How to minimize undercarriage wear & tear on tracked machines

Updated Feb 7, 2019

CTL_TV380_Photo1_500x333 (1)The life of a tracked machine can depend a great deal on how well the undercarriage is cared for by its operator.

Whether its compact excavators, regular excavators or track loaders, the undercarriage of a machine can represent a large portion of the equipment’s purchase price, according to Case Construction Equipment.

The company has put together a few tips on how to prevent and minimize undercarriage wear to help maximize the machine’s life.

Operating techniques: Best practices

The undercarriage of a crawler machine works as a system of moving components that consists of sprockets, rollers, idlers, tracks and other miscellaneous parts. Proper operation is critical to controlling the cost of these wear items. Follow these general best practices:

  • Plan ahead: Proper operating procedures start before the machine gets to the jobsite. Check the ground conditions and the terrain to make a number of informed decisions. Examples include the need to minimize travel on the site as travel equals wear, the use of steel tracks versus rubber tracks depending on the need to control ground pressure or navigate debris, choosing the narrowest shoe width possible to meet the required flotation, and discussions with operators about operating techniques that match the terrain.
  • Make wider turns: Counter-rotation, or pivot turns, causes accelerated wear and increases the potential for de-tracking of rubber-tracked machines. Make wider more gradual turns, such as Y-turns, when possible.
  • Work up and down on slopes: Constant operation on a slope or hill in one direction can accelerate wear to idlers, rollers and guide lugs by placing greater forces on one side. Travel straight up or down the slope. Turns are best performed on level ground. We understand some jobs require hillside work. For these situations, keep in mind that minimizing time on the slope will always payoff in reduced wear and load to the undercarriage.
  • Alternate turning direction: Continuous turning on the same side can cause asymmetrical wear and accelerated wear. Make every effort to balance the direction of turns throughout the day. If it’s not possible, check for wear more often.
  • Control track spinning: Unnecessary spinning can increase wear and decrease productivity. Decrease the blade or bucket load to avoid it.
  • Limit high-speed and reverse travel: Higher speeds can cause more wear, as can unnecessary travel in reverse with dozers and CTLs. Minimize unproductive high speeds and avoid excessive travel in reverse.
  • Use caution when edges are encountered: Driving over steep edges, such as curbs, can cause damage to rubber tracks. Avoid traveling over them altogether, or use ramps. A good suggestion for all tracks (rubber or steel) is to avoid loading just the side of the track pad, instead of the entire pad supporting the weight.

Take care with rubber tracks

Rubber tracks are a good choice when working in soft conditions and the jobsite dictates the need to minimize damage to the ground. If rubber tracks are used, it’s important to:

  • Avoid harsh environments: Traveling or operating in, or on, abrasive materials will shorten track life. Avoid surfaces that include broken stone, jagged rocks, scrap iron or other recycled materials; crushed rock, recycled concrete or demolition rubble; rough asphalt or concrete; and rock-laden jobsites or similar conditions that can damage tracks and cause them to de-track when stones get stuck in the idler or sprockets. Also avoid abrasive and contaminated environments.
  • Stick to relatively flat surfaces: Operating the machine with the outside/inside edge of the track turned up can cause damage to the edges and lugs of the rubber track. Avoid traveling with the tracks on uneven ground, or surfaces with obstructions.
  • Watch for curbs: Given that rubber is weaker than steel, do not allow the sides of tracks to contact curbs or walls to minimize damage and downtime.
  • Rotate the tracks on compact equipment: These tracks are not direction-specific. With tracks on compact equipment, pull the tracks and swap sides or flip their direction on each side when wear patterns present themselves.
  • Properly clean and store tracks: Flush the tracks and undercarriage with clean water if the machine was used in areas with corrosive materials. The tracks should be stored on their sides to avoid crimps.
  • Replace not repair: Damaged tracks cannot be repaired and need to be replaced to minimize excessive wear to other undercarriage components.

Use proper digging techniques with excavators

Operators should follow proper procedures specific to excavators and digging to minimize wear and tear on the machine’s undercarriage.

It’s recommended that operators dig over the front idlers. Doing so 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.

Proper maintenance pays dividends

Proper care of the undercarriage can significantly minimize maintenance costs, increase uptime and profoundly impact the longevity of the crawler machine. Owners and operators should:

  • Ensure proper track tension: Monitor track tension when the machine is in actual working conditions and adjust it accordingly. When steel tracks are too tight, it accelerates bushing wear. When they’re too loose it can create instability, and in the worse case scenario, it can cause the tracks to derail. When rubber tracks are too tight, it can cause the tracks to stretch or break in addition to excessive roller and idler wear. A rubber track that is too loose can de-track, leading to a damaged track and significant downtime. Proper tension of steel or rubber tracks also ensures the machine puts available power to best use. Check the operator’s manual for specific track inspection and tensioning procedures.
  • Keep the undercarriage clean: At the end of the day, clean out mud and debris from the undercarriage since it can build up and accelerate component wear. Doing so at the end of the day ensures that material that might freeze or dry up and harden overnight is removed. Pay special attention to cleanup when rubber tracks are used given that buildup can cause the tracks to “stretch,” or result in harmful track tension.
  • Conduct daily inspections: Operators should inspect the undercarriage for excessive or uneven wear, as well as damaged or missing components. Any issues should be immediately addressed to minimize further wear or damage.
  • Follow the schedule: Conduct a complete undercarriage inspection in keeping with the manufacturer’s recommendations. More frequent inspections should be performed if the machine is used in conditions that are more demanding than normal. Adhere to routine maintenance guidelines, including oil changes for final drives and checks on undercarriage bolt torques.

Give the undercarriage its due

Proper operation of crawler machines – along with proper undercarriage care and maintenance – is an essential part of fleet management. Contractors who give it the attention it deserves will come out ahead with machines that deliver optimal performance with lower overall owning and operating cost.

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