Although mini excavators stay put while they work, their tracks are essential for getting around the jobsite from one digging spot to another. Without those tracks, operators would be sidelined. So, what tracks are best for your mini excavator? How do you keep them in tip-top shape? We asked the experts.
Mini excavator owners can choose between rubber or steel tracks or a mix of the two, but most use rubber. Darren Ashton, product manager of compact equipment for Volvo Construction Equipment, explains that rubber tracks are the lowest-cost option and are the least abrasive on surfaces. On the downside, rubber tracks are easier to damage, and an owner must replace the whole track when it is damaged or worn.
Steel tracks are a more durable option, and you can replace just the damaged segment rather than the entire track. Ashton notes that steel tracks have a higher upfront cost and can cause more surface damage than rubber — making them unsuitable for some applications. Owners can also select a steel-rubber mix.
“Steel tracks with rubber pads combine the best of both worlds in terms of flexibility on many surfaces and the ability to replace segments,” says Ashton. “However, they cost more and may lead to a little more maintenance. They also add some weight to the machine that should be kept in mind when it comes to transporting.”
Some Volvo steel-tracked undercarriages can accommodate rubber track inserts. Ashton says this track option allows excavators to work on asphalt or other surfaces you don’t want to damage, and the inserts are detachable for when that traction is needed again. These inserts are made from a robust rubber blend on a steel plate, which helps decrease vibration and noise.
As for tread patterns, Mike Giordano, segment manager for rubber tracks at Trelleborg Wheel Systems, says that since mini excavators sit stationary while digging, they are not as dependent upon tread patterns to perform their best (unlike compact track loaders). He says most rubber track companies do not offer multiple tread patterns due to the lack of necessity.
“Trelleborg’s CRT-800 is only offered in a short pitch track,” says Giordano. “Short pitch versus long pitch tracks are the two varieties of tracks that are seen in today’s market. The short pitch track engages each track metal piece gap with each sprocket tooth, which gives a smoother ride with less vibration. This leads to longer track life and less vibration-caused machine problems. The long pitch track, while normally less expensive, engages two sprocket teeth with each metal piece gap, causing added vibration and shorter track life.”
Whichever track you choose, be sure to select a reputable supplier where you can find the best quality, price and service. Tracks are too important of an investment to rely on a less-than-stellar company.
“As the rubber track market for compact equipment continues to grow, rubber tracks have become one of the most important replacement parts of the mini excavator,” says Giordano. “It is now even more important to purchase name brand tracks from a reputable supplier in order to get high value tracks and keep down machine maintenance expenses.”
Protecting Your Tracks
Picking the right type of track can seem challenging enough, but making those tracks last is the true test. Typically, operators can expect a lifespan of anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 hours for a set of tracks, and those numbers vary based on how well the mini excavator is both maintained and operated.
Operators should do daily walk-arounds of the machine and its tracks to check for cuts, cracks, exposed wires and metal imbeds. They should also rinse off the undercarriage and tracks to remove any debris. Giordano says that once a week the tracks and undercarriage should have a more in-depth inspection. This weekly task should include looking at the tread wear and undercarriage components such as the rollers, drive sprocket and idler arm.
“Undercarriage maintenance is one of the most important operations to be followed because the machine’s undercarriage has many wearable parts that both need to be examined regularly and replaced at the manufacturer’s recommended intervals,” he says. “Worn parts can cause many problems such as de-tracking, high levels of vibration, excessive wear and premature breaking. If there is excessive wear on any of these components, they should be changed out, as they will adversely affect the performance and life of the tracks.”
Once a month, mini excavator owners should perform a total inspection of the undercarriage and tracks. Be sure to do a deep clean of the undercarriage and tracks with a pressure washer, as well as check the tracks’ tension. According to Ashton, loose tension can lead to excessive wear and overly tight tension can cause stress on the undercarriage and waste horsepower.
The machine’s operator’s manual is a great place for information on the proper tension of a mini excavator track. For a quick check, Giordano says that the bucket arm can be maneuvered to lift one side of the machine, raising the track in the air. Then, measure the gap between the roller and track. It should be around 20 mm for proper tension.
On top of having a well-executed maintenance plan, having a well-trained operator in the cab is the best way to prolong the life of a set of tracks. He or she will know what terrain and obstacles to avoid and how to properly maneuver the machine. Giordano says that operator training and awareness can be one of the most important factors in extending the life of your tracks. When operators are aware of their application and not running over debris, side grades and curbs, they will significantly reduce impact damage and de-tracking.
Ashton adds that operators should minimize any long-distance driving that can cause additional damage.
“Don’t abuse your excavator and tracks — use work modes properly, follow safety guidelines and make smart decisions,” he says. “Operator behavior makes a big difference in your tracks’ lifespan and therefore your total cost of ownership.”
Giordano emphasizes that maintaining a clean worksite can not only greatly extend the life of the tracks but will also help with maintaining the machine.
“Any type of debris, such as scrap wood, cinder blocks, bricks, stones and rebar, can cause impact damage and ultimately failure to rubber tracks,” he says. “A messy worksite can also allow debris to get in between the undercarriage and the rubber tracks causing catastrophic damage. By walking the worksite and removing these types of debris, the life of the rubber tracks will be extended greatly.”
Pam Kleineke is managing editor of Compact Equipment.