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Heavy equipment operating on a construction jobsite presents unique challenges to operators and maintenance personnel. Breakdowns are expensive, estimated at roughly 2% to 3% of asset replacement costs per year. Not only is the cost high, but lost days means possible slippage of schedule with its attendant problems.

As a result, establishing a cost-focused, carefully planned heavy equipment maintenance program means fewer equipment failures, less downtime, improved schedule attainment and lower costs.

Below are six tips for establishing and managing a heavy equipment maintenance program. These tips can be a good starting point for setting up and overseeing equipment maintenance on a large construction or jobsite.

1. Start each shift with checklists and develop an End-of-shift protocol

It is always a good idea to have daily, weekly and monthly checklists at the beginning of each shift to inspect each piece of equipment for problems or items needing servicing. These checklists should include any required cleaning, safety items, lubrications and operating parts.

At the close of shift, whenever possible, parking heavy equipment in areas such as sheds or outbuildings to avoid the elements is something that can have an impact on the amount of needed maintenance work in the long run.
A final end-of-shift checklist and clean-off schedule can identify minor areas that may need work overnight.

2. Provide thorough operator training and follow safety procedures

Ensuring all operators and support personnel are well trained is crucial. They should know and understand the equipment and be aware of maintenance requirements. In an ideal scenario, they would work with maintenance personnel to identify critical components and quickly report any non-functioning part.

One way to accomplish that is by ensuring maintenance procedures such as personal protective equipment satisfy OSHA and Department of Labor heavy equipment and jobsite regulations.

3. Operate equipment according to performance limits

To reduce components and machine failures, operators should observe published performance limits for their equipment. Furthermore, clear operating procedures should be established from the beginning and operators should be trained to follow recommended practices.

Loads, torque limits, speeds, feeds and more should be carefully monitored and controlled by machine operators. Excessive wear, tear and stresses on operating parts can dramatically shorten the life of equipment or create a sudden (and often dangerous) equipment failure.

4. Establish a rapid response team

For large or long-term projects, it may be cost-effective to establish and maintain a rapid response repair team. Depending on circumstances, this team would be available onsite with commonly used spare parts (such as filters, fluids and belts) and have access to a heavy lift service truck.

Data from preventative maintenance repair records can be used to plan and design this effort and to identify specific critical parts. Coordination with spare parts suppliers to maintain an onsite inventory of critical spare parts, assist with identifying critical spares, and “hot shot” out-of-stock parts can be an effective way to support keeping equipment up and running.

Anyone who wants to efficiently manage preventive maintenance work and track spare parts inventory should seriously consider using a CMMS, as trying to do this manually is difficult.

5. Develop and implement a preventative maintenance program

Reactive maintenance (fixing equipment when it breaks) is much more costly than planned maintenance. The industry rule of thumb is that reactive maintenance costs two to five times more than planned maintenance costs.

A great way to keep an eye on big, expensive equipment is by developing and maintaining a preventative maintenance program.

The initial program can be based on equipment manufacturers’ operating manuals and standard repair procedures for preventative maintenance scheduling. Then, as records accumulate over time, improved maintenance procedures can be incorporated into the system from actual equipment parts failures and repair data. Again, computerized maintenance management software provides the core system support for starting and maintaining a project management program.

6. Implement fluid analysis and Condition-Based Monitoring

Analysis of equipment fluids is an effective way to analyze the operating condition of heavy equipment. This can be done alone or as a first step in implementing a condition-based monitoring program. Laboratory analysis of equipment fluids are used to determine the internal condition of equipment and can be used to indicate when maintenance should be performed.

A variety of analysis techniques are available for any fluids, including lubricating oil, hydraulic fluids, transmission, final drive trains and coolants. These tests include identification of contaminants, viscosities, ultraviolet spectroscopy, pH analysis and many others. Results from these tests can identify preconditions for equipment failures and signal the need for maintenance. Fluid sampling and analysis can be included as part of the preventative maintenance program.

Investment in heavy machinery is expensive, and it pays to ensure that equipment is up and running when it’s needed. While direct equipment costs are easy to identify, costs of breakdowns, idle equipment, or operator error are hidden and difficult to nail down.
It’s important to calculate the cost and the ROI for heavy equipment. Good operating practice and a well-organized maintenance team supported by a CMMS system can go a long in ensuring contractors are running a profitable operation.


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