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Equipment Hub: Undercarriage maintenance for tracked machines 101

Faviola Gomez for Progressive Dairyman Published on 26 June 2018

The health and productivity of any tracked machine starts with its undercarriage. Representing a significant portion of a piece of equipment’s purchase price, the undercarriage also represents a high percentage of a machine’s lifetime operating costs, so proper maintenance and operation practices are critical for protecting your equipment investment.

Here are several maintenance and operating best practices that will help you maintain the overall health and productivity of your tracked machines.

Maintenance best practices

Undercarriage monitoring and upkeep is critical, and there are several basic maintenance practices producers can engage in to extend undercarriage life.

Daily walk-around inspections

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 (see owner’s manual). Also, be sure to check the drive sprockets and track pads for damage and wear. These and other wear issues can be indicative of a larger potential problem or can lead to further damage – and should be addressed immediately.

Track tension

Track tension should be checked daily, with the sag adjusted to the original equipment manufacturer’s recommended measurement for each machine.

When tracks are too tight, this increases load on contact areas, accelerating 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.

Keeping it 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 colder months.

Track alignment

Track misalignment problems will affect more undercarriage components than any other issue, so correct track alignment is necessary in order to prevent wear of the undercarriage components. Track links, idler flanges, track and carrier roller flanges, sprockets and rock guards can all suffer from increased wear when tracks are not properly aligned.

Follow the schedule

Conduct a complete undercarriage inspection at regular intervals per the original equipment manufacturer’s recommendations in the owner’s manual. More frequent inspections should be performed if the machine is used in conditions more demanding than normal. Adhere to routine maintenance guidelines, including oil and other fluid drain intervals as well as bolt torque checks, etc.

Operating best practices

Proper operation is just as critical as maintenance when it comes to preventing and minimizing undercarriage wear. Here are several operating considerations that can extend the life of your undercarriage components.

Planning and proper training

Proper operating procedures begin before the machine even gets to the working area. Check the ground conditions and 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.

Discuss these things with your equipment dealer and, most importantly, discuss them with your operators.

Always make sure your operators are properly trained and have the necessary resources – operating manuals, etc. – made available to them.

Selecting the right tracks for the job

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.

With their narrow track gauge and narrow track shoes, they provide high ground pressure and the best traction. When it comes to firm ground conditions with more varied terrain, wide tracks are the preferred track option.

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-speed and reverse operation

It’s important to note wear rate is a function of speed and distance traveled, not just hours worked. High speeds can affect the wear rate on pins, bushings and sprockets – the faster the speed, the faster the wear rate.

Depending on the type of machine, operators should also avoid excessive use of reverse operation whenever possible. It’s not only a non-productive use of the machine, but it also accelerates bushing and sprocket wear.

Wide turns and track spinning

Counter-rotation, or pivot turns, can cause accelerated wear on the undercarriage. Operators should try to make wider, more gradual turns whenever possible. Unnecessary track spinning can also increase wear and decrease productivity.

Excavators: Digging over the front idlers

It’s recommended 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.

Telematics

The critical maintenance and operating data made available through the use of telematics can have a significant impact on undercarriage life, even though no sensors specifically report on undercarriage health.

In its simplest 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 working conditions.

Producers and other equipment owners can also dive deeper and examine the difference between actual working time and idle time to get a better idea of how much load is placed on the undercarriage every day.

Some telematics systems provide details on ground speed so owners can monitor track speed, which increases wear and decreases the life of the undercarriage. 

Following these key considerations will optimize the life of the undercarriage of your tracked machine. Remember, your productivity is on the line, so it’s critical to regularly monitor track appearance, wear and performance – and never hesitate to contact your local dealer or equipment service partner with questions or concerns.  end mark

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