By Jack Petree
In a very real sense, the maintenance program a forestry contractor needs to build to be profitable in the modern world begins at the machine designer’s work table.
According to Jarvis De Groot, product marketing manager for John Deere, timber harvesting machinery is subjected to extreme stresses each and every day of the working year — stresses not seen in most workplace scenarios involving heavy equipment. In that challenging environment forestry machines must reliably function each and every hour possible. Downtime is incredibly expensive and disrupting to a harvesting effort; an entire side can be shut down because one highly specialized machine has broken down 30 miles deep into the wilderness. That’s why John Deere decided to go into competition with itself in designing a line of purpose-built swing machines specifically to serve the exceptional needs of the forest industry.
As a result, says De Groot, “Low-hour failures resulting from modified excavators being used in extremely rugged forestry applications demonstrated the need for a similar machine platform, but with the ability to withstand those extremes. The growth in magnitude and complexity of the modifications, along with customer needs for improved performance and durability, further highlighted the need for a purpose-built forestry swing machine.”
Maintenance Requires Teamwork
All modern purpose-built forestry machines are designed to deal with operator protection, safety, and comfort foremost in the designer’s mind. A machine that will meet or exceed all requirements related to ROPS/TOPS/FOPS/OPS, while providing the operator with maximum visibility and comfort in extreme operating conditions, presents maintenance needs that may not have been present in machines of the past.
“When establishing a maintenance program for a machine, whether it is a swing machine or a conventional model, it is important to consider the job conditions to ensure the machine is up and running, regardless of the application,” says De Groot. And in the modern world, the responsibility for that maintenance program requires a good deal of teamwork between the manufacturer, the equipment dealer, and the equipment owner/operator.
Keep It Clean and Regulate Inspections
While manufacturers recommend maintenance intervals, it is up to the machine owner to recognize when dust, extreme temperatures, abrasive conditions, and other excessive loading demands require the consideration of shorter maintenance and repair intervals.
De Groot points to items like the cleaning of radiators and other cooling components and the changing of filters, including hydraulic, air, engine, fuel, and cab fresh air/recirculation, as well as paying attention to oil change intervals as issues that should be considered for extra attention when operating in exceptionally difficult conditions.
“There are a few needs that seem to be often overlooked but are important to the longevity of the machine,” says De Groot. “Maintenance is always important but is especially critical when running a purpose-built forestry swing machine.”
Water buildup in fuel tanks, he says, especially with FT4 engines, is a particular problem. “Contractors need to regularly drain water from the bottom of the fuel tank.”
Cooler cleanliness, “Specifically the HVAC, hydraulic, and engine components,” is equally important according to De Groot (see https://forestnet.com/TWissues/2019-may-june/overheated.php for a discussion of this important issue) as are, “Overall regular machine inspections to detect structural cracks and wear damage.”
Don’t Overlook Cabs
De Groot contends that damage to cabs is all too often overlooked as part of a regular program of maintenance, but it should be near the top of the list when a maintenance program is established. “Any damage to a cab that potentially could affect structural/window integrity and compromise operator protection must be addressed,” he says.
The typical forestry operation of today could be likened to a well-rehearsed ballet with man, machine, and electronics all interlinked, operating in unison to get the job done efficiently, effectively, and economically.
Planned maintenance, beginning at the machine designer’s table and performed at regular intervals throughout the process of taking a log from stump to mill, is the glue that holds it all together. Success depends on how well manufacturers, dealers, and contractors coordinate their efforts to make everything work.
De Groot concludes, “Unplanned downtime will occur from time to time, and that is when dealer and manufacturer support for parts and technical expertise become critical, so selecting the right partner is important to the overall success of the operation.”
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