Owning and operating construction equipment is an expensive investment. Even a small construction company can have hundreds of thousands of dollars tied up in equipment. A large operation might have millions invested in construction equipment. Aside from the cost of purchasing and running machinery, there’s also the cost of performing routine and preventive heavy equipment maintenance. It’s an investment that can’t be neglected.
Smart construction company owners realize just how important it is to maintain their equipment. They know what they put into their equipment maintenance program completely pays back. The return on their maintenance investment is huge, and that’s important regardless of company size.
There are many reasons for the importance of construction equipment maintenance. There's also lots of advice available on maintaining construction equipment. Our top tips include implementing a preventive maintenance program and knowing the causes of equipment failure.
Why Is It Important to Do Preventive Maintenance?
First of all, there are two types of construction equipment maintenance. Construction companies practice routine maintenance and preventive maintenance. The two maintenance types go hand-in-hand but there’s a distinct difference. Here is what each maintenance type involves:
- Routine Maintenance: This type refers to the regular maintenance that all construction equipment undergoes on a fixed schedule. The usual maintenance tasks are oil and filter changes as wells as lubrication, checking fluid levels and testing pressures. Routine maintenance also includes procedures laid out in the manufacturer’s operation manual. That might include fluid or failure analysis.
- Preventive Maintenance: Outside of routine maintenance work, equipment preventive maintenance takes a broader scope. Construction equipment preventive maintenance looks for problems in the making. Then mechanics or service technicians take steps to stop or prevent potential machine failure. They take preventive action before something goes seriously wrong.
The importance of preventive maintenance can’t be overstated. Everyone’s familiar with a saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Better put in the construction world is that a dollar of cure comes from a dime of prevention. Here are the main reasons why it’s so important to conduct preventive maintenance on construction equipment:
- Longevity: Performing routine and preventive maintenance on construction equipment and machinery makes them last longer. There’s absolutely no argument that properly maintained machines and various construction equipment pieces have greater longevity than poorly kept ones. Regularly servicing machines extends their life, and that extends their availability. Preventing problems ensures that equipment is always available when needed.
- Availability: Any construction equipment that suddenly breaks down is unavailable for service. That makes them not only unprofitable due to unavailability, it makes them expensive to pull from service and make unexpected repairs. Often, the equipment operator sits idle while their machine is not available to work. That causes compounded expenses in human and equipment downtime.
- Expenses: When construction equipment suddenly fails and breaks down, it causes unplanned expenses. Usually, unexpected failures are serious problems that aren’t cheap to repair. Poorly maintained equipment is notorious for causing compound failures. That’s where one problem creates another problem. Compounded problems are expensive issues, and could easily be prevented through careful maintenance. They also create poor confidence in workers.
- Confidence: To be productive, construction equipment operators have to be confident in their machines’ performance. No worker likes operating poorly maintained equipment. It’s human nature for workers to increase performance and output when they know their machines are reliable. Confident workers are also careful workers. They watch out for signs of potential problems and report issues before they become unnecessary expenses. Confident workers are also safer operators. They appreciate the safety stemming from equipment that’s part of a preventive maintenance program.
- Safety: Safety is highly important in every workplace. Proper safety procedures are especially necessary when working with heavy machinery and on construction sites. As with longevity, there’s no question that well-maintained construction equipment is safer than neglected machinery. Sudden equipment failure can easily cause serious injury to its operator or anyone in the line of fire. Failing construction equipment can also cause expensive damage to other machines, buildings or surrounding property. That can result in litigation resulting from a lack of preventive maintenance.
- Litigation: No one wants to go to court and risk ending up paying for damages due to lawsuits. Neglecting to do regular servicing and preventive maintenance on your construction equipment is an accident waiting to happen. And accidents often result in expensive legal procedures. Litigation is preventable as long as a construction company practices due diligence and addresses any potential for negligence on their part. Part of due diligence is ensuring that all equipment undergoes a routine and preventive maintenance program on a regular basis. Companies will also want to keep maintenance records and schedules.
Prepare a Routine and Preventive Maintenance Program
A well-established program involving routine and preventive maintenance steps extends construction equipment longevity and ensures availability. A good preventive maintenance program also lowers overall company expenses, increases worker confidence and improves safety. It also decreases the potential for litigation should something go wrong.
There’s nothing complicated about preparing a routine and preventive maintenance program. It revolves around a construction company’s commitment to maintaining its inventory and taking positive steps to follow through. A routine and preventive maintenance program simply lays out a prescribed plan and establishes ways to ensure it’s carried out.
A company’s commitment always starts with ownership and management. Once workers see and believe that a construction company is serious about its maintenance program, they’ll naturally buy in. Total buy-in results in a team approach where every organization member watches out for problems and pitches in to prevent them. It’s a win-win situation that no construction company should ignore.
Although routine and preventive maintenance tasks are somewhat separate entities, they’re tied together by a common denominator. That’s the act of inspections where careful eyes catch issues during routine maintenance tasks. That way they intervene in a routine role and transition to prevention. They step in and fix machines before they break down.
Preparing a preventive and routine maintenance program entails four steps. Combined, each step ensures overall program success and efficiency. Here are four consideration points for implementing a long-term and effective construction equipment maintenance program:
- Determine what the program covers:There are three main activities in a maintenance program. First is listing what routine maintenance tasks each machine requires. This usually involves milestones like hours, mileage or season changes. The second step is prescribing inspections. This is a fluid task that depends on the various machines and service technician experience. Thirdly, the program acts to replace worn parts or make adjustments to correct potential problems.
- Identify responsibility for administering the program:This depends on the company’s size and capability. Large construction companies with considerable equipment inventory generally have a head mechanic or senior service technician. That person is in the best position to take leadership and administrative responsibility. Small companies should take top-end responsibility where the owner or foreman runs the preventive maintenance program. Regardless of size, the important point is ensuring someone is clearly in charge and responsible for administration.
- Making a schedule for service milestones:Routine equipment maintenance requires consistent scheduling. Intervals or schedule dates rely on individual information about a particular machine. That could be from following a manufacturer guideline, responding to seasonal fluctuations or knowing a machine’s realistic requirements. Maintenance milestones usually revolve around operation hours or travel length. Scheduling maintenance around milestones allows a company manager to anticipate when the equipment will be unavailable. Good scheduling also allows responding technicians to plan for regular servicing and prepare for preventive inspections.
- Documenting service work and preventive maintenance:Documenting service work is a critical part of a preventive maintenance program. Keeping records on each machine gives a clear picture of the equipment’s history. Documentation also records when preventive maintenance intervention happened and what was accomplished. These maintenance records build a pattern of machinery behavior, and they clearly predict potential problems in similar machines. Documents also prove proactive maintenance tasks that support a machine’s value at resale.
Make a Comprehensive Equipment Maintenance Checklist
There’s no doubt that checklists work and offer value to your company. Progressive construction companies benefit when they make comprehensive equipment maintenance checklists part of their routine and preventive maintenance program.
There’s no one-size-fits-all checklist for construction equipment maintenance. Each machine has individual needs and characteristics that require attention. Although many checklist templates are available online, most service administrators prefer to make unique maintenance checklists according to their company's equipment.
How comprehensive your checklist is depends on the particular equipment piece and what type of maintenance it’s scheduled to have. For instance, regular short hour and mileage service intervals might just check-off oil changes, lubrication and fluid top-offs. Mid-range service milestones will require in-depth inspections that go into greater detail.
Major service overhauls and rebuilds require multiple-point and more comprehensive checklists. They cover front-to-back and top-to-bottom inspections that allow technicians or mechanics to dig deep in search of problems. A good checklist layout ensures all equipment parts are examined. Many companies use an alphabetical approach that covers these equipment components and machinery systems. Categories include:
Involve Operators and Mechanical Technicians in the Maintenance Program
No one is more familiar with construction equipment than the professionals who operate or repair them. Operators and mechanical technicians are in the best position to recognize and anticipate problems based on their knowledge, experience and intuition. Every routine and preventive maintenance program must include the mechanics and machine operators.
As long as these ground-level employees see that their company’s management shows a genuine commitment to a preventive maintenance program, they’ll commit as well. Committed workers behave differently than those who are merely compliant. Operators and mechanics who feel involved and empowered will take proactive action in identifying issues. They’ll report potential problems before they become disasters.
Listening to operators and mechanics is a key part of a preventive maintenance program. They’re acutely aware of how their machinery should perform and how it is performing. Operators will sense when equipment problems are developing. Based on their experience with similar machinery, mechanics will know what to look for during routine inspections.
Combined, machine operators and technicians can discuss and identify issues in their equipment. They’re able to take proactive action where operators report pending problems in time for technicians to intervene. Involving operators and mechanical technicians in the maintenance program can save construction companies a lot of money in unnecessary repairs.
Know the Major Types and Causes of Construction Equipment Failure
Developing and implementing a routine and preventive maintenance program involves understanding the organizational steps and what’s involved in building a comprehensive construction equipment checklist. Getting equipment operators and machinery technicians committed to the maintenance program is also vitally important. Together, committed people and comprehensive systems make for a successful process. They’re the foundation of every solid plan.
But truly committed program administrators take their commitment a step further. They strive to learn the overall picture of what causes equipment failure. That way their proactive response is on heightened alert. Genuinely dedicated managers know neglect usually results in equipment failure. They also know there are three types of construction equipment failure:
- Sudden Failure:This is the most serious and damaging type of equipment failure. It happens with little warning and no contingency plan for response. Sudden failure leaves the machine unavailable until it’s repaired and put back in service. Unexpected costs range from machine and operator downtime to mechanic fees and parts charges. Most sudden equipment failures happen because some component wore out and caused a chain reaction. Usually, sudden failures are preventable by recognizing flaws during routine inspections.
- Intermittent Failure:This equipment failure type is sporadic. There are intermittent operation interruptions that stall a machine or cause it to sputter. Often, experienced operators and service personnel recognize intermittent failure symptoms and take immediate steps to correct the problem. Less experienced workers sometimes ignore warning signs and neglect to report them. That leads to sudden failure, immediate downtime and unnecessary repair expenses.
- Gradual Failure:This failure type happens slowly and over time. Operators and the support team recognize gradual failure as part of the wear-and-tear process that affects every piece of construction equipment. It’s rare that gradual failure leads directly to sudden failure, but it’s the first step toward intermittent equipment failure. Fortunately, gradual machine failure is easy to recognize and repair. It’s time-forgiving and gives plenty of warning. Sharp inspectors always watch for gradual failure during routine and preventive maintenance schedules.
Another important heavy equipment maintenance tip is to understand the main equipment failure causes. These critical causes are different than the failure types. Rather than failure classifications, actual causes of machine break-down and failures have three distinct groups.
Equipment failure causes are identifiable. As such, they can be somewhat predicted and prevented by removing or compensating for the cause. Sometimes, one cause leads to the next or failure can be due to a combination of these three things:
- Thermally-Induced Failure:Extreme heat and cold take a terrible toll on heavy machinery and other construction equipment. Cold-weather starts and hot-temperature running is hard on all machines. Often, temperature extremes push machinery beyond their design limits. Then stress failure happens, and it’s usually without warning. The remedy for preventing thermally-induced failure is knowing the machine’s limits and operating within them.
- Mechanically-Induced Failure:This failure cause is easy to recognize. It happens when a machine’s component snaps, breaks or otherwise fails due to overstretching its mechanical capacity. Burst hydraulic hoses and bent blades are prime mechanically-induced failure examples. Many times mechanically-induced failures happen from a lack of lubrication, operator overexertion or collision with other equipment. Fortunately, mechanically-induced failure is readily recognized and preventable with proper training and inspecting.
- Erratic Failure:It’s difficult to detect or predict erratic equipment failure. It occurs randomly and with no clear pattern. Erratic failures are usually caused by some partly-malfunctioning component. It could be something as simple as a loose wire resulting in an intermittent electrical short or something complex and deeply hidden like a defective computer chip. Operators should always report erratic failures immediately so technicians can investigate before they become costly.
Training Employees to Properly Operate Construction Equipment
There’s probably no better return on construction equipment investment than training. Employees who know how to properly operate their machines and to watch for problems are invaluable. They are the front-line defenders of a company’s mechanical assets.
It takes time to properly train an equipment operator. There’s time involved in verbal instruction. There’s time involved in demonstration. And there’s time involved in the learning curve while a new operator gets the hang of their machine. All this time investment is worth it, especially in the big picture of safety and prevention.
Trained operators are more careful workers. They know their machine’s capacity and capability. They also know how to safely use the machine and avoid costly damage to property and injuries to people. Trained operators also recognize when a machine requires routine and preventive maintenance. They’ll report every issue and start prevention steps before there’s a big problem.
Review Original Equipment Manufacturers’ Manuals
Manuals from the original equipment manufacturers provide a wealth of knowledge. Manufacturers know these machines because they’ve built them. Long before a construction equipment piece hits the operator’s hands, the manufacturers invested a lot of time and money in research and development. They know the machine through and through.
Original manufacturers also know what maintenance their machines require. This information should be clearly documented in the owners’ manual. Recommended service intervals will be charted, and important milestones will be highlighted. Manuals are a great resource when developing a routine and preventive maintenance program.
However, as thorough as an original equipment owner’s manual might be, it still doesn’t replace the human skill and knowledge required to keep up with active construction equipment. Good preventive maintenance administrators use a machine’s manual as a guideline. They don’t see it as a restrictive frame that prevents turning to outside sources for help in building a construction equipment maintenance team.
Make Holt of California a Construction Equipment Maintenance Team Partner
Holt of California is a proud partner in the worldwide Cat® dealer group. We employ over 700 people who bring the best construction equipment solutions to valued customers in sixteen counties across North Central California. Our business sells and services all forms of Cat construction equipment and we also rent quality Cat products.
Make sure to check out all Holt of California Cat services and browse our new Cat construction equipment. We have five separate equipment divisions including Agriculture, Earthmoving, Material Handling, Power Systems and the Cat Rental Store. At Holt of California, we take pride in giving superior customer service. We meet our customers’ changing needs by offering a full line of services and products.
One of Holt of California’s leading services is our repair options. We partner with you to service your Cat brand equipment and support your routine and preventive construction equipment maintenance program. Have a look at our construction maintenance services that includes Holt of California’s main, specialization and welding shops as well as our field service and equipment management solutions.
For more information on Holt of California and Cat construction equipment preventive maintenance, call us today at 800-452-5888 or connect with us through our online contact form.