Cleaning Your Plate

No matter what the application, vibratory plate compactors always
seem to have the odds against them. They’re primarily used in dusty,
grimy conditions. They’re rarely handled with care. And, of course,
they’re designed to vibrate, which typically doesn’t bode well for any
piece of equipment.

Most manufacturers understand the unique demands placed on vibratory
plates and design their machines with extreme mechanical stress in
mind. But it doesn’t matter how well a single-direction or reversible
plate is constructed, it requires basic upkeep to perform correctly on
the jobsite. Understanding key maintenance tasks and following a
routine maintenance schedule can help keep this investment running
smoothly.

A Must Read

After purchasing a vibratory plate, spend some time reviewing the
owner’s manual before testing out the new equipment. Having a basic
understanding of the manufacturer’s primary maintenance specifications,
recommended start-up and shutdown procedures, safety information and
application examples can help an operator become familiar with the
plate’s functionality and make for a more successful inaugural outing.
In addition, though there are some general rules of thumb regarding
maintenance, each individual brand and unit may have specific
requirements. It’s important to be aware of the manufacturer’s specific
maintenance schedule.

An Apple a Day…

Performing a few simple maintenance tasks each day can prevent larger problems down the road.
But before beginning the maintenance process, make sure the

plate is in a clean area, such as a shop or on a trailer. This will
help avoid contamination when components are removed, set down and put
back on.

Begin the daily maintenance process by washing down the plate. When
excess dirt and debris is removed, hidden maintenance issues may become
visible. When cleaning the plate, don’t focus the pressure washer
directly on sensitive equipment, such as electrical components, as the
excess force can cause damage. Avoid using a steam pressure washer;
steam has the ability to penetrate seals that are normally watertight.

The engine oil level is the next point of inspection. Place the plate
on a flat surface and check the oil via the engine dipstick; an uneven
surface could result in an inaccurate oil level reading. Check the
hydraulic oil level as well, and keep a watch for contamination. If the
hydraulic oil begins to look milky or discolored, change it
immediately. This process is typically simple, thanks to large service
ports that permit access to common maintenance points.

The air filter should also be checked daily for cleanliness. Look for
excess dirt or contamination that may hinder the filter’s
effectiveness. Some manufacturers are easing the concerns caused by
jobsite dirt and hazards by incorporating a fine grain protective hood
that inhibits debris from entering plate components.

Finally, perform a simple hands-on inspection of the entire machine.
Because vibration tends to loosen things up, feel for any hardware or
safety devices that may need to be tightened. Taking the time each day
to perform these quick, simple steps can help keep a vibratory plate
performing at its peak level.

Monthly
Maintenance Tips

While some components require daily inspection, a few vibratory plate
checks need to be completed only once per month. This monthly
maintenance routine is equally important as daily maintenance can help
avoid costly repairs. If the vibratory plate runs on a gas engine,
begin monthly maintenance by checking the spark plugs. Clean the spark
plugs to remove any corrosion or carbon buildup and replace

when necessary.

Inspect the battery on a monthly basis to ensure connections aren’t
loose or beginning to short out. Clean off any acid build-up on the
terminals and check the acid level if the plate has a
non-maintenance-free battery. At this time, lubricate the poles with
electrical grease. This lubrication prevents battery acid from building
up on the terminals and provides better connectivity.

Dirt and other jobsite debris can build up in the fuel tank and cause
diminished engine performance, so draining the fuel tank each month is
a good idea. After the empty tank has dried and the fuel filter
removed, blow the tank clean with an air

compressor. While the fuel filter is out, inspect it for debris. Install a
new fuel filter at least once each year or as needed.

While a visual inspection of the air filter is adequate on a daily
basis, take the time each month to do a dedicated cleaning. Using an
air compressor, blow the filter clean from the inside out with a
maximum of 80 to 90 psi of air pressure. Never clean an air filter from
the outside in; the force of the compressed air can cause large
particles to cut through the filter medium and diminish its
effectiveness.

Many manufacturers now include air filter service indicators on newer
plates. As the air filter becomes plugged with dirt, a vacuum is
created within the clean air filter indicator, triggering the indicator
light and alerting the operator to clean the filter. Replace the air filter annually.

Additionally, some maintenance is only required once per year,
including changing hydraulic and exciter-housing oil and checking the
rubber isolators. Engine oil should be changed approximately every 250
operating hours. Check your owner’s manual for specific intervals for
your unit.

When changing the oil, be sure to use the proper viscosity oil for the
working climate. If the plate will be used in a cold climate, change
from summer grade oil to winter grade oil. Check the owner’s manual for
the manufacturer’s recommended oils and change intervals. The incorrect
oil can reduce lubrication properties, leading to component damage and
unnecessary wear that diminishes the life of the machine.

Rubber isolators are especially important to check annually, as these
components hold together the upper and lower mass of the plate. As the
isolators become weak, the upper and lower masses go out of sync and
put added stress on belts and hoses between these two areas. The
isolators can eventually wear out, so conduct a check each year for
excessive stretching or damage.

Standard Operating
Procedures for Plates

While not a dedicated maintenance task, proper vibratory plate
operation may be one of the most important practices to follow. Often,
major damage and consequent costly repairs can be avoided by simply
using the plate correctly. Since this equipment can cost anywhere from
$2,000 to nearly $30,000, it pays to follow manufacturer instructions
and protect the machine.

First and foremost, as with any type of equipment, let the machine do
the work. Manhandling the plate will only result in potential damage to
the unit and possible injury to the operator. If the plate is moving
sluggishly, it may be an indication it’s in an unsuitable environment, and pushing and pulling won’t resolve the issue.

Proper application goes a long way in avoiding machine issues as well.
Generally speaking, plate compactors are designed to work in soils that
respond to vibration such as granular materials. Though manufacturers
are designing newer models to be productive in a wider range of
materials, highly cohesive soils or soils with high moisture content
are still obstacles, as those soils do not respond well to vibration.

Cohesive materials are typically compacted through impact force rather
than vibration. When a plate gets stuck in this kind of soil, a backhoe
is often required to free it, which opens the door for potential
damage. In addition, the material may work its way into belt guards and
other sensitive components, causing premature failure.

Most manufacturers incorporate a central lifting point into the plate
design, so take advantage of this when moving the unit around a
jobsite, lifting it in or out of a trench or loading and unloading from
a trailer. Using the handles to lift the plate may damage the handle
shock mounts. When transporting a plate from one jobsite to another,
secure it to a trailer via the tie-down points on the bottom base plate
instead of wrapping a chain around the protective frame. This puts much
less stress on the shock mounts, extending equipment life.

Manufacturers today strive to build a better-protected product to
reduce maintenance requirements and total cost of ownership. For
example, falling objects on the jobsite are often a concern since
vibratory plates are relatively exposed. However, some manufacturers
are easing this worry by adding an engine hood made of high-strength
steel that helps protect internal components from jobsite and
transportation damage.

Though
manufacturers are bringing to market more durable vibratory plates that
require less attention from a mechanic, this equipment isn’t completely
maintenance-free. Following a simple maintenance routine can keep a
plate running smoothly on the jobsite, and when considering the cost
and inconvenience of a complete plate breakdown, spending a small
amount of time on maintenance will pay off in the long run.

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