Top tips for maintaining course machinery

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 30, 2011 14:17

Top tips for maintaining course machinery

1) The do’s and don’ts of in-house servicing

When it comes to machinery maintenance, there’s no substitute for experience – use only competent, manufacturer-trained turfcare mechanics. Many companies would recommend using your dealer or service centre, but if you do opt for in-house servicing then do invest in the appropriate levels of staff training. Likewise, ensure you have the correct tools and proper facilities – in particular, your workshop should be well lit and clean and tidy, with equipment such as clean oil measures and drainage cans for waste oil storage. Follow your operator handbook for reference and consistency – it will contain a schedule and checklist of everything you need to do to maintain your machines. What’s more, going against manufacturer’s advice could invalidate your warranty, so don’t be tempted to deviate from the handbook. It’s also important to be thorough and methodical. Do keep a record of what you’ve done. Don’t cut corners. Don’t think you can resolve a problem next time round. Don’t think you know better.

2) Remember the three Cs

If you’re attempting to diagnose a fault in your own workshop, don’t be swayed by what the operator says is wrong or let them tell you what needs to be put right. You need to establish what the problem is and decide on the best course of action. Remember the three Cs – get them to describe the exact Conditions they are experiencing, then look for the Cause and, finally, carry out the Correction. This is imperative when it comes to in-house servicing as following an incorrect diagnosis is a recipe for disaster!

3) There may be trouble ahead…

There are several sure signs of impending problems. Unusual noises are a good indicator that things are starting to come loose, while vibration suggests that something is out of balance. Both can be a warning that engine mounts are coming loose. Get into the habit of checking for oil and water spots under the machines as if they’re going to leak they’ll usually show the first signs while they’re hot and parked. When it comes to mowers, operators should remain vigilant of a drop in quality of after-cut appearance as this often betrays any underlying problems. Overall, operator vigilance is vital – any downturn in power or performance, or if a machine’s sounding laboured in any way, is likely to be indicative of problems.

4) Keep it simple

Always look for the simple solution first. A common and costly error is sending your injection pump for servicing when it’s merely affected by a blocked filter. By checking the filter first, you would have been left with a £5 rather than £1,000 bill. And, while poor after-cut appearance often indicates a machinery fault, be aware that you need to adjust the mower to deal with changes in conditions, such as long, wet summers, so don’t assume there’s a fault before making simple adjustments. Similarly, if a machine appears to be affected by multiple faults, be sure to correct them one at a time, each time verifying whether this correction has worked and was the cause of the problem. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to put everything right at once as, although it seems like you’re saving time, you could be carrying out unnecessary corrections and might lose sight of what you’ve worked on, wasting time as well as money. Sending an oil sample for testing is also a useful way of diagnosing symptoms of problems as this will highlight any contamination.

5) Common errors

These common errors often lead to defective machinery, so avoid them where possible.

Don’t store diesel too long as it’s susceptible to bacterial growth, which causes filter blockages – keep the machines’ fuel tanks full to prevent condensation getting inside and don’t be afraid to change the fuel filters more frequently than recommendations. Always blow out blocked radiators with an air-line – don’t use water to wash them out as this leaves a sticky residue on the cooling fins that dust will cling to, leading to further blockages. Never use neat antifreeze to top up the radiator as this will lower the boiling point – use 50 per cent each of water and antifreeze instead. It’s also important to keep the oil cooler clean and clear to prevent over-heating of the hydraulic system as hot hydraulic oil can cause premature leaks. And it may sound obvious, but never use a machine outside its design specifications – for example, using a fine turf machine in heavy grass conditions, as this puts too much load on the mower.

6) Get on course

With these points in mind, comprehensive and up-to-date training is clearly essential to ensuring your mechanics and operators can be vigilant to faults and work together to put them right, so take advantage of courses whenever you can.

7) Plan ahead

Planning regular maintenance with your dealer or service centre will not only keep your machine at its best and prolong its lifespan, but can also prove cost-effective. Why not set up a service contract to spread payments? You might also be able to negotiate special prices for servicing and parts. And if you don’t have a contract, be sure to cultivate a good working relationship with your dealer – it’s no good just calling them in a crisis and expecting them to be there right away if communication is otherwise non-existent.

8) Bulk buy

Another great money-saving tip is to buy parts – particularly filter kits – in advance. This saves time and effort when you need a part, plus there’s no downtime while you wait for next-day delivery to get a machine up and running again. What’s more, you can also buy in bulk, making more savings.

9) Accept no substitutes!

But when it comes to buying parts, be sure to purchase only quality OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) service parts. Though it’s tempting to settle for a spurious part to save a few pennies, most fail to meet the OEM’s standards for form, fit and function and so you’ll probably need to replace it early and often. It could even damage your equipment or invalidate your warranty, which will hit you far harder in the pocket. Premature bearing failure caused by the ingress of dirt due to use of poor quality bearings instead of OEM bearings is a prime example of this.

10) Smart secondhand buys

Buying secondhand can also make a lot of financial sense, but make sure you purchase wisely. Firstly, get hold of the operator’s manual for the machine you intend to purchase and review it in full – you need to be sure it will suit your needs before you buy as you’re unlikely to be able to return it, so don’t assume you know it all. When you’ve found the machine you want, look into its full service history as this gives you an insight into how well it’s been maintained and by who. If it’s been looked after by a dealer, check into the quality of service they offer. Things to look out for when inspecting the machine itself are damage and abrasion points on flexible hydraulic hoses and the condition of the safety interlocks. If this switch in particular has been disabled it’s a great giveaway that something else is wrong with the machine, such as problems with other switches.

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 30, 2011 14:17
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