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Blog Machine Upkeep Archive: Operator Diligence Is Good Insurance

Machine Upkeep Archive: Operator Diligence Is Good Insurance

March 9, 2018


By: David Sikorsky, Product Support Specialist, Caterpillar Forest Products

When machine components fail, often the cause can be traced to operator failure. With some regularity, I have seen inadequate lubrication, exhaustion of lubricant or contamination as the most common problems. All can easily prevented by due diligence on the operator’s part.

Lubricant doesn’t disappear into thin air, and while some leaks are the result of catastrophic failures that allow immediate loss of all lubricant, most happen over time. Careful inspection of any machine can prevent downtime and reduce operating costs. These inspections should be performed daily.

The first step should occur at the end of the previous day when the machine is stopped. Always try to park on a level, clear area so that the entire unit can be visually inspected. Sight glasses and dipsticks are calibrated for a level machine, so readings will be inaccurate if it is parked on a slope.

Before climbing on the machine, walk slowly around it. See that pins and their retainers are in place. Look at all hydraulic cylinders and attachments for oil trails. Remember that even a minor hydraulic leak that allows fluid to escape also lets dirt in. Look under the machine for fluids that may have leaked out since last operation. Because porous soil underneath the machine may absorb a lot of fluid, it is more important to look for wet areas and drips on the machine. Pay special attention to rims and tires on wheel-type units and sprockets and final drives on track-type machines. Even small amounts of oil (especially if it was clean the day before) should signal the need to check the oil level of the component.

Next, inspect the hydraulic tank sight glass, engine fluids and fuel level. Nearly everybody understands that the machine’s radiator and crankcase need to be at the full mark, yet many think hydraulic systems can be run with less than a full reservoir. Understand that the hydraulic fluid sight gauge operating range is more than just a recommendation! Now verify fuel level. Visual verification (or topping off the tank) is important, especially if you are going to be working far from the fuel source.

After starting the machine, allow it to idle for several minutes to lubricate all areas of the engine and to give it a chance to warm up. Doing this can significantly extend engine life. Also, it gives the operator a chance to scan the panel for any fault lights or incorrect gauge readings. Exercise the machine to assure that all functions are working correctly.

Your start-up checklist:

1) Inspect tires and/or undercarriage components.
2) Look at the inside of wheels and sprockets for leaking final drive oil.
3) Check hydraulic cylinders for oil paths on barrels and rods, as well as drips on nearby hydraulic hoses.
4) Examine the underside of the machine and the ground for signs of oil and coolant.
5) Inspect the top of tracks of excavators and the deck of knuckleboom loaders for swing drive oil.
6) Pull dipsticks, remove the radiator cap and check sign gauges for correct fluid levels.
7) Confirm fuel level. Modern diesel engines are very difficult to restart after fuel exhaustion and can even be damaged as a result.

Using a well developed, pre-operational startup procedure will offer increased productivity and significant cost savings.

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