service centre.

Regular maintenance: This is the best preventive measure one can take to keep the machines at their best performance over time. Regular maintenance of heavy earth moving equipment means catching the problems while they are still small and starting and solving them in the bud before they can cause major damage. In case most machines in your fleet belong to the same company, its best to get a maintenance contract in place with the company’s service centre on a yearly basis. Having the machines regularly maintained by certified people will increase your machine’s shelf life by a good couple of years in addition to reducing its cost depreciation over time.

Regular cleaning and storage: Heavy machinery usually work in a very soiled environment and gets muddled more often than not. If dirt and grime get into any sensitive areas it can lead to malfunctioning and break downs. Any seals either broken or damaged should be replaced immediately failing which the sensitive parts of the machine will be damaged. The machines should be kept clean of any dirt and debris once the job for the day is done. The machines should be stored in closed areas away from water to keep environmental damage at bay.

Lubricate well: Lubrication can single handedly make or break even the best of heavy machinery over time. All moving parts of the machine should be kept properly lubricated at all times to prevent wear, tear and damage to the parts due to friction. Under lubrication will lead to frictional wear and tear while over lubrication will increase grease deposit, issues with the seals and loss of energy. Similarly its important to use a good quality company approved lubricant for best results. Using the wrong type of lubricant will do more damage than good.

Track wear and tear: Seasoned operators at good at noticing signs that might point to wear and tear in the machines during regular operations. Keeping an eye for the smaller details will help one catch problems before they become big enough to require repair or replacement of parts. Common signs of wear and tear are excessive heating, abnormal vibration and belt shape etc. Its best to fix any issues that are noticed immediately before they become huge. Excess heating may point towards lubrication issues while vibration may be caused due to glitches with the gears and alignments of the belts etc. Misshapen belts are another red flag that needs attention.

Using the right parts and tools: While cheap parts and tools will save money in the short run, it will cause heavy expenses in the long run. It’s best to use original company manufactured replacement parts when required.

How technology can improve maintenance

Technology can help your company by making predictive maintenance possible. Sensors, computer programs, analysis methods and more can help you determine the best time to get your heavy equipment serviced. With preventative maintenance, you could waste time and money by replacing filters or parts that still have a useful life in them. Predictive maintenance takes parts as close to failure as possible but requires you to replace them before they break.

Though predictive maintenance requires paying for the technology you want to implement, consider the long-term savings. After the initial investment in technological components needed for predictive maintenance, you can save money on maintaining your heavy equipment. One mining operation saved 13 times the cost of replacing the part by scheduling the replacement instead of waiting for a breakdown.

Data frequently used for predictive maintenance comes from a variety of sources, including:

·         Telematics: Telematics devices collect information about the machinery they’re installed on and send that operating information to a computer that collects and analyses the data. Some data may require downloading to a computer through a physical line. It will help maintenance personnel predict the best time for servicing the heavy equipment.

·         Fluid analysis: Fluid analysis is another set of data software you may use to help predict service requirements. Fluids from the vehicle will get sent to a lab to determine the level of wear the system has experienced.

·         Condition monitoring: Conditions on the jobsite will help computer systems decide when to schedule predictive maintenance. Harsh conditions such as snow, ice or excessive heat will require more frequent maintenance than equipment used in moderate weather.

Many companies offer construction equipment maintenance packages that will check fluids, inspect equipment, and assess the site. They can help determine the necessary course of action to keep your equipment in the field longer. Other ways to manage construction equipment maintenance is through scheduling. Many service providers have online scheduling that allows for people to schedule maintenance ahead of time and around your project schedule. With all the benefits from regular maintenance it’s easy to see why businesses should have maintenance schedules.

BOX: 1

Three types of machinery failure are almost always due to one of three main causes:

·         Thermally induced failure is where extremes in temperature cause break-downs in the equipment. This usually happens during large temperature fluctuations such as when a machine is being started in cold weather and is being warmed up. It also occurs when equipment is overheated. Extremely hot or cold periods can be prepared for during maintenance, and thermal failure can often be prevented.

·         Mechanically induced failure is easy to recognize. It’s also easy to prevent by making sure machinery components are maintained by replacing parts when needed, lubricating as required and tightening fasteners, as well as ensuring moving parts are properly aligned. Mechanical failure often happens due to overexertion, vibration, shock, collision and operator abuse.

·         Erratic failure is the most difficult to predict and detect. This occurs at random times and under varying conditions. Most erratic machinery failures are the result of sudden overloads on hydraulic or electrical systems. With electronic components, many erratic failures come from software or hardware malfunctions that are preventable by using diagnostic equipment during regular machinery maintenance.