It is no longer possible to imagine construction sites, landscaping areas, mines, or any other job site without the presence of heavy equipment machines. They are responsible for inhuman feats of strength, flexibility, and reach, letting workers interact with surfaces that would otherwise be unsafe or inaccessible.
However, for as useful as they are, industrial machines are very pricey. Even for replacement of small components, construction equipment repair is an expensive ordeal that can lead to costly downtime if problems go unchecked. To help readers avoid equipment breakdowns and machine failure, we, with the help of specialists at Frontu, have developed a beginner’s guide that covers common equipment malfunctions and tips to maximise life expectancy for your tools.
What classifies a tool as a Heavy equipment machine?
Heavy equipment machines are big and powerful tools used in various industries, mainly construction, mining, and landscaping. From the basic loaders, trucks, and excavators, to enormous tower cranes, heavy machinery focuses on greatly expanding our abilities, through incredible mechanical strength, flexibility, reach, durability.
What sets them apart from other tools is not just their size, power, and capability to handle significant loads, but also the complexity of the machine. A modern heavy equipment machine usually has an engine, hydraulic system, heat regulation tools, safety components, and other parts responsible for proper operation and efficient fuel consumption.
Heavy equipment failures usually occur due to gradual deterioration of components due to lack of fluid servicing, cleaning, lubrication, as well as factors outside the operator’s control: excessive load, extreme weather. Understanding how unplanned downtime occurs will help you keep an eye on each important piece of equipment, track warning signals, and identify mechanical problems before they start causing collateral damage to a major component.
What are some common issues that can arise with heavy equipment
While the issues with heavy equipment can be exacerbated by inexperienced operators, lack of basic troubleshooting, and lack of adherence to safety risks, the influential factors will be unique for construction project planning. Still, project managers need to evaluate all tangibles and try to stop damages and prevent equipment downtime before failure occurs.
In most cases, erratic failure affects external components: loader arms, forklift forks, backhoe buckets or dozer blades need regular maintenance to extend their lifespan and minimise wear and tear.
Despite that, because these attachments come in contact with abrasive materials, their damages can be unpredictable. That is why, equipment managers need to schedule preventative maintenance services to prevent equipment damage and mechanically induced failure.
Aside from regular inspections, a construction company needs to train workers to understand what is needed for these parts to function properly, and how to identify intermittent failure ahead of time.
Moving to internal components, keeping hydraulic systems, and the machine’s engine in optimal condition is crucial for preventing equipment breakdown. These are the parts responsible for force generation that lets them perform superhuman feats of strength and flexibility. To identify the most common equipment malfunctions, we must look at what these components need the most.
For example, overused heavy machinery can experience equipment breakdown if hydraulic systems and engines do not receive frequent fluid servicing. A quick replenishment of engine oil keeps its parts protected and lubricated, while flushing out any contaminants. Just like in coolant systems, it also prevents the engine from working in extreme heat conditions that can quickly damage the rest of the equipment. Meanwhile, hydraulic oil is an essential fluid that gets pressurised by a hydraulic pump that receives power from the engine, and delivers it to appendages, which travel to cylinders within the external components, resulting in mechanical work.
Cleaning, removal of clogged filters, and fluid inspection are key maintenance tasks that prevent mechanically induced failures, as well as thermally induced failure. Proper training reaches operators to keep an eye on the cleanliness of the machine, as well as levels of engine hydraulic fluid.
Because most operators are not trained to understand the intricacies of electrical systems, human error and lack of servicing often leads to electrical failure, which shuts down the operation of your machine. To protect construction workers during operating procedures, the machine’s electrical components need to be inspected by licensed technicians. This way, equipment components and their controls will work as intended, ensuring efficient work and general occupational safety.
What are the root causes of equipment reliability problems?
For most destructive equipment issues, operation issues and lack of operator training are the main reasons for problems with a specific piece of equipment. Especially in cases where cold temperatures or intense heat affects the operating conditions, untrained operators can miss warning signs: lack of lubrication, low hydraulic pressure, and overheating.
Another common issue that affects the efficiency of machines and health of operators is a lack of regular maintenance for air filtering components. To ensure appropriate operating procedures on the construction project, managers need to train operators in the basics of construction equipment servicing, not just the servicing of their respective vehicles.
What is an example of equipment failure?
To highlight the potential devastating consequences of construction equipment failure, let’s take an extreme example – malfunction of a tower crane. If we try to trace back the root cause, the issue will most likely lie in the previously mentioned servicing issues: Lack of hydraulic fluid, electrical failure, and unexpected deterioration of hydraulic systems and their components.
In this case, the best case scenario is to wait for emergency services to bring the operator and other employees to safety. However, unexpected equipment failure does not always bring the machine into standby mode. The damage to the tower crane’s hydraulic system can lead to dangerous inaccuracies in equipment control that can end up hurting other workers or damaging neighbouring structures.
Even if the situation resolves without casualties, keeping massive appendages extended strains the counterweight system, and prolonged periods in a similar position can cause gradual failure to its components.
Gradual failure vs Total equipment failures
Gradual failure is a gradual process that affects most equipment components. Unexpected absences or loss of bolts, nuts, screws damages the structural integrity of a specific equipment component. A preventive maintenance plan needs to focus on inspection and documentation of parts that can still perform their duty, but with lower efficiency and cause potential damage to other parts. An equipment management team needs to decide which gradually failing components are still safe to use, and which ones need to be replaced, but tracking warning signs and traces of damage.
Total equipment failure results in costly downtime. In that case, the machine remains idle until emergency repairs are completed. Again, including component tracking and ordering replacements is crucial for an effective preventive maintenance program.
How to stop construction equipment failure?
Conduct Operator training
After a proper introduction into equipment operation and management, construction projects experience far less heavy machinery depreciation due to poor operating conditions. The operator does not need to understand the intricacies of every piece of equipment, but conducts basic troubleshooting, and controlling the machine while adhering to general occupational safety.
To avoid safety risks and potential injuries, please refer to the guidelines of heavy equipment use in the United Kingdom, from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Use an equipment management system
Because modern industrial machines have many small components, equipment manufacturers started integrating electrical systems and sensors that monitor the machine’s overall state. Because of that, they can be integrated into heavy equipment software – an interactive management system for keeping tabs on modern tools and their state.
Predict wear and tear of machine components
Depending on your project, workplace conditions can be a very influential factor that forces some components to break down faster than others. For example, hydraulic systems, batteries, insulation components and fueling systems get damaged faster in cold weather. As for extreme heat conditions, cooling, tire health, fluid distribution, and electrical systems are negatively affected by high temperatures.
In more unique situations like blizzards and dust storms, cleaning becomes an ever bigger priority to keep contaminants away from core components.
Follow a preventive maintenance schedule
While some companies claim to follow preventive maintenance protocols, their most common mistake is a reactive approach to machine servicing. Instead of reacting to equipment breakdowns as they occur, follow a strict maintenance schedule, where servicing intervals focus on top priority tasks and solve problems ahead of time.
Cleaning, fluid servicing, and other visual inspections are key procedures that should start off the day for a heavy equipment operator. Keeping fluid levels at an optimal level while maintaining the cleanliness of core components ensures that the inspected machine is safe and its work output remains efficient.
Coolant systems, control panels, and lubrication of moving parts are tasks that are still urgent, but do not need to be performed before every shift. They can still be completed by a trained operator.
Monthly maintenance focuses on thorough inspections of the machine’s core and electrical components. These tasks need assistance from skilled electricians and equipment specialists that make sure no significant damages go unnoticed.
Seasonal, bi-annual, and annual maintenance tasks
While the frequency of these tasks depends on operation hours, weather conditions, and many other factors, construction companies organise deep inspections of heavy equipment machines every 3 to 12 months, where companies deploy skilled professionals or even outsource their maintenance to the manufacturer. After a thorough examination and testing, managers document their state, order replacement parts, and buy new machines if one of them is nearing total failure, while repairs become too costly.
Understanding the common mistakes that lead to poor maintenance of equipment machines is essential to ensuring their longevity. After learning about core components and the main issues related to their servicing, you should identify common issues faster and solve them to prolong or extend equipment’s lifespan.