By Jack Petree
It is possible that no aspect of forestry equipment’s contribution to profitability is more underappreciated than a diesel engine’s cooling system. A well maintained cooling system plays a critical role in assuring machine efficiency and longevity. Like the wheels on the bus, the water in your engine goes “round and round,” and everything’s cool, right?
Machine owners should be well aware of the need to properly monitor and maintain cooling systems associated with diesel-powered equipment so it’s surprising that experts in the care and feeding of diesel engines concur that the need is often overlooked in practice. A large percentage of engine breakdowns, catastrophic or otherwise, are traceable to improperly maintained cooling systems. Harlan Smith, Cooling System Design Engineer for John Deere’s Construction and Forestry division, comments, “While I can’t confirm the specific percentage, it is true that cooling system maintenance is key to keeping machines running and limiting downtime. By failing to properly maintain equipment, you are increasing the likelihood of preventable machine breakdowns.”
In operation, a diesel engine generates a huge amount of heat. The burning gases in the engine’s cylinder reach temperatures that can exceed the melting point of the materials used to manufacture the body and head of the engine. Dissipating all that heat in order to preserve the integrity of the engine is the job of the cooling system. Modern diesel engines are expected to perform at levels never expected of their predecessors. If the system is not working efficiently, the results can range from catastrophic engine failure at worst to inefficient operation and the potential of expensive downtime at best.
Regarding the challenges modern engine designers must address, Smith says, “The incorporation of the Final Tier 4 (FT4) engine system on the John Deere machines has increased the complexity and stress on the cooling system. John Deere has incorporated proven engine technology and redesigned the cooling system to specifically accommodate these changes, changes required to meet emission regulations.”
Because of the increased complexity and stress on the cooling system, Smith emphasizes, “It is critical to properly maintain your machine, as a lack of maintenance can lead to expensive fixes.” Maintenance issues Smith points to include the mechanical portions of the system and the all-important coolant the mechanical system is designed to circulate through the engine.
Maintenance of the physical system can be as simple as regular visual inspections of the cooling system and its components. “A common issue we see is a result of failing to clean out debris; a failing often leading to overheating and unexpected downtime,” Smith reports.
On the coolant side, Smith puts forward, “Another common thing we see is owners trying to save a few dollars by using the wrong type of coolant, or failing to follow the right coolant maintenance schedule. One of the more serious issues caused by neglecting coolant is cylinder liner pitting and failing, resulting in the mixing of oil and coolant, which will damage the engine system. It is important to read and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and use the right coolant for the machine. With equipment maintenance, you get what you pay for, and it is critical to use the right type of coolant.”
In concert with the reengineering of their engines to meet the increased demands placed on them in today’s forest-based operations, companies like John Deere have brought new electronic technologies like telematics into play to help equipment owners reduce downtime and expenses.
“Telematics play a key role in simplifying maintenance and increasing the owner/operator’s visibility to their machine,” Smith says. “Technology solutions can provide real-time monitoring of the machine status, including temperature and machine load. Additionally, machines provide an alert when maintenance is needed.”
“In addition,” Smith continues, “Our customers have added support with John Deere Connected Support. With Connected Support, the dealer is able to proactively support customers by remotely monitoring machines to diagnosis and repair problems before downtime occurs. The support of the dealer offers an extra level of protection for the customer.”
In summary, Smith puts forward, coolant systems play a much larger role than is commonly realized in assuring the efficiency and longevity of the machines that owners depend on to carry out their business. “Coolant systems are important and play a huge role in the overall health of the machine and engine, making it critical to follow the right maintenance plan,” he concludes. “It’s important to reference the manufacturer’s guidelines to make sure the system doesn’t fail or get damaged, and to use the right type of coolant.” Last, Smith advises machine owners, “There are opportunities to leverage technology to help simplify maintenance, and manufacturers are rolling out more solutions so owners and operators are better connected with their machines.”
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