Tips To Reduce Skid-Steer Downtime And Operating Costs By Following A Regular Maintenance Routine
“Owners and operators need to see the value of a preventive maintenance program, or they won’t do it,” says Terex Regional Sales Manager, Jonathon Ferguson. “It is easier to deal with things little by little rather than have something fail and face the consequences: costly repairs and expensive downtime.”
A skid-steer loader maintenance routine is based on the number of hours on the machine, according to Ferguson. Daily, or about every eight hours of work, the unit needs to be visually inspected by the operator. Every two to three months (approximately 250 working hours), biannually (500 hours) and annually (1,000 hours), a skid steer loader should be taken into the shop to be inspected and serviced by a trained technician.
“A lot of unexpected problems can be caught or prevented if a skid steer loader operator simply takes 15 minutes before start-up each day to check the fluids and general condition of the machine,” says Ferguson.
Tires get lots of abuse and need to be checked
Tires are one of the most important components to inspect daily on a skid steer loader, advises Ferguson. “Tires need to be checked frequently for tread depth, wear, damage and pressure. Keep tires properly inflated at all times to ensure machine stability for safe and efficient operation.”
Because skid-steer loaders have no frame suspension to soften the ride for the operator, the air in the tires provides the only cushion between the loader and the ground. Proper tire pressure and balance is critical for stability and durability of a loader. Under-inflated tires can decrease the overall stability of a unit. One noticeable characteristic of this is that a loader that is operating with under-inflated tires will tend to bounce more when going over rough terrain. Over-inflated tires are stiff and unyielding, giving the operator a harsher ride and making the tires more susceptible to damage. Also, make sure that all four tires are evenly inflated, recommends Ferguson. “If the tire pressure from wheel to wheel varies greatly, the whole unit can become less stable due to uneven compression.”
Ferguson also notes that tires should be inflated to the maximum pressure indicated on the sidewall of the tire. Rims need should also be inspected for dents, rust, cracks and scrapes and replaced as necessary. “A blowout or rim failure can lead to more serious consequences.”
At the end of each day, while a skid steer loader is still warm, it is important to wash down the unit – removing any materials that accumulate in the chassis and engine compartment and contaminate the machine. Operators can use a shop-vac to remove any water and debris in the hard-to-reach areas, and they should use a pressure washer or compressed air nozzle to blow debris out of the radiator and oil cooler. In addition, operators need to drain the water separator, which removes water from the fuel supply as the engine runs.
“The end of the day is also the time that operators should report the hours on the unit, as well as how it is being used during the day including what kind of materials it is handling and how far the materials are being transported, to the fleet manager,” says Ferguson.
Some special considerations for Tier 4 engines
Skid steer loaders equipped with Tier 4 engine technology need to be maintained daily according to the engine manufacturer’s recommended guidelines. Lower combustion temperatures in Tier 4 engines reduce NOX but result in an increase in particulate matter. Terex skid-steer loaders, for example, are equipped with EGR engines and DPF exhaust systems. “Terex chose this engine technology for its skid steer loader line because it is well suited for lower horsepower engines operating in high-duty applications,” says Ferguson. All EGR engines with DPF exhaust systems capture soot until they fill up and create too much back-pressure. At that point, the DPFs use one of two approaches to regenerate (clean) themselves: passive and active.
Passive regenerating cycles usually happen without the operator knowing about it. The vehicle’s duty cycles, temperature and pressure output at the DPF initiates this cycle by changing the fuel to air mixture during the combustion cycle to increase the temperature across the DPF, causing a minor burn off of the DPF.
Active regeneration cycles give indicators to the operator through an operator interface to make the driver aware that the unit is about to undergo an active regeneration cycle. At this time, the operator should inspect the DPF area for contaminants before the active regeneration occurs.
“Skid steer loaders,” says Ferguson, “most often generate enough heat to clear the DPF through passive regeneration.
“Although more sensitive to duty cycle and temperature, once installed, these DPF systems are considered to be more user friendly, as they do not require fuel additives, have no moving components and only need to be serviced for annual cleaning.”
Regular review of manufacturer product and service bulletins
Longer-term maintenance tasks must also be a priority, advises Ferguson. “The number one reason for machine failure is negligence of the preventive maintenance tasks. Keeping up with fluid and filter changes, as well as chain tensioning, are crucial to long-lasting productivity. Also, it is important to regularly review manufacturer product and service bulletins and to make the necessary updates, based on the unit’s serial number, as recommended.”
Regular oil changes are necessary to maintain a strong running engine. At the 250-hour mark, the engine oil and filter should be replaced. It is important to check the manufacturer’s recommended guidelines for engine oil specifications. For example, Terex recommends a heavy-duty engine oil for most conditions. Engine oil substitutes may be used as long as the oil meets the manufacturer’s minimum specifications.
Hydraulic fluid filters should also be replaced after 250 working hours on the machine. The fuel filter, which removes contaminants from the fuel as it enters the engine, should be changed at least every 500 hours to prevent plugging and loss of engine power. The hydraulic oil and radiator coolant should be changed every 1,000 operating hours.
According to Ferguson, proper chain tension should always be maintained to minimize wear and prevent damage to the skid steer loader’s drive system. The chain tension should be checked every 500 hours and adjusted as necessary. The chain case oil should be changed every 1,000 hours to maintain proper lubrication and minimize component wear.
To keep a skid steer loader running at peak efficiency, investing in a preventive maintenance program is money well spent. Ferguson’s advice: “Maintain a regular maintenance schedule and follow the manufacturer’s prescribed action items to keep the loader up and running for a long time.”
A SIMPLE DAILY ROUTINE
Jonathon Ferguson recommends the following actions be taken on a daily basis.
1. Check the main fluid levels – hydraulic oil, engine oil, fuel and windshield wiper fluid – and refill if necessary.
When refueling a Tier 4 engine, fuel quality can definitely affect the performance of a skid steer loader – ultra low sulfur fuel is required. “Dirty fuel does not burn as clean and can plug fuel injection nozzles, as well as the DPFs, more quickly – potentially increasing operational costs and losing productivity due to down time.
“Because Tier 4 engines burn cleaner and can run hotter, operators and equipment owners need to be more knowledgeable about fuel and oil selection to prevent downtime issues.”
2. Do a daily walk-around of the machine, checking for damage from the previous day.
A visual inspection should also include inspecting and replacing any damaged machine decals, like safety signs, as well as other safety equipment, checking for leaks and making sure all the machine’s systems, including the fittings at all the pivot points throughout the machine, are lubricated and functioning properly.
“Always have a grease gun handy to lubricate as needed. An important area to grease is up and down the loader arms – zerks may be hidden on a vertical lift-path machine (versus on a radial lift-path unit).”
3. Check the fan and A/C belts for tension, condition and presence.
4. Inspect the quick-attach system for wear to the bushings. Recommended maximum wear on the bushing is 50 percent. Replace if necessary.
5. Inspect the air filters/cleaners, vital components that remove contaminants from the air, and replace if damaged or clean if heavily soiled.