Simple maintenance practices can always help reduce costs, especially when it comes to the upkeep on big pieces of equipment, such as rubber track loaders. In fact, close to half of a company’s equipment owning and operating costs can come from undercarriage components. As a result, regular maintenance can makes a big difference to the bottom line.

With Jennifer Lalley, Caterpillar‘s undercarriage specialist for rubber track and small & medium track-type tractors, has a few maintenance tips to help keep rubber track machines running longer.

Track tension and adjustment

Loose or overly tight track can affect both the service life of the track and machine performance. Some slack is normal, however it’s best to refer to the owner’s manual to ensure slack is appropriate. Check regularly and adjust when needed. If tracks are too loose, damage to lugs or even derailment can occur. Overly tight tracks can increase wear to not only the tracks, but also the roller wheels, sprockets and drive motors.

Because proper track tension is vital to the life of the track, choosing a rubber track that matches the dimensional requirements of the factory fit rubber track is important. Track pitch needs to match the sprocket pitch to avoid mis-feeding or increased wear between the track and the sprocket. Even if the difference is small, over time the accumulation of errors can lead to early track failure.

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When changing applications, run the machine for an hour and then set track tension to specification. Also be sure to recheck and adjust tension as site conditions change, since something as simple as an overnight rain can affect the amount of packing, requiring adjustment for proper performance and optimal life.

Undercarriage cleanouts

A machine’s undercarriage is often exposed to mud, gravel, debris and other abrasive materials. Lalley recommends daily cleaning of the undercarriage for efficient performance.

The material a contractor works in can impact how often the undercarriage needs cleaning. Cohesive and abrasive materials, such as mud, sand, clay and gravel, should be cleaned out as often as possible – even several times a day – to reduce unnecessary wear to undercarriage components.

The timing of undercarriage cleaning also makes a difference. It is easier to remove materials like mud at the end of the day rather than the next morning, when it has dried.

In cold climates or whenever freezing temperatures are expected between work shifts, run the machine in forward and reverse before shutting it down to reduce moisture build-up and help prevent freeze-ups.

Daily walkaround

Do a visual inspection of the undercarriage. Look for loose or missing bolts, oil leaks, unusual wear patterns, debris and other potential problems. Identifying and correcting issues early can be invaluable in prolonging undercarriage life and machine uptime, lowering your cost per hour.

The operator’s role

Never underestimate the importance of proper operator training and experience. Consider that a single operator has a vested interest in taking care of the machine and operator station. This can have a positive effect on track life.

The experience of the operator also makes a difference. A less experienced operator may consider productivity more important than total owning and operating costs. In addition, training in operating techniques can increase pride in a job well done while increasing undercarriage life.

Here are some important tips for operators to remember while running a rubber-track machine.

  • Maintain proper track tension. Increased packing conditions can put additional stress on the track and other undercarriage components.
  • Avoid counter rotations. These maneuvers apply high stress to the tracks. Hard surfaces and abrasive debris will accelerate the wear on rubber tracks.
  • Avoid lifting track when back-dragging. This maneuver creates stress on the rubber track and components.
  • To help prevent derailment when operating on slopes, keep the heavy end uphill, avoid sharp turns, especially on transitions, and carry lighter loads when possible.

The operator is in a unique position for preventive maintenance. If something doesn’t sound or feel right, a quick check could find a component failure before it causes further damage to the undercarriage system.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 2015.