Undercarriage monitoring and upkeep is critical, and there are several basic maintenance practices that owners and operators can engage in to extend undercarriage life.
Operators should perform daily inspections of their machine's undercarriage, looking for excessive or uneven wear and damaged or missing components. Check for proper clearance between the track chain and idler roller. Also, be sure to check the drive sprockets and track pads for damage and wear.
When steel tracks are too tight, it creates added load on contact areas, which can accelerate component wear. A track that is too tight also robs the machine of its power and fuel efficiency, as it actually takes more effort to turn the track. If a track is too loose, it can create instability and potentially cause the tracks to derail, while also causing wear on other components of the undercarriage.
It is important to keep the undercarriage clean. At the end of a workday, operators should clean out any mud or debris from the undercarriage. This is particularly important in northern climates where material can freeze inside the track during the winter months.
Correct track alignment is necessary in order to prevent wear of the undercarriage components. Misalignment problems will affect more undercarriage components than any other issue. Track links, idler flanges, track and carrier roller flanges, sprockets and rock guards can all suffer from increased wear when the tracks are not properly aligned.
Equipment owners can better tackle undercarriage costs and needs if they know where they are in the life of their undercarriage. Measure the bushings and rollers and, if these components have been reduced to 85 percent of their original diameter, rotate them 180 degrees. Gauging this pace of wear over time will give the equipment owner insight into the life expectancy and wear patterns of the undercarriage.
Conduct a complete undercarriage inspection in keeping with the manufacturer's recommendations. More frequent inspections should be performed if the machine is used in conditions that are more demanding than normal. Adhere to routine maintenance guidelines, including oil changes for final drives and checks on undercarriage bolt torques.
Proper operation is just as critical as maintenance when it comes to preventing and minimizing undercarriage wear.
Proper operating procedures begin before the machine even gets to the jobsite. Check the ground conditions and the terrain—consider the need to minimize travel on the site, as well as the use of steel tracks or rubber tracks, and the narrowest shoe width possible to meet the required flotation.
Knowing which track width is best for the job is an important consideration when it comes to undercarriage health.
For firm ground conditions with minimal slope, long tracks are the best fit. When it comes to firm ground conditions with more varied terrain, wide tracks are the preferred track option. Their wide track gauge and wider track shoes provide lateral stability in sloped areas.
Low ground pressure tracks are the best suited for soft, swampy ground conditions. The wide track gauge and widest possible track shoes ensure lateral stability and the best flotation.
High speeds can affect the wear rate on pins, bushings and sprockets; the faster the speed, the faster the wear rate. It's important to note that wear rate is a function of speed and distance travelled, not just hours worked. Operators should also avoid excessive use of reverse operation. It's not only a non-productive use of the machine, but it also accelerates bushing and sprocket wear unnecessarily.
Counter-rotation, or pivot turns, can cause accelerated wear on the undercarriage. Operators should try to make wider, more gradual turns whenever possible.
Continuous turning on the same side can cause accelerated asymmetrical wear. Make every effort to balance the direction of turns throughout the day. If that is not possible, be sure to check for wear more often.
Unnecessary spinning can increase wear and decrease productivity. This can be avoided by decreasing the blade or bucket load.
Another important practice for operators to follow is working up and down on slopes. Constant operation on hills in one direction can accelerate wear to idlers, rollers and guide lugs by placing greater force on one side. Minimizing time spent on the slope will pay off in reduced wear and load to the undercarriage.
It's recommended that excavator operators dig over the front idlers, which properly transfers the vertical load that can otherwise cause damage. Avoid digging over the sprocket because it can cause bushings to crack or break. It's also important to avoid digging over the sides of the machine given the additional stress it places on track shoes and the track link assembly.
At this point in time, most manufacturers offer some type of telematics solution. In its most simple form, the reporting hours provided by telematics can be used to accurately keep up on undercarriage maintenance activities, and also create benchmarks for each specific machine and application based on the conditions they are working in.