Talking Shop: Understanding Mini Excavator Maintenance

Mini Ex Maintenance

How Investing in Your Machine Now Can Pay Dividends Down the Road

Compact excavators are surging in popularity, with sales increasing in just about every sector of the equipment industry. Because these machines can accommodate a wide range of attachments, they’re good for more than simply digging in the dirt. Utility contractors are using compact excavators for service upgrades and additions in urban areas. In the agriculture market, more farmers are purchasing these machines for tasks like fence installation and materials handling rather than using standard tractors. Landscapers are finding compact excavators invaluable for trenching, installing hardscapes and planting trees. And, because compact excavators are in such high demand, rental stores are stocking more of them for day-to-day use.

While compact excavators are certainly versatile, they’re also known for their toughness and durability. However, like any piece of heavy equipment, these machines still require some regular TLC to stay in top working condition. Unfortunately, for anyone facing an extensive to-do list, it’s often challenging to find the time to service these machines per the manufacturer’s recommendations. In fact, just looking at a manufacturer’s comprehensive maintenance guide can be a little overwhelming. However, it’s best to approach maintenance as an investment in the life of the machine.

“Taking the time to service the machine yourself or paying your dealer to service it now is a wise move,” says Adam Kopper, compact product support specialist for JCB. “Otherwise, you’re more likely to experience a machine breakdown on the jobsite as well as premature wear and tear and all the repairs that come with it. A machine can’t help you serve your customers and earn money if it’s sitting in the shop. Maintaining your compact excavator properly will actually save you time and money in the long run.”

At Your Service

In its maintenance manual, JCB divides compact excavator service intervals into hourly or calendar intervals, either of which owners can follow based upon their own preferences. JCB recommends routine maintenance checks at 10 hours (daily), 50 hours (weekly), 500 hours (every six months), 1,000 hours (yearly) and 2,000 hours (every two years). The most comprehensive and time-consuming maintenance still takes place at longer intervals, while faster, simpler maintenance is required more often. For example, operators and owners should perform numerous pre-start and fluid-level checks every day before using the machine, but cleaning fuel injectors is required just once every two years.

A typical recommended daily maintenance schedule organizes tasks by 11 primary components or systems: attachments and optional equipment, body and framework, operator station, engine, air filter, fuel system, cooling system, gearbox, tracks, hydraulics and electric. All should be visually checked and cleaned (if needed) before operating the machine to ensure they’re in proper condition. Attachments and any optional equipment should be lubricated every day, as should pivot pins. The engine, fuel system and coolant system should also be checked for leaks and oil or fluid levels.

Weekly compact excavator maintenance is much like daily maintenance, but with a few additional tasks, such as lubricating the slew-ring bearing, checking the machine’s drive belt and checking tracks and track tension. JCB doesn’t recommend a monthly maintenance check, instead skipping forward to a six-month (500-hour) service. At that point, it’s time for a professional to step in.

“We strongly feel that any item on the maintenance schedule with a six-month [500-hour] or greater service interval should be performed by a professional technician,” Kopper explains. “Not only does the technician have more experience with these more involved maintenance tasks, but it also provides him or her with the opportunity to inspect the machine for any other potential issues and discuss concerns with the machine’s owner.”

Maintenance Musts

While all compact excavator maintenance is important, some tasks are so important that neglecting them could quickly lead to a machine breakdown. Fuel system and air filter checks fall on that list.

“Fuel filters should be changed on schedule, and the fuel water separator should be inspected and drained or cleaned if necessary,” Kopper says. “Air filters should also be changed per the recommended schedule. In a particularly dusty environment, the air filter can be removed and tapped lightly to knock out any excessive dust. Don’t blow the filter out using compressed air, though, as this can create holes in the filter itself and allow larger particles through.”

Fuel systems and air filters may be at the top of the compact excavator must-have maintenance list, but they’re not the tasks that operators tend to overlook the most. That honor falls to greasing the machine.

“We frequently see operators and owners forgetting to grease their machines,” Kopper says, “In the short term, the grease will dry out, making it impossible to grease the pins without removing them and cleaning out the dried grease — a tedious chore at best. In the long term, not greasing the machine as recommended will lead to accelerated wear of pins and bushings.”

The Role of Telematics

It’s clear that sticking to a manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule is imperative for optimum machine performance and longevity. But what’s the best way to ensure that your machine is properly maintained? You could print out a copy of the maintenance schedule and keep it in the cab. Having it handy will make you less likely to forget an important step or continue to operate the machine without maintaining it. But there is another, more sophisticated option. Telematics systems are great for improving machine efficiency, locating machines and preventing misuse or theft. They also make it nearly impossible to overlook machine maintenance.

“Telematics systems monitor the number of hours a machine’s been in use and record its maintenance history,” Kopper says. “They also can provide critical machine alerts and service alerts to improve maintenance planning. When your machine can literally tell you what service it needs and when, there’s really no excuse to ignore it.

“Machine owners can also work with dealers to plan regular maintenance and servicing at a time to suit their operation, ensuring that all necessary filters and fluids are available and that planned downtime does not adversely impact the work being carried out on site.”

Lynette Von Minden is a technical writer with Swanson Russell.

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  • Darren Conyard
    March 3, 2017 18:59:59

    I wanted to say a big thank you for the continual great job and helpful information that is offered. I receive the compact equipment weekly news email & enjoy reading these well constructed articles that allow knowlesdge growth and assistance with the longevity of my machine. Even though I’ve been operating on and off for a few years, I only made my first mini Excavator purchase last year and feel that these articles are extremely helpful in a lot of ways for both new and also veteran machine owners.
    Awesome job to everyone involved, I appreciate your hard work.
    Kind regards,
    Darren Conyard.

    • Keith Gribbins
      March 13, 2017 13:00:07

      Thanks, Darren!