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Posted: 09/18/2015

Ten Tips for Boosting Compact Excavator Uptime

Bobcat E42 compact excavator (mini excavator) with clamp attachment.

Maximize mini excavator productivity and uptime with these maintenance tips.

1. Read the manuals

One of the first tasks for any operator should be to review the machine’s operator’s manual to become familiar with the machine’s safety features, instrumentation, controls, service schedules and maintenance points. Typically delivered and stored in an excavator’s cab, the operator’s manual contains the official manufacturer recommendations. If you misplace your copy of the manual, your authorized compact equipment dealer can help you get replacements.

2. Top fluids off daily
An effective maintenance regimen starts with a daily check of fluids, including coolant, hydraulic fluid and engine oil. If any of these levels are low, be sure to refill with the manufacturer’s recommended type of fluid, paying particular attention to classifications, as well as viscosities for the operating environment. It’s also important to keep these areas dirt free and use clean rags while checking levels to avoid contaminants.

Engines have experienced some of the most significant, recent changes. Today’s compact excavators are equipped with various levels of emission-compliant diesel engines that may have unique lubrication requirements. Manufacturers are matching oils to their advanced engines to ensure proper operation of exhaust aftertreatment systems. 

In addition to engines, it’s also important to regularly lubricate the machine at recommended intervals, taking into consideration the application and temperatures where the machine will be working. Manufacturers typically recommend the use of a quality lithium-based multipurpose grease to lubricate all key pivot points, including cylinders, booms, blades, buckets, arms and slew-bearing components.

3. Maintain filters
There are multiple filters on a compact excavator for the fuel, engine, air and hydraulic systems, and each may have different service intervals. When dirty or completely clogged, a filter can directly impact performance and compromise sensitive components. The majority of industry excavators have air filter restriction indicators designed to alert operators to maintenance needs. To avoid system contamination, it’s critical to not remove the filter until the required time.

4. Use clean, quality fuel
Most manufacturers specify the use of clean, high-quality No. 2 or No. 1 grade diesel fuel. Operators with machines that routinely operate in colder climates may prefer the option of specially formulated blends designed to prevent gelling. At a minimum, ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel must be used in these machines to reduce exhaust emission levels. Depending on jobsite conditions, owners and operators need to also be aware of water separation that can occur in a fuel filter as a result of a lower quality fuel supply.

5. Inspect and maintain track tension daily
Perhaps the most obvious wear item on the excavator undercarriage is the track. The majority of compact excavators use rubber tracks, and the life expectancy of the track is largely dependent upon the environment they are subjected to and the user’s operating habits. Tracks should be examined on a daily basis to look for cuts, tears or areas that expose the steel imbeds. Any perforations could allow moisture or contamination to enter the track.

The most important undercarriage interval item to monitor is track tensioning. A loose track is likely to de-track and will be detrimental to its useful life. Your operator’s manual will indicate ideal track tension ranges and the correct way to position the excavator for making adjustments. 

While other undercarriage components may not need a daily inspection, regular monitoring of the components like idlers, rollers and sprockets can help identify potential problems. Accelerated wear on the sprocket is not common; however, it should still be checked periodically by examining the teeth. A good sprocket tooth has a rounded end, while a worn tooth is more pointed. This is especially important to check when installing a new set of tracks.

6. Inspect the cooling system daily
An effective cooling system relies on adequate airflow and appropriate coolant level. If either is lacking, it can lose performance, cause an overheat condition or – worse yet – accelerate engine damage. Proper cooling system maintenance includes checking the airflow through the system and checking coolant hoses for leaks. The radiator, oil cooler and condenser can be cleaned by applying low pressure air or water, but use care not to damage the radiator’s fins.

7. Maintain the battery and charging system
The electrical system of most compact excavators uses a 12-volt battery and fuses for the purpose of protecting this system in the event of an electrical overload. Always replace failed fuses with like kind and amperage rating. Battery cables should be tight and clean. Inspect for corrosion on the cable ends and the battery terminals. Prevention can typically be remedied with an appropriate dielectric grease.

8. Keep ground-engaging tools in top shape
Visual checks of attachment components such as cutting edges, shanks, teeth and hoses on hydraulically powered attachments can help determine if wear is developing or damage has occurred in tough, rigorous applications. Replace any worn or damaged pins or teeth to maintain productivity.

9. Pay attention to the instruments
Some compact excavators are equipped with onboard instrumentation systems with controllers that perform multiple maintenance-oriented functions. If the need arises, these systems can log and display machine vitals like fluid temperatures and coolant levels. These controllers can also warn operators when system parameters are out of sync, and they’re engineered to shut down the machine to prevent catastrophic damage if an operator does not heed warning messages.

10. Safety is essential to productivity
Despite their compact size, excavators are rugged and versatile in a wide variety of conditions, and often work in challenging off-highway and rough terrain applications. Before starting the excavator for the first time, operators should understand what each and every lever and control does and how to operate the machine safely. In fact, many manufacturers also supply an operator handbook that is commonly fastened to an area in the cab for quick reference, and is often accompanied by additional operator and service training materials from an authorized dealer. The machine-specific AEM safety manual is another source of valuable information.

Operators should always follow manufacturer instructions for maintaining ROPS /TOPS cab structures and make sure their mounting hardware is secure. Other safety items like seat belts should be properly tensioned and in good working condition. Control console lockout systems should be functioning. Safety decals should be intact and legible, and all work lighting should be operational and visible.

Your compact excavator can be one of your most important investments. With their increased versatility and proper maintenance, they can generate revenue more hours of the day and more days of the year. By making a commitment to a manufacturer’s routine maintenance plan, you can add more useful life to your machine. 

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