Construction Operational efficiency

You could be losing money if you're not taking these 5 preventive maintenance steps

8 min read / May 17, 2023 / Staff writer

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Telematics gives fleet managers access to valuable data that can be accessed anywhere without leaving the job site. The right software program can help you use that data to get ahead of potential problems.

Preventive maintenance for construction equipment has become a sophisticated undertaking with the use of telematics, global benchmarking and other advancements. You might be doing routine things to keep your machines running, such as checking fluid levels and inspecting tracks and tires. And that’s great. But there are many other ways you can potentially to optimize performance and efficiency, prevent unplanned downtime and control costly repairs. Those crucial areas can often be overlooked amid job demands. 

There’s more than one approach to construction equipment preventive maintenance.

Time-based: This type of preventive maintenance occurs according to the calendar. For instance, a manual might specify how often to check for proper lubrication to ensure peak performance and prevent malfunctions.

Condition-based: Outside of time-based plans, facilities may opt to perform maintenance based on observations from front-line operators and mechanics. If a part appears worn, frayed or otherwise damaged, condition-based maintenance during observation can prevent problems from developing.

Risk-based: This approach entails identifying specific equipment parts that would create more costly or time-consuming problems if they fail. Those parts would receive preventive maintenance based on the risks posed by their failure.

Failure finding: Operators can use tasks to look for or predict failures in the equipment or systems designed to protect the processes. It’s another way to get ahead of a problem before it becomes costly.

Predictive: When data is collected and analyzed over time, it can be used to project sub-standard performance, wear and tear and other issues for specific machines operating under specific conditions. Under some circumstances, data can even be compared to global baselines. Some facilities use sophisticated tools to predict potential issues and troubleshoot them before they occur.

Done effectively, construction equipment preventive maintenance strategies include a wide array of activities. Here are five that are often underutilized or overlooked; we’ll start with the simplest and work our way up.

1. Put the manual’s maintenance checklist to work

It seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how often this simple step isn’t executed properly. It should start by establishing regular procedures and intervals for the factory-recommended maintenance necessary to keep equipment running well. Routine and thorough maintenance is the foundation of any preventive maintenance procedures.

  • Service technicians and mechanics who perform routine maintenance can spot issues and nip them in the bud before damage, downtime or safety hazards occur
  • Routine cleaning can prevent damage and keep machines running efficiently, but it’s also a chance to check for leaks, rust and other signs of wear
  • Checking lubricants carefully can help detect signs of wear and tear

Technology is the most overlooked aspect of routine maintenance, but its use is growing. For instance, some contractors label all equipment with QR codes; scanning a code instantly connects staff to web-based resources such as maintenance intervals, inspection points, spare parts suppliers, service records and service forms. 

As the next steps will show, introducing software solutions to your work culture will also position your team to take advantage of technology in even more ways that can help your bottom line.

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Technology can automate tracking of each machine’s maintenance schedule.

2. Develop a formal preventive maintenance schedule

Once you’ve covered your bases with the machine manual checklist and established thorough routine maintenance practices, a formal and robust preventive maintenance strategy can take shape. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind.

Do an audit of your existing preventive maintenance processes, including reports, records and maintenance procedures. Are manuals in one place and easy to find? What schedules are already in place? What about parts availability and supplier information? Who are the key personnel involved? How are you documenting things? Is documentation updated, useful and easy to find?

Use software tools for optimum impact. Manually updating spreadsheets or tracking dates on your blotter calendar won’t do the job if you want to make the most of preventive maintenance strategies. You can program dates into a software tool to get automatic reminders for scheduled maintenance. You can also program alerts based on telematics reports and meter readings. And a good software program will keep all your documentation in one easy-to-access place.

Put one person in charge to streamline processes and ensure accountability. Ensure your preventive maintenance guru is a valued team member with the right level of authority.

3. Assess your supply of critical spares

Supply-chain headaches made headlines during the pandemic and caused many construction contractors to reassess their practices. Too many spare parts in a warehouse tie up valuable cash. Too few can have negative ripple effects if a missing part causes equipment downtime, delays a big project, requires express-shipping fees or creates safety concerns. 

Effective management of your spare parts supply line is, therefore, a significant factor in managing expenses, optimizing fleet performance and meeting your business goals. It’s another essential element of preventive maintenance.

Like everything else on this list, the best parts-supply strategy requires an assessment of your current situation and uses technology effectively. It also requires collaboration with your supply chain partners. Things to keep in mind:

Know everything you own and the spare parts each piece of equipment requires. Without a comprehensive, up-to-date and accessible inventory, the best strategies will fail. This should include information about suppliers and lead times for ordering and replenishing.

Track spare parts usage for each machine to establish a history with enough detail to analyze trends.

Use web-based inventory software to put all this information to work. The right software can produce reports and issue alerts to help you predict expenses, schedule purchases and control inventory. Used properly, this kind of tool will mean more accurate forecasting of spare parts demand — a critical factor when managing expenses without adding risks. It will also turn many manual tasks into automated ones.

4. Professionally diagnose machine calibrations 

Calibration is critical to a machine’s performance and longevity, and ultimately has a significant impact on total cost of ownership. 

When your truck, excavator or dozer leaves the factory, it has been checked against many levels of quality benchmarking, and its settings have been calibrated to meet those standards. Original equipment manufacturers calibrate according to industry standards and their own telematics systems to prevent potential issues from arising and to maximize machine efficiency.

But over time, a machine can fall out of calibration. For instance, if an excavator arm isn’t moving as fast as you’d like, the pump might need to be recalibrated.

Many OEMs suggest a professional re-calibration after 8,000 hours to ensure a machine is equipped to operate at peak performance — and to ensure you’re getting the most out of your investment. This process uses specialized diagnostic tools to spot any settings that have fallen out of calibration. This “health check” measures performance against established baselines and, in many cases, against global benchmarks. 

This step can anticipate potential performance problems and send the equipment back to work at factory specifications. It’s yet another way to nip unplanned downtime in the bud.

5. Use a comprehensive smart technology solution

Given the many ways construction equipment preventive maintenance is practiced — time-based, condition-based, risk-based, failure finding and predictive — it's a complex task with many interrelated sets of information. To compound the complexity, many fleet managers use multiple software programs for different jobs such as parts inventory, performance history, maintenance history, parts usage, record archiving, trend analysis and more. Those different programs often don’t “talk” to each other.

So, fleet managers can have access to massive amounts of data. But using that data effectively to prevent breakdowns and optimize performance can be challenging.

An increasing number of companies are addressing the challenge by using construction equipment management software, also known as enterprise asset management (EAM) software. This solution is designed to bundle data points into a comprehensive system that can put all that data to work. Some examples:

  • Select which metrics to use for your maintenance checks (hours of operations, miles traveled, manufacturer recommendations)
  • Produce detailed reports on each machine to help analyze and predict fuel costs, parts usage, time spent on specific tasks and more
  • Create alerts when equipment isn’t operating at peak performance, which could signal the need for preventive maintenance or repair

It’s worth noting that the Association of Equipment Manufacturers Professionals (AEMP) listed interconnected technologies as one of the top equipment trends for 2023, pointing out that newer machinery is equipped with technology to help prevent downtime through early detection of mechanical issues. However, the AEMP says adoption of interconnection technologies is still low — by one estimate, less than 50% of all equipment owners. That suggests a lot of opportunities to potentially gain a competitive edge.

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A comprehensive construction equipment preventive maintenance plan is essential for optimizing performance, preventing downtime and controlling costly repairs.

An investment that pays off

Like every aspect of managing a business, construction equipment preventive maintenance requires focus, planning and a commitment from the top. Increasingly, it also requires contractors to adapt to technology. 

“Technology, as advanced as it is, it’s still going to get better,” said Gil Gilbert, director of fleet management for the pipeline division of Henkels & McCoy, in an interview with Gearflow. The contractor, headquartered in Houston, has won an AEMP Fleet Masters Award from the AEMP and Construction Equipment magazine. “We’re going to see in the next five years stuff that I haven’t even thought of. And I think it’s important that everybody is open-minded to that.”

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