Mini Ex Maintenance

Although compact excavators are thought of by some as toys, they are a significant investment requiring the same maintenance as larger, full-size models to keep them up and running. A critical component to minimizing downtime is preventive care. Oftentimes, a machine’s service intervals may be overlooked by operators and what once was a minor issue can become a costly repair. Paying close attention to maintenance intervals and checking all service points daily will ensure your equipment stays in top condition. By investing adequate time and money in maintenance, your excavator will be a versatile tool for many years to come. Here are some simple steps that can be taken to maximize the life of your compact excavator.

Mini Excavator MaintenancePerform Startup Checks
Startup checks are essential for safe and reliable operation. At the beginning of each day or each shift (depending on the hours of use), operators should take the time to walk around the machine, reviewing each and every service point to see if there is any area that requires attention.  Most of these points should be conveniently located, with easy access from ground level so this task should be a fairly simple one. If an operator is performing a startup check on a daily basis, he or she will know immediately when a problem arises before it causes severe or irreversible damage to critical machine components. The following items are critical service points that should not be overlooked.

Engine Oil
To get the best performance out of your compact excavator, engine oil needs to be serviced properly and regularly. Operators should check the oil daily to ensure it is at the ideal level and that there are no leaks. Staying up to date on your oil change intervals will play a crucial role in the overall life and performance of your machine. When it’s time for an oil change, use high grade oil. Premium quality oil may be more expensive, but it is formulated to disperse soot and control sludge to maximize engine life and is made to endure heavy loads and adverse conditions. Using a lesser quality oil may save you money initially, but will likely shorten the engine’s life and potentially lead to expensive repairs. Be sure to review your operator’s manual for the manufacturer’s specified oil change intervals.

Fuel Filter
In addition to oil, it is extremely important that the fuel filter is checked and changed frequently. Dirt is a major contaminant of diesel fuel. A clean filter will do the job of screening any dust, dirt and debris from the fuel tank. Due to increasing demands for cleaner and more economical engines, injection pressure is now up to five times what is was a few years ago. Injectors now have holes for fuel injection that actually are cut using electrostatic discharge, due to extremely small orifices at the injector nozzle. These tiny holes are more prone than ever to fuel contamination.

If the filter is not changed regularly, it can become clogged and either limit or completely disrupt the flow of fuel to the engine, inhibiting machine performance. When the engine is not receiving a consistent supply of fuel, operators may experience rough idling, engine hesitation and difficult startup. In cases where the fuel filter is so dirty that it’s completely blocked, the machine may not start at all. Using an OEM filter that is sized to fit your specific excavator model and changing it frequently is your best bet for better fuel filtration and optimum machine performance.

Mini Excavator MaintenanceAir Filter
The very nature of compact excavators put the engine and air intake near the ground where dust inhalation is more probable than with larger machines. Particular attention must be given to the condition of air filters for this reason. After-market filters might actually go into the air cleaner box, but might not seal, leading to serious engine damage. For the same reason of being close to the ground, check the radiators for cleanliness.

Operators should check track tension daily and make adjustments as needed based on current jobsite conditions. Your excavator’s track tension should not be too tight or too loose.  Failure to make the proper adjustments can lead to serious track and undercarriage damage. Loose tracks, for example, are susceptible to de-tracking and excessive wear while over-tightening can cause tracks to tear and will put more wear on other system components. Neither situation provides a favorable outcome. Every machine is different, so be sure to refer to the operator’s manual for specific track adjustment instructions. In addition to checking track tension, operators should ensure the tracks have no cracks or damage. A quick visual inspection should be sufficient. Be sure to clean the tracks of any rocks, soil, mud or other debris that might prevent proper operation and conceal potential service issues.

Keeping up with your manufacturer’s specified grease intervals is the best thing you can do for your machine’s pins and bushings. Not only does grease provide essential lubrication, but it also protects against contaminants such as water which will eventually cause rust and corrosion. Using high-quality EP (extreme pressure) grease should be a priority, not an option, as it protects components even as heat develops. Lower quality grease will liquefy and leave bearings defenseless. Operators should first and foremost ensure they are using the proper grease for the application and the machine at hand. Some factors that determine grease selection include the outside temperature and whether the excavator is operating in normal or very dirty (or wet) conditions. The operator’s manual is the best resource for grease recommendations.
Just as important as using the right type of grease, is to maintain the appropriate grease schedule. Too much grease is a waste of money and may cause excess dirt buildup and mechanical failures. Under-greasing, which is typically the more common of the two, creates friction as well as metal on metal contact between bearing components, which can lead to complete equipment failure or the breakdown of individual parts. This is one service interval that is absolutely necessary to keep up with. Adding more grease at a later time is not going to make up for the damage caused by initially skimping on grease.

Mini Excavator MaintenanceAttachments
Any attachment your compact excavator is using should be lowered to the ground and visually inspected before each use. Any dirt or debris on the attachment should first be removed before inspection as it can mask problem areas. Important items to look for are excessive wear, damage or cracks as well as any loose bolts or pins. Typically, minor cracks can be repaired fairly easily as long as they are caught early on. Specific to a bucket, the teeth should be monitored for any signs of damage. If any teeth are found with extensive wear or holes, they should be replaced as quickly as possible. Also on the bucket, as well as all other attachments, operators should check the cylinder and linkage for ample lubricant, leaks and/or damage.

Are all the guards in place, start interlock safety devices functional, caution decals in place and in good condition? Have you or your operator read and understood the operator’s manual? Is that manual located on the machine? It should be, as well as any manuals for special optional equipment. Is the machine’s lift chart on the machine and in good condition, and do you or your operator know how to read it? Is the exhaust system in good operating order with no leaks? Is the ROPS cab or canopy in good condition with no damage? Is the operator’s seatbelt in good condition and used while in operation?

Following these simple steps daily will take just a short amount of time and will result in minimal downtime on the job. Preventive maintenance is critical to trouble-free machine performance. Neglecting basic maintenance will lead to higher repair costs over the life of the machine. Save yourself the time and hassle of unplanned repairs by following these simple suggestions.

George Lumpkins is a product marketing manager for Kobelco Construction Machinery USA, based in Houston.

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