Undercarriage Maintenance and Adjusting Track Tension
The undercarriage is one of the most important parts of your tracked equipment. It represents a significant portion of the machine's purchase price and its proper maintenance is crucial to your productivity.
Operators should perform daily inspections of their equipment's undercarriage, looking for excessive or uneven wear and damaged or missing components, checking for proper clearance between the track chain and idler roller, and ensuring the drive sprockets and track pads aren't damaged. These and other wear issues can be indicative of a larger potential problem, or can lead to further damage, and should be addressed immediately.
Stick to an inspection schedule
Conduct routine undercarriage inspections according to the manufacturer's recommendations. More frequent inspections should be performed if the machine is used in demanding conditions like mud or rough and uneven terrain. Adhere to routine maintenance guidelines, including oil changes for final drives and checks on undercarriage bolt torques.
Maintaining track tension
One of the most important parts of the undercarriage to check regularly is proper track tension. When steel tracks are too tight, it creates added load on contact areas, which can accelerate component wear. A track that is too tight also robs the machine of its power and fuel efficiency, as it actually takes more effort to turn the track. If a track is too loose, it can create instability and potentially cause the tracks to derail, while also causing wear on other components of the undercarriage.
Track tension should be inspected daily, with the sag adjusted to the OEM-recommended measurement for each of your machines. If the weather or conditions change throughout the day, it's important to check the tension as the machine settles into that new working environment.
When working in mud, snow and sandy conditions, the track tension should be checked more often. Material will pack on the undercarriage parts and cause it to increase.
Keep your undercarriage clean
It is important to keep track components and the entire undercarriage clean. At the end of a workday, operators should clean out any mud or debris. This is especially crucial in northern climates where material can freeze inside the track during the winter months.
Correct track alignment is critical to slow the wear of your undercarriage. In fact, misalignment will affect more undercarriage components than any other issue and is one of the leading causes of problems. Track links, idler flanges, track and carrier roller flanges, sprockets and rock guards can all suffer from increased wear when the tracks are not properly aligned.
Knowledge is everything when it comes to maintaining and managing your fleet. It's easier for owners to handle the costs of their undercarriage if they understand where they are at in its lifespan. We recommend to regularly measure the bushings and rollers, and if they are reduced to 85% of their original diameter, rotate them 180 degrees. Keeping track of this wear over time gives you an insight into the life expectancy and wear patterns of the undercarriage.
Operation best practices
When it comes to minimizing undercarriage wear, proper operation is just as important as daily inspections and maintenance. Follow these steps to help extend the life of your undercarriage.
- Plan ahead – Before beginning work for the day, you should check the ground conditions and the terrain you'll be working on. Consider the need to minimize travel on the site, as well as the use of steel tracks or rubber tracks, and the narrowest shoe width possible to meet the required flotation.
- Choose the right tracks – Selecting the correct track width is important to lengthening the lifespan of your undercarriage as well as ensuring productivity. Use long tracks for firm ground conditions, as they provide high ground pressure and the best traction. Wide tracks are better for firm ground conditions and more varied terrain, because they provide excellent stability. For soft, swampy conditions, wide gauge, low ground pressure tracks work best because they offer lateral stability and great flotation.
- How to drive – High speeds can increase the wear rate on pins, bushings, and sprockets, so operators should drive conservatively when possible. They should also avoid excessive reverse operation, as this also accelerates bushing and sprocket wear. Additionally, operators should make wider, gradual turns when possible and avoid counter rotation or pivot turns, and also make an effort to not always turn to the same side every time.
- Try to stay on flat surfaces – Constant operation on hills in one direction can accelerate wear to idlers, rollers and guide lugs by placing greater force on one side. Minimizing time spent on the slope will pay off in reduced wear and load to the undercarriage. Operators should try their best to stay on flat surfaces and avoid traveling with the tracks on uneven ground or on surfaces with obstructions.
- Dig over the front idlers – We recommend that operators dig over the front idlers, as doing so properly transfers the vertical load that can otherwise cause damage. Digging over the sprockets can cause the bushings to crack or break, while digging over the sides of the machine creates additional stress on track shoes and track link assemblies.
- Use telematics – Telematics solutions are available on most modern machines. The maintenance and operating data made available through the use of telematics can have a significant impact on undercarriage life, even though no sensors specifically report on undercarriage health.
Follow these tips and best practices to properly maintain your undercarriage, ensure productivity, and lengthen its service life. Always consult your operator's manual for instructions specific to your machine.