Understanding Rubber Track Choices and Maintenance for CTLs and Mini Excavators

Trelleborg track

Mini excavators and compact track loaders (CTL) have several uses in a variety of applications. From landscaping and material handling to light excavation, grading and construction projects, mini excavators and CTLs are a great addition to any fleet. Properly outfitting and maintaining tracked equipment will ensure maximum uptime and year-round operation.

Track Type Selection Tips

Mini Excavators

Mini excavator tracks are not typically dependent upon specific tread patterns to perform their best. Because they move to the work spot and sit stationary to dig, less traction is needed than if they were moving while working. Most rubber track companies do not offer multiple tread patterns for each size due to the lack of need. For the best fitment, wear and performance, it is vital that the rubber tracks are the same as the OEM size. This will ensure that the track does not rub on the machine undercarriage and lessen the chance of de-tracking during use.

Compact Track Loaders

Compact track loader track patterns are much more important in providing performance, wear and safety. Different tread patterns available for CTL tracks are block treads with variations, which include C-lug, offset and broken bars. These tend to be the patterns that are used for overall performance, traction and wear. The zig-zag patterns, which come in many different configurations, perform well in snow, ice, sand and mud. These types of treads can provide superior performance but will not wear as well in hard surface applications. For the best fitment, wear and performance, it is vital that the replacement rubber tracks are the same size as the OEM tracks. This will ensure that the track does not rub on the machine undercarriage and lessen the chance of de-tracking during use.

Maintenance Tips for Rubber Tracks

Daily: Rubber tracks should be inspected daily. Look for cuts, cracks, exposed wires and metal imbeds. The track and undercarriage should be rinsed off and any debris removed.

Weekly: Once a week the tracks and undercarriage should receive a more in-depth inspection. This should include checking the tread wear, the undercarriage components such as the rollers, drive sprocket and idler arm. If there is excessive wear on any of these components, they should be changed out because they will adversely affect the performance and life of the tracks.

Monthly: The undercarriage and rubber tracks should be fully inspected once a month. Along with the normal daily and weekly maintenance, the tension of the tracks should be checked and adjusted according to the machine manufacturer’s specifications. There should also be a complete cleaning of the undercarriage and tracks. This can most easily be performed with a pressure washer.

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Tracking Wear

Tread Depth

The first way to gauge the wear of your tracks is by taking an initial tread depth reading. From there, one can take a new reading during their weekly or monthly maintenance. They can take the percentage of wear compared with the machine hours and come up with an estimated wear life of the track. Although it is rare for rubber tracks to last the total life of the tread (especially on CTL machines), this calculation still gives an idea of the maximum possible life of the tracks. In cases where the tracks do last the life of the tread, once the tread is gone, the track will no longer be effective or safe.

Cutting and Chunking

Damage to the tracks in the form of cutting and chunking will also significantly affect the life of the tracks. When a cut or rubber chunk reaches the steel cables, it will then allow water to attack the cables in the form of oxidation, which leads to rust. Rust will cause the steel cables to eventually break, causing total failure of the track.

Exposed Cables

The rubber tracks should daily be examined for exposed cables. If exposed cables are seen, it is best to clip them off with wire cutters in order to stop them from further cutting the rubber. Depending on the severity of damage to the cables, this may limit catastrophic damage. If the cables are totally separated due to impact damage or debris cuts, the track will be ruined.

Exposed Metal Imbeds

Exposed metal imbeds in any area outside of the guide lugs is evidence of severe damage to the rubber tracks. In rare instances, this damage can be the result of a manufacturing defect but is normally caused by some type of impact damage. Impact damage can happen while running over hard debris during operation or from debris being trapped between the undercarriage of the machine and the rubber track.

Tips for Extending Track Wear

Undercarriage Maintenance

To get the best possible life out of the rubber tracks, several external activities should be done regularly. Undercarriage maintenance is one of the most important operations to be followed because undercarriages have many wearable parts that all need to be examined regularly and replaced at the machine manufacturer’s recommended intervals. Worn parts can cause many problems, such as de-tracking, high levels of vibration, excessive wear and premature breaking. Track tension is one of the items that can affect the life of a rubber track for the positive or negative.

Application Maintenance

Maintaining a clean worksite can not only greatly extend the life of the rubber tracks but help with maintaining the machine. Any type of debris, such as scrap wood, cinder blocks, bricks, stones and rebar, can cause impact damage and ultimate failure to rubber tracks. 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 can be extended greatly.

Driver Awareness

Driver awareness and training can be one of the most important factors in extending the life of your rubber tracks. Being aware of the application, and not running over debris, side grades and curbs, will significantly reduce impact damage and de-tracking. Part of the training that each driver undergoes should include application awareness.

Winter Operation

Correct Tread Design

Running mini excavators in winter weather is usually not a problem because movement is slow and consists of moving from the trailer to the worksite. Because compact track loaders are moving while working, more care is necessary when choosing the proper tread design. There needs to be a tread design with a lot of edges in order to gain as much traction as possible. The tread should also have a self-cleaning design, as snow will quickly fill the voids in the tread and become a smooth surface, unless the design allows the snow to fall out during operation. Without good traction in winter weather, the machine will become less productive, hard to drive and even dangerous. Not only do you lose traction, but you will also lose running and stopping ability without the proper tread pattern.

Driver Training

It is also important to make sure that the driver of the machine is properly trained. They should be prepared for all the intricacies of driving a piece of compact equipment in the snow. Training will ensure that the operation is safe for the driver, the environment and the machine itself. Selecting the proper size track per machine, with the appropriate tread for the intended operation, and following these simple maintenance and training guidelines can aid in increasing the longevity of your track while maintaining driver, jobsite and equipment safety.

Mike Giordano is the segment sales manager at Trelleborg Wheel Systems Americas Inc.

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