Excavators are immensely valuable pieces of construction equipment, responsible for extraction and movement of various materials across the work site. Companies that own multiple heavy equipment machines understand their value and try to maximise their service life.
To keep your excavator in the best possible condition, you must have a preventive maintenance plan and a regular maintenance schedule. In this comprehensive guide, you will learn the basics of excavator maintenance with tips from experts at Frontu. While the protocols mentioned here can vary based on your mini excavator model, the ideas behind these recommended maintenance procedures take into account the usual recommendations in an excavator’s manual.
A basic structure of an excavator will show different jobs in harsh conditions that can lead to expensive repairs. Once you know all the tangibles that affect the machine’s health, you can start taking proper care of your machines.
What does an excavator do?
Like most heavy equipment, an excavator relies on the work output produced by the hydraulic system for digging, landscaping, and carrying heavy materials. This section covers the main components of an excavator and the key criteria that help the machine perform efficient work with lower operating costs.
Understanding the key components of mini excavators gives meaning to our maintenance tips. By analysing the connection between the major parts, you can see how the machine produces work and how certain conditions affect their longevity.
Starting from the bottom up, the undercarriage is the foundation of the machine, responsible for its mobility and propulsion. The track frame provides a sturdy base for metal bands that move and carry the machine with the help of sprockets – the toothed wheels that use the power of the hydraulic system to move the tracks.
While many mini excavator models use tracks for stability, there are machines that use wheels for faster movement on a big work site. Last, we got idlers and track rollers – additional wheels for stability and management of track tension.
Boom and a stick
A boom is a long arm that controls the reach and direction of your excavation equipment. The pivots allow the extension to move from side to side, while the cylinders generate work output for raising, extending and contracting the arm. At the end of the stick, excavators have an additional, shorter, but much stronger arm called the stick. It provides control of the bucket, a part that carries the extracted materials, by adjusting its depth and reach.
Finally, we come in direct contact with excavated materials with the bucket – a large and deep dish with sharp teeth for digging into surfaces. The bucket cylinders empower the bucket to open and close for easy control.
The operator’s cabin is where a designated worker spends his time when operating an excavator. It includes the steering wheel for the movement of the vehicle and a separate control panel for controlling the excavation components.
The hydraulic system
Aside from the engine that is responsible for vehicle propulsion, the hydraulic system is the machine equivalent of the circulatory system. While our bodies use their systems to transport blood and oxygen into muscles doing work, the hydraulic system transports hydraulic oil or any other pressurised fluid.
Preventive maintenance procedures strategies often focus on checkups on the hydraulic filters, hydraulic oil levels, and other parts to find replacements ahead of time and avoid equipment downtime.
Mini excavators come in many sizes and different lifting capacities, ranging from 1,000 to as high as 10,000 pounds, but even then there are many criteria that affect the machine’s capabilities.
In most cases, a maintenance manual is provided where the manufacturers discuss issues with unnecessary wear and explain how an excavator in optimal condition lowers operating and repair costs. There you should find a section on the recommended lifting capacity, and how different circumstances affect these numbers. The provided numbers only apply if the lifted load is centred and transported without a fully extended boom.
Also, if the machine has not been serviced by certified technicians for an extended period, even staying within the recommended range can lead to equipment failure and costly repairs. To keep lifting heavy loads without costly repairs, make sure to maintain a properly serviced machine with regular maintenance checks.
In this section, we present the main excavator types and their differences. Keep in mind that these classifications are only abstract descriptions for the most common categories. For more accurate information, read the manufacturer’s manual.
Crawler excavators are the most popular type of excavator with all the previously mentioned parts. It uses an undercarriage and tracks for propulsion. It has the biggest lifting strength and digging depth, while a sturdy surface ensures stability. Crawler excavators carry heavy loads and are in contact with abrasive materials all the time. During daily maintenance procedures, operators need to remove dirt from the undercarriage, bucket, and boom.
Mini excavators can be both wheel-based or track-based, depending on what is more useful on a work site. Its compact size allows for fluid navigation and control in tight spaces like tunnels and underground mines, while its speed and manoeuvrability make it perfect for light landscaping.
Dragline excavators use a cable instead of a boom to reach materials in unstable areas. Its lift capacity is massive, but the excavation and movement of materials are a lot harder to control.
Excavator operating hours: how long does an excavator last?
For modern excavators, the operating hours can range from 5,000 to as high as 20,000. There are many factors that influence these numbers, and the best tool to extend their lifespan is a simple maintenance checklist. Without a proper service history, operators and skilled technicians may not notice incorrect fluid levels and lubrication and even miss the signs of gradual failure on key components.
Heavy-duty excavators with a bigger workload will naturally break down faster than a mini excavator. The differences and preventive maintenance suggestions are often explained in the manufacturer’s manual. Industrial equipment machines suffer more wear and tear if the machine is used and maintained by an unskilled or untrained operator.
Last, but not least, the environmental conditions. An excavator that is used for tunnelling and coal mining will need more maintenance and lubrication at grease points if it comes in contact with more rocks and abrasive materials. Meanwhile, a mini excavator that is only used for light landscaping and material transportation will last a lot longer. Heavy rainfall, blizzards, and scorching heat are the most severe environmental factors that can do a year’s worth of damage in just a few days.
The most accurate estimates for operation hours are observed in high-end excavators with multifunctional control panels and sensors monitoring the machine’s health. With the help of heavy equipment software, service technicians have more control over the state of an excavator and can attend to its needs much faster.
In the end, there are too many factors to make accurate predictions for an excavator’s operating hours. However, experienced equipment managers avoid unpredictable damages with a strict regular maintenance checklist.
Excavator maintenance schedule
This section covers the recommended protocol and time intervals for excavator maintenance. Use it as a framework for your strategy and make adjustments to achieve the perfect personalised solution.
Daily maintenance procedures follow a precise inspection checklist that includes a visual inspection with an excavator walkaround. During these steps, operators or skilled technicians check the machine for any external damages to the boom, undercarriage, and the operator’s cabin. Then, they check the engine coolant levels, search for any signs of oil leaks, and lubricate the heavily used mechanical parts.
Every week, designated technicians inspect sprockets and other undercarriage parts to adjust the track tension. The operator conducts a longer visual inspection, and tests the excavator’s control panel, searching for any signs of malfunction and unusual noises.
Seasonal maintenance tasks are usually outsourced to certified technicians who take a closer look at the main components and study the state of an engine and the air filtering system. They follow a proper maintenance plan, cleaning or replacing air and fuel filters, and testing the cooling system to prevent overheating. In the end, all parts of the machine that are less affected by depreciation receive their long-awaited inspection: brake lights, windshield wipers, oil cooler, and the air conditioning system.
This guide provides an overview of excavator maintenance. After learning the ins and outs of the machine, you can start building your preventive maintenance plan and a regular maintenance schedule, allowing you to follow the best course of action to reach the excavator’s peak longevity.