How to maximize wheel loader uptime and productivity

By and |  April 22, 2014

Wheel loaders take a pounding. They work in material that wears away the very steel from which they’re built. Wheel loaders lift and carry enormous loads across uneven terrain for hours on end. They fight dust that is determined to go places it shouldn’t.

But the burden on wheel loaders is lessened when owners and operators practice proper maintenance. Here are a few considerations to help maximize your wheel loader’s uptime – and ultimately improve productivity and extend service life.

Pre- and post-operation check
A daily wheel loader walk-around inspection, both before and after operation, is an essential part of the day. Before you begin your day, check all routine daily items associated with fluids and filters. As with your personal health, prevention is the best medicine, and spotting something wrong before you begin work will go a long way to prevent further serious issues.

Equally important for quarry and aggregate operations is the need to pay close attention to features of the machine that contribute to safety – both for the machine itself and the people working around it.

Make sure no unnecessary obstructions impair the operator’s visibility. Check for chips and cracks in the windows. The glass should be free of dirt and cleaned frequently, and wiper blades and windshield cleaning fluid levels need to be maintained.

Examples of other safety components to check during the pre- and post-operation walk-around include running lights, rear-view cameras, backup alarms and safety belts. Watch for debris accumulation, too. Are steps cleared to prevent slipping? Are handrails clean? Have air vents been cleared to prevent steaming in the cab?

In addition to safety, focus on wear items. Check ground-engaging tools and buckets during the walk-around for signs of wear or cracking. In addition to the pre-operation check, do the same checks at the end of the shift. That’s often the best time to spot cracks, leaks or other damage that might have occurred that day.

Capitalize on technology
Wheel loaders are built with a host of technological advancements. Take advantage of them as part of the equipment maintenance process.

For instance, some wheel loaders use programmable controls to ease the pounding wheel loaders and their operators encounter in pits and quarries. One such feature is the ride control feature found on Case wheel loaders. It reduces loader arm bounce during travel – and dampens the vibration that reaches critical machine components. The system is especially beneficial in aggregate applications given the weight the wheel loaders carry, and the uneven terrain over which they transport materials.

Also, take advantage of telematics at every opportunity. Telematics provides actionable information from the wheel loader to your location of choice – including an office computer, laptop or mobile device. Many use telematics to schedule automated maintenance alerts. Telematics can significantly reduce the time involved in the data-collection process, as well as the   paperwork that triggers preventive or corrective maintenance.

Users can also quickly pull reports with all of the pertinent information needed to schedule maintenance at the opportune time. Additionally, users can hone in on specific areas that need attention.

Newer engines, newer maintenance
Many newer wheel loaders in the industry are built with technologically advanced engines that require a different level of maintenance than older wheel loaders. These engines are designed with high-pressure common-rail (HPCR) fuel systems.

Fuel cleanliness is critical with HPCR. The fuel storage tank should be regularly inspected for rust and damage, as well. Another must is to change fuel filters at manufacturer-recommended intervals, or more frequently depending on the work environment. Use OEM filters instead of knockoffs that typically cost more in the long run. Follow manufacturer recommendations on filter types and sizes. Utilize the same micron-size filters on both the fuel system and storage tanks to ensure a clean supply.

Also, remember to drain water from the separator daily – or immediately if a warning light signals trouble. Periodically check the fuel lines for leaks.

Many new loaders are equipped with selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology to meet Tier 4 mandates. SCR is popular because it meets environmental requirements while allowing wheel loaders to perform at full capacity.

SCR reduces the formation of particulate matter in the combustion chamber and eliminates pollutants by treating exhaust gases with diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). It’s a simple and easy-to-maintain Tier 4 solution.

Filters in the DEF circuit are easily accessible on most machines and come with the same maintenance schedule as engine oil. DEF, which is only needed in relatively small amounts, is easy to locate and replenish. A warning light signals when DEF is running low. The DEF tank can also be refilled as part of regular maintenance when checking fluid levels or refueling.

With an SCR-equipped wheel loader, there’s also no need to use anything other than standard oils and diesel.

Don’t overlook the basics
Despite a steady stream of advances found on newer wheel loaders, pit and quarry operations can’t lose sight of basic maintenance best practices.

Every maintenance technician knows filters and fluids need to be changed at the recommended intervals – but it doesn’t always happen. Make sure there’s a routine maintenance plan in place – and make sure it’s followed. Consider filter and fluid changes before recommended intervals given the demands of aggregate applications.

Fluids analysis is also important. The right analysis program will raise an early flag regarding the health of a wheel loader’s engine, planetaries, axles, hydraulic systems and gearboxes. Early discovery can save substantial money and time.

Some machines feature automated maintenance activities, such as self-lubricating grease points that engage at pre-determined intervals. If your wheel loader has such a feature, check to ensure the selected intervals are scheduled according to your application.

Paying attention to tires
The typical aggregates application dictates a higher level of care when it comes to wheel loader tire selection and maintenance. The reason: Key components are susceptible to damage if tires are not properly sized and inflated.

Many pits and quarries choose tires with a radial design to provide a good footprint and tractive effort. This is a good practice, but only part of the equation.

The team should also ensure outside diameters are identical between all tires. Tires with different outside diameters can technically be the same size, yet they won’t feel like a match to your wheel loader. The machine will attempt to compensate, ultimately placing undue and uneven stress on certain parts of the machine. This may lead to unwanted maintenance problems.

Tire inspection should be part of the daily walk-around routine. Make sure pressures are proper and no damage has occurred. This will help to ensure the machine is running on sure footing all day.

Take note
Change fuel filters at manufacturer-recommended intervals, or more frequently depending on the work environment.

Philippe Bisson is brand marketing manager, and John Coe is product support manager, Case Construction Equipment.


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