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- SafetyFebruary 14, 2023 EquipmentShare
How to Prevent Undercarriage Damage: 9 Tips for Tracked Machine Maintenance
How to Prevent Undercarriage Damage: 9 Tips for Tracked Machine Maintenance
Reading time: 5.5 min
What is a Heavy Equipment Undercarriage?
Tracked heavy equipment relies on a complicated system of parts, known as an undercarriage, in order to convert hydraulic power into mechanical power. The main components of the undercarriage are drive motors, idlers, sprockets, pins and bushings, rollers and tracks
Drive motors are responsible for transferring the hydraulic power of your machine into mechanical, rotational power. Similar to a bicycle chain and cog, drive motors have small teeth, or sprockets, that dig into the pins and bushings on the backside of the track, rotating to spin the track. Idlers, like drive motors, spin on the inside of the track, but they do not receive power from the motor. Their function is to keep the track aligned and spinning in place.
Rollers, which can be found at the top and bottom of the undercarriage, are responsible for keeping the track taut and giving it clearance. The track is the part of the undercarriage that interfaces with the ground. Tracks can be made of rubber or steel and, like tires, have lugs or grousers that provide them with traction.
Over the lifespan of your machine, the undercarriage will require the most time and money to maintain. Therefore, it’s critical to understand the role of each component in the undercarriage and how to maintain it properly.
Tips to Prevent Undercarriage Damage
Proper undercarriage maintenance goes a long way in reducing maintenance costs and increasing the longevity of your tracked machine. Here are some useful tips to prevent damage to your machine’s undercarriage – keeping it operational for years to come.
1. Select the Right Tracks
Choosing the right tracks for your machine and application is crucial to ensuring the health of your machine’s undercarriage.
For most applications, steel tracks are the preferred choice. Steel tracks are durable and can be used in a variety of terrain, such as dirt, sand, rock and soil. They have excellent traction and provide real power in wet or muddy conditions.
While not as heavy duty as steel tracks, rubber tracks are another popular choice for tracked heavy equipment. The main advantage of rubber tracks is they do not cause as much ground damage as steel tracks. They are also smoother and quieter to drive on.
Unlike steel tracks, however, rubber tracks don’t have great traction and don’t perform as well in wet conditions.
2. Operate Your Machine Properly
Improper operating practices can cause your machine’s undercarriage to wear down quickly, requiring more frequent maintenance. To extend the life of your machine’s undercarriage and minimize maintenance costs, train your operators on best practices. And, refer to your machine’s manual for specific operating instructions.
Some behaviors that should be avoided include:
- Loading or digging on uneven terrain
- Digging from the machine’s side
- Spinning the machine’s tracks in loose underfoot, like sand
- Driving too fast or aggressively
- Constantly turning to the same side
- Operating on slopes or hills in one direction
3. Perform Regular Inspections
Frequent inspections of your machine’s undercarriage will ensure you catch any issues before they become problematic. If possible, have your operators perform a thorough inspection of their machine’s undercarriage each morning.
When inspecting your machine’s undercarriage, you want to keep an eye out for any parts that look loose or shiny from excess wear. In particular, make sure you visually inspect the following key areas for damage or leakage:
- Drive motors
- Drive sprockets
- Track guards
- Track bolts
- Track links
- Track shoes
- Pins and bushings
Bushings, sprockets and rollers are especially prone to wear from normal operations and need to be inspected carefully. Certain parts, like rollers and idlers, are prone to oil leaks and should also be checked daily.
4. Choose the Right Track Tension
Like tire pressure and tires, track tension can affect how quickly or slowly your tracks wear down over time.
Track tension that is too tight can lower the power of your machine and reduce its efficiency. It can also place excessive pressure on your bushings, eventually wearing them down or causing them to break.
On the other hand, track tension that is too loose can cause your tracks to fall into misalignment, placing uneven stress on the undercarriage.
For most applications, you should stick to the track tension set out in your machine’s operating manual. However, there are some situations, like loose or sandy soil, where you may choose a slightly looser tension.
5. Maintain Proper Track Alignment
Improper track alignment can place excessive strain on the entire undercarriage, leading to component failure. To ensure proper alignment, make sure the drive motors and idlers are in parallel alignment.
Misaligned tracks will have a tendency to pull the machine to one side and may cause unusual vibrations while driving.
6. Clean the Undercarriage
Keeping your undercarriage clean and free of debris is one of the most important ways to prevent excessive wear and breakdowns.
Allowing debris to build up in your machine’s undercarriage, like dried mud and gravel, can jam its components and cause them to break. Abrasive materials, such as sand, will wear down the small components of your undercarriage over time. To avoid excessive wear on the undercarriage, it’s important to clean it as part of your regular maintenance program.
Using a pressure washer or jet nozzle, spray down the undercarriage at the end of each shift, being sure to dislodge any small debris or gravel stuck in the pins, bushings and rollers.
Colder climates in which dirt and mud freeze are especially hard on the undercarriage. In such climates, it’s especially important to clean the undercarriage regularly. If it’s too cold to use a pressure washer to clean the undercarriage, clean it using a shovel or pry bar.
7. Choose the Right Track Size and Track Shoe Width
Choosing the proper track size and shoe width can help your tracks last longer and prevent unnecessary wear on your machine’s undercarriage.
For hard and rocky soil, a narrow shoe size will provide better penetration and grip. In loose and sandy soils, wider shoes will distribute the weight of your machine more evenly and last longer.
When choosing the right tracks for your application, you also need to consider the correct grouser type. Like lugs on a tire, a track with more grousers will have more contact with the ground, improving stability and boosting track longevity.
8. Replace Worn Components
When a component is loose, missing or broken, it can place additional strain on other components in the undercarriage, leading to additional part failures.
In order to avoid costly breakdowns and unnecessary wear on the undercarriage, it’s important to replace components as soon as they break or become overly worn.
In particular, you should keep an eye out for sprockets that have become misshapen, as they tend to wear out the fastest. If you notice the idler teeth have a point to them or are shaped like a hook, it’s time to replace your sprockets.
9. Keep the Undercarriage Lubricated
Keeping your machine’s undercarriage lubricated is key to maintaining its cleanliness and function. Oiling the bushings of your undercarriage provides lubrication between components and prevents dirt from entering between the pins and bushings.
The operator’s manual for your machine will detail the primary grease points in your machine’s undercarriage and how much grease they should receive during regular maintenance.
Keeping the small components and bearings of the undercarriage well-greased is one of the most important maintenance tasks performed by your operators. Train your operators to grease the undercarriage each day as part of their regular inspection.
Get Help From the EquipmentShare Shop
Your equipment’s undercarriage is the foundation of your machine. Regular maintenance and inspection of your machine’s undercarriage will help prevent costly damage and downtime. If you need additional help replacing undercarriage components, reach out to one of our parts experts and get personalized assistance.
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