Tech Column: Conquer the Cold

by | Dec 18, 2023 | 2023, November/December, TimberWest Magazine

You rely on heavy equipment, like log loaders and road builders, to harvest, process and transport timber efficiently. However, harsh winter weather and sub-zero temperatures can pose challenges for these machines and require specialized care. Winterizing equipment is critical to prevent equipment failures and costly downtime. Follow these tips to safeguard your equipment and ensure that it can withstand the colder months.

1. Inspect, Maintain Your Equipment

Before winter sets in, perform daily or pre-operation inspections of your excavator or road builder undercarriage. Look for signs of wear, damage or loose components on the tracks, rollers, idlers and sprockets. Lubricate and adjust track tension as needed. Remove packed snow and ice from the undercarriage. Failure to clean the undercarriage on a regular basis can lead to premature wear of the components and may cause unplanned machine downtime. Whenever performing maintenance on the machine, always check the operator’s manual before starting work.

2. Change Engine Oil; Switch to Winter Fuel

Colder temperatures can affect your machine’s ability to run efficiently, especially if it does not have the proper engine oil. In winter, oil gets very dense and might have a hard time at start-up circulating through the engine without proper lubrication. However, the oil you put in shouldn’t be too thin or it won’t stick to the components.

Be sure to check the quality of your diesel engine fuel to ensure it is suitable for your engine. Use high-quality, winter grade fuel and consider using cold weather additives. Replace fuel filters. Make sure the diesel engine is in good working condition.

Inspect the machine’s battery and wires to make sure they haven’t frozen or become stressed due to extremely cold temperatures. There is always a draw on the battery, so it will need to be fully charged after use unless it has been maintained or disconnected while in storage. A trickle charger can be connected to help build the voltage at a lower rate, which can improve battery life. Inspect and clean the battery connections since corroded terminals can cause hard starting and charging issues. Use a battery blanket or insulation to help keep the battery warm when your machine is not in use.

Warm up the engine with a block heater before starting work; they are available as an option on most forestry equipment. Running the engine for 5 to 10 minutes makes it easier on your equipment and essential components.

3. Address Comfort, Safety Features

Machine comfort and safety for you and your operators are essential for maintaining productivity and preventing accidents. Remember to:

  • Wear appropriate winter clothing and personal protective equipment.
  • Add insulation to the cabin to enhance comfort.
  • Maintain cabin heaters and windshield defrosters to keep the cabin warm and maintain visibility.
  • Regularly clear snow and ice from cabin windows, mirrors and lights.
  • Keep steps leading to the cab free and clear of snow and ice to prevent slips and falls.
  • Maintain a well-stocked first aid kit, emergency supplies, and a communication plan in case of unexpected situations.

4. Follow Proper Machine Operation

Winter conditions can bring a range of hazards: ice or snow-covered terrain, reduced visibility due to snow, and the potential for equipment malfunctions caused by cold temperatures. Follow these tips for operating equipment in winter:

Adjust operating practices for winter conditions, including slower and more cautious speed, digging and lifting to avoid accidents.

Pay attention to load handling in snowy and icy conditions to prevent tipping or instability.

Regularly monitor weather conditions using forecasting tools to decide when to work or suspend operations.

5. Inspect Attachments

Winterizing heavy equipment logging attachments, such as grapples and other log handling tools, can be as crucial as preparing the machine itself.

  • Examine each attachment for wear and tear, bent components, or any signs of damage. Repair or replace any damaged parts.
  • Thoroughly clean each attachment, removing dirt, debris and rust. Make sure all moving parts are well lubricated. Grease joints, hinges and pins to prevent freezing and reduce friction.
  • Consider applying protective coatings to metal surfaces to prevent rust and corrosion.
  • Check for leaks, ensure that hydraulic lines are well insulated, and maintain appropriate fluid levels. Cold temperatures can affect hydraulic performance, so consider using low-temperature hydraulic fluids.
  • Keep a stock of spare parts and maintenance kits specific to your attachments.
  • Whenever possible, store attachments in a dry, sheltered area when not in use.
  • Make sure you and your operators are trained on the proper use and care of winterized attachments.

Winter conditions can be unpredictable for forestry and logging operations, but winterizing your equipment and operator training can help you face the elements. Regular refreshers on winter-specific techniques and safety practices are essential for efficient operation when the temperature drops.

(Jacob Sherman is the DEVELON dealer and product marketing manager. He has more than 20 years of experience in various aspects of the equipment industry, including sales, marketing and management.)

Jacob Sherman

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