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Mechanics Corner: Evaluate wheel loader maintenance to improve efficiency

Scott Britton Published on 11 March 2015

Wheel loader maintenance is a complex practice because it requires different plans and schedules for a number of systems on the same machine.

For instance, fuel system requirements are completely different than those for engine or hydraulic oil, so they each need customized maintenance strategies.

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Managing several plans at once requires intricate knowledge of the machine and an elaborate schedule to cover all maintenance needs efficiently.

Dairy farmers are working with smaller budgets, making machine health and performance critical to a successful operation. As a result, maintenance plans have taken center stage to help improve efficiency and prevent unscheduled downtime.

However, this is where maintenance practices may be taken overboard. Believe it or not, some operators are doing too much when it comes to maintenance, and it can lead to unnecessary costs and lost efficiency.

To avoid over-maintaining, it’s important to follow the Operation and Maintenance Manual (OMM) while at the same time considering what machines can do automatically.

Many systems are programmed with alerts and functions to help operators reach optimum performance without the need for a full diagnosis. As technology continues to advance, newer machine models will be designed to make maintenance more convenient.

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Looking beyond automated system monitoring, operators should revisit and update maintenance plans every few years to accommodate changing machine features. Additionally, operators should spend time studying machine functions to help work more effectively.

Balancing maintenance practices is important because doing too much or too little can be the difference between increased efficiency and lost profit.

Improve maintenance practices

Completing more jobs with a single machine can help cut costs and improve efficiency. Wheel loaders are maneuverable, versatile and capable of working with an array of materials, so they’ve become a staple for many dairy operations.

Consulting the OMM, knowing your wheel loader’s automatic maintenance features and asking about optional upgrades can help you build a more efficient plan. The following list highlights wheel loader features that should be considered when determining maintenance strategies.

1.Fluid sampling – Machine fluids should be managed by following recommended change intervals in the OMM. Additionally, implementing sampling services for fluid analysis helps track data over time to identify deviation from normal trends. This data can also be used to adjust intervals for adequate protection in high load applications, dusty environments or even extreme temperatures.

2.Valve lash – With advancements in hydraulic lifter technology and design, valve lash no longer needs to be manually adjusted to maintain proper clearance between the valve and rocker arm. Newer designs help reduce maintenance time and costs.

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3.Diesel particulate filter (DPF) – The clean emissions module (CEM) is designed to remove hydrocarbons and harmful particulate matter from the exhaust stream.

Additionally, the DPF, one of the components that make up the CEM, prevents particulates from being released into the atmosphere. Choosing a manufacturer whose DPF is designed to last the entire lifetime of the machine can eliminate change intervals and reduce maintenance costs.

4.Cooling system – In high-debris applications like dairies, dust and particulates are constantly flying around. New cooling system designs pull clean air from the back instead of the sides, where debris kick-up from the tires is more common.

Older designs may require manual cleaning of the grill to uphold proper airflow where newer designs need less attention. Optional reversing fans allow for an automatic cleanout of the cooling pack to further reduce manual cleaning requirements.

5.Automatic greasing system – Some optional systems are self-diagnosing and come with alerts when action is required. Instead of greasing every pin daily, you can avoid over-greasing by focusing on the grease reservoir. As long as the reservoir is full, there is no need to grease individual pins, thus reducing operating costs.

All of these features are designed to work together and optimize wheel loader performance. Some of them are standard while others are optional, which gives you an opportunity to take action and improve your maintenance strategy.

Every operation is different, so your machine may not need additional features to run efficiently. Work with your dealer representative to identify all of your options and take some time to consider which features can help increase your bottom line.

Preventative maintenance

While over-maintenance is a growing concern, daily walk-around practices should still be implemented to maximize performance. There are steps you can take every day to reduce wheel loader life cycle costs, and they don’t have to take a lot of time. Applying the following preventative maintenance tips to your daily inspection routine can help balance your strategy.

  • Check engine oil on a daily basis
  • Remove dust and debris from cylinders
  • Be mindful of fluid leaks
  • Check silage rigs and coupler functionality
  • Check tire pressure to optimize balance and stability
  • Examine or clean out the cooling pack
  • Operate with the door closed to allow pressurized cabs to stay clean
  • Clean cab regularly to maintain a safe environment

Over-maintenance can be just as expensive for your wheel loader as not doing enough. The key to a balanced maintenance strategy is learning more about your machine’s capabilities and following the OMM schedule.

If there are optional machine upgrades and services, take the time to consider whether or not those could make a difference for your operation. Applying higher-quality components and utilizing special services may greatly improve machine efficiency and even reduce your total cost of ownership. PD

Scott Britton is product specialist with Caterpillar Inc.

scott britton

Scott Britton
Product Specialist
Caterpillar Inc.

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