Taking Care of Your Rubber TrackTaking Care of Your Rubber Track

By Buck Storlie, ASV Holdings Inc. testing and reliability leader

Compact track loaders are one of a jobsite’s most versatile pieces of equipment, so when it comes to the machines’ rubber track undercarriages, these tips couldn’t be more applicable. Simply taking the time to implement these steps can help contractors get a lot more mileage from their machines. That saves money in service and replacement costs and reduces downtime.

Watch for deep cuts, about 4 inches or larger, that dig into the core of the track where the inner cords are embedded.

Equipment Usage

Improper or aggressive operation is a major contributor to excessive wear. In addition, certain applications result in much higher wear than others. To minimize damage, operators should be trained on proper operation before they use the equipment.

Counter-rotations, or sharp changes of direction, are a big cause of premature undercarriage wear. This is especially true when driving over highly abrasive material. Not only do counter-rotations often lead to cuts in the track, they also result in material build-up on the tracks’ outer edge that gets into the undercarriage. Track systems with rubber wheel designs have the advantage of being open, compared to closed steel designs, allowing material to spill out. But it’s still possible for the abrasive material to get stuck among the roller wheels, lugs, and track. Although the components that are mostly rubber are more forgiving to each other than steel-on-rubber designs, materials can cause chips and cuts. To reduce the risk, encourage operators to use three-point turns.

Operators should also avoid spinning the tracks, especially on abrasive surfaces, as it can result in cuts in the rubber and unnecessary undercarriage wear.

Taking Care of Your Rubber TrackReplace rubber track drive wheels when two-thirds of the rubber is gone. This wheel is still usable.

More Clean, Less Wear

Aside from using proper operating techniques, drivers should regularly clean a compact track loader’s undercarriage, since its cleanliness directly impacts the wear rate.

The cleaning frequency depends on the applications and materials operators use the machines in, but daily cleaning is usually sufficient. Remove cohesive and abrasive material, such as mud, clay, and gravel, as often as possible, even several times a day. This limits wear to undercarriage components or material buildup that can increase track tension. Remind operators that cleaning off materials such as mud at the end of the day is easier than trying to remove it the next morning after it has dried.

Pay close attention to cleaning around the front and rear roller wheels, where material can accumulate. Use a pressure washer, if available, otherwise a small shovel or similar tool is sufficient. The most important items to remove are highly abrasive objects, as they can damage the inside of the track and undercarriage components.

Achieving the Best Track Life

Contractors should closely inspect rubber track undercarriages regularly. First, look at the track, the part of the compact track loader that gets the most abuse. The average rubber track life is about 2,000 hours but can be as high as 5,000 if maintained well. On the other hand, neglecting a rubber track can result in a wear life as low as 500 hours. To get the longest track life, check track tension and condition daily, conduct visual checks for damage, and lubricate grease points.

Taking Care of Your Rubber TrackThe tread in this track is gone and is at the end of its serviceable life.

The track tension should match what is listed in the equipment manual. A loose track can result in ratcheting — lugs skipping over sprocket rollers — which accelerates wear or damage to the lugs. A loose track also increases the risk of derailment. Alternatively, a track that’s too tight can accelerate wear on bearings, wheels, and sprockets.

Examine the outside of the track for damage. Rubber track treads accumulate cuts and missing chunks over their lifetime, but these are often cosmetic and may not affect performance. Watch for deep cuts, about 4 inches or larger, that dig into the core of the track where the inner cords are embedded. Bad cuts, such as this, may get worse and make track replacement necessary. Also, check the tread depth. When wear makes it difficult or impossible to properly tension tracks, then it’s time to replace them.

Next, look at the drive lugs. Lugs encounter wear over time, especially when working in abrasive materials. Side slopes can also be hard on lugs, resulting in one side of the lugs wearing more than the other. Check that the lugs still fit well with the sprocket rollers. A track isn’t usable if lugs are worn down so far that they continually skip over rollers when the track is properly tensioned. This usually happens when about 50 percent of the lug is gone.

Taking Care of Your Rubber TrackThis damaged lug can be removed with the track remaining fully functional.

Drive wheels wear similarly to the tracks and lugs. Replace a wheel when two-thirds of its rubber is gone and look at the sprocket rollers about every 50 operating hours. Rubber track undercarriages use steel outer roller sleeves that cover steel pins on the sprocket and engage with the lugs. Replace sleeves when they are 50 percent worn or when they show signs of cracking. The steel sprocket pins can be rotated 180 degrees during sleeve replacement to prolong their service life, as the pins are stationary and typically only wear on one side.

Achieve High ROI from Good Service

Contractors should inform operators of proper operation tips and ensure they clean and inspect the tracks regularly. Proper care can prevent problems and lengthen track life, which keeps costs low. Teach and practice careful operation and take a few minutes every day for cleaning and inspection — small tasks that will often result in a high return on investment.

Photos courtesy of ASV

TimberWest November/December 2013
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