Excavators are heavy construction equipment with a bucket on the end of a jointed boom and a rotating cab referred to as the “house,” located on top of an undercarriage containing tracks or wheels. Designed for digging earth, loading material onto trucks and digging trenches, they are subjected to harsh conditions, often operating in the rain, hot sun, or mud. Just like an automobile, truck or any other piece of construction equipment, proper routine maintenance is critical to keeping them in good working order.

Proper maintenance maximizes fuel efficiency and reduces operating costs as well as equipment failure. Every minute an excavator or other heavy equipment is offline due to a breakdown costs the operator money in wages and lost productivity. Scheduled maintenance can help contain these expenses and maximize productivity.

By following these 10 tips, you can get better performance of your crawler excavator when working in construction applications.

Tip No. 1: Keep the Undercarriage Clean

At the end of each workday, excavator operators should take time to clean out dirt and other debris that may lead to undercarriage buildup. Shovels and pressure washers can be used to help clean the undercarriage.

If the undercarriage is not routinely cleaned, it will accelerate premature wear on components. Cleaning the undercarriage helps prevent unnecessary downtime.

In addition, debris can add weight to the undercarriage, reducing fuel economy.

Many manufacturers now offer undercarriages that are designed for easier track carriage cleanout, helping debris fall to the ground rather than become packed in the track system.

Tip No. 2: Routinely Inspect the Undercarriage

It is important to complete a full undercarriage inspection for excessive or uneven wear, as well as look for damaged or missing components. If the machine is being used in harsh applications or other challenging conditions, the undercarriage may need to be inspected more frequently.

The following items should be inspected on a routine basis:

  • Drive motor
  • Drive sprockets
  • Main idlers and rollers
  • Rock guards
  • Track bolts: Look for loose bolts on track and tighten if necessary.
  • Track chains
  • Track shoes: Look for bent shoes on tracks. The shoes support each other and one bent shoe can lead to additional bent shoes.
  • Track tension

During a routine machine walk-around, operators should check the tracks to see if any components look out of place. If so, this could indicate a loose trackpad or possibly a broken track pin. In addition, they should inspect the rollers, idlers and drives for oil leakage. These oil leaks could indicate a failed seal which could lead to a major failure in the rollers, idlers or track drive motors.

Always follow the manufacturer’s operation and maintenance manual for proper undercarriage maintenance.

Tip No. 3: Follow Basic Best Practices

Certain construction jobsite tasks can create more wear on excavator tracks and undercarriages than other applications, so it is important that operators adhere to the manufacturer’s recommended operating procedures.

Here's some tips that can help minimize track and undercarriage wear include:

  • Make wider turns: Sharp turns or pivoting the machine can lead to accelerated wear and increase the potential for de-tracking.
  • Minimize time on slopes: Constant operation on a slope or hill in one direction can accelerate wear. However, many applications require slope or hillside work. When moving the machine up or down a hill, make sure that the drive motor is in the correct position to reduce track wear. According to Reardon, the drive motor should be facing the back of the machine for easy maneuverability up a slope or hill.
  • Avoid harsh environments: Rough asphalt or concrete or other abrasive materials can cause damage to tracks.
  • Reduce unnecessary spinning: Train your operators to make wide, less aggressive turns. Track spinning can lead to wear and decrease productivity.
  • Select the correct shoe width: Choose the proper shoe width by considering the weight of the machine and application. For instance, narrower excavator shoes are better suited for hard soil and rocky conditions because they have better soil penetration and grip. Wide excavator shoes typically work well in soft underfoot conditions because they have more flotation with lower ground pressure.
  • Pick the correct grouser: Consider the application before choosing the number of grousers per shoe. A single or double grouser may work well when laying pipe but may not work well in other applications. Typically, the higher number of grousers the track has, the more contact the track has with the ground, vibration is reduced and the track will last longer when working in more abrasive conditions.

Tip No. 4: Maintain Proper Track Tension

Incorrect track tension may lead to increased track wear, so it is important to adhere to the proper tension. As a general rule, when your operators are working in soft, muddy conditions, it is recommended to run the tracks slightly looser.

If steel tracks are too tight or too loose, it can quickly accelerate wear. A loose track could cause the tracks to de-track.

Tip No. 5: Consider Rubber Tracks for Sensitive Surfaces

Rubber tracks are available on smaller excavators and these models excel in a variety of applications. Most noticeably, rubber tracks provide good flotation, allowing excavators to travel across and work on soft ground conditions. The rubber tracks have minimal ground disturbance on finished surfaces, such as concrete, grass or asphalt.

Tip No. 6: Adhere to Proper Digging Procedures

Excavator operators should follow basic operating procedures as outlined in the manufacturer’s operation and maintenance manual to minimize excessive wear and track degradation.

Tip No. 7: Changing Air and Fuel Filters

Proper maintenance of air, fuel and hydraulic filters is an important maintenance requirement for equipment operating in dirty and wet conditions. Refer to the operator manual and follow the instructions carefully when changing air or fuel filters. Shortcuts are a common cause of contamination and problems.

Hydraulic oil is filtered on return to the tank and not the pressure side. To check or clean the hydraulic oil filter, release the pressure to the tank by loosening the cap. Clean the oil filter cap to prevent dirt and debris falling into the filter; remove the filter cap and then clean away any dirt from the top of the filter. Remove the filter and clean if necessary, making sure to follow the instructions carefully. Finally, reassemble, inspecting O-rings and components for damage and dirt.

Tip No. 8: Swing Bearing and Swing Gear Maintenance

The swing gear is a vital component and is often neglected when servicing the excavator. Both the bearing and the gear should have proper lubrication and be free from contamination. Make sure bearing is greased properly and inspect the swing gear to make sure enough grease is present and water or dirt hasn’t leaked into the compartment.

Tip No 9: Spark Plugs

When checking or changing the spark plugs, make sure to clean and re-gap spark them. Do not forget to clean the threads and seat area and change the gasket before reinstalling the spark plug. Also, it is important to use proper torque when reinstalling spark plugs.

Tip No 10: Low Power Troubleshooting

When troubleshooting a perceived low power issue, start with the simple things first. Look at the air filters and fuel filters for restrictions, such as leaves, and remove or clean if necessary. Measure the actual cycle times and compare to the specified service times in the service manual. This will determine whether there is an actual problem or a perceived issue. A valve adjustment may be required, but this is a more complex issue and may need to be performed by the dealer.

Adhering to these 10 maintenance tips can help keep your overall cost of ownership down and extend the life of your excavator.

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