Lubed, Loaded, and Ready for Work

March 1, 2009

At the opening of this millennium, demand for heavy-duty off-highway equipment was on a steep rise, with Caterpillar Inc. and John Deere raising their sales forecasts as recently as 2004. Key factors driving demand include unprecedented growth in Asia and the need to repair and improve America’s aging infrastructure, a roughly 4 million–mile network of interstates, highways, and roads requiring an estimated $1.2 trillion to repair over a period of 10 years.

A 40% increase in traffic bottlenecks was reported by the American Highway Users Alliance in Washington, DC, four years ago, with Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters commenting that congestion was already “nearly unbearable” in many metro areas. Freight tonnage and miles traveled are expected to double in the next two decades, Peters warned. Additional traffic contributes to congested highways, outdated layouts, inadequate interchanges and ramps, and deteriorating bridges with limited clearance. To address the problems, the federal government committed to invest $256 billion—the highest amount ever promised for the nation’s highways—through the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act. The fix requires equipment, and lots of it.

But road construction isn’t alone in fueling the demand for the more than 1 million diesel-powered off-road machines operating in the US. In fact, according to the Diesel Technology Forum in Frederick, MD, diesel is the primary source of power for many industries:

  • Agriculture—Diesel powers two-thirds of all agriculture. Nearly $19 million worth of tractors and other equipment is used on farms and ranches.
  • Airports—Roughly one-third of all airport ground support equipment is diesel-powered.
  • Construction—Virtually 100% of all off-road equipment, valued at $17 billion, runs on diesel.
  • Mining—Of all haulers, loaders, shovels, and other equipment, over 70% is diesel-powered.

However, with the economic downturn in the decade’s second half, new equipment isn’t always in the budget, so it’s more important than ever to maintain fleets for ultimate performance, longevity, and maximum uptime.

Lube 101
“Uptime makes money,” summarizes Kelly Holt, HD marketing manager for Valvoline. He knows that conditions within the off-highway industry challenge uptime. “Primary among the issues we face is the place where the equipment works,” he says. “It’s dirty and dusty.” Wheel loaders, for example, may drive into a pile of dirt or other material, lift, back, turn, and drive to a dumpsite to deposit the load. That duty cycle could repeat itself once or twice a minute, varying far more dramatically than an on-highway engine’s typical duty cycle, because off-highway applications are generally more complex, with equipment operating under more adverse conditions.

The constant change of speed, the amount of dust in the air, intake, and exhaust temperatures affect engine performance. As Holt points out, heat, coupled with dusty conditions, means extra wear on the equipment, threatening uptime and profits.

For 143 years, with the introduction of Valvoline’s first commercial product, the Fortune 500 company has produced a premium line of lubricants to combat those conditions and protect equipment. Tracing the company’s history, Holt points out that even its name is derived from a lubricant made to protect steam cylinders in railroads. “We know lubricants.”

Photo: IMT
Photo: Kenworth
Photo: Villeneuve Construction
Photo: Wilcox

He also knows it takes more than a familiar name; it takes a quality product and being attentive to the details of handling customer needs. Valvoline achieves both with its trademark OEM-endorsed Premium Blue 1540 and with a program promoting relationships between trained specialists and fleet managers.

Valvoline’s All-Fleet-Plus 1540 is a “fighter grade” lubricant proven for rough conditions and sold to “a major off-road customer base.” It will handle fluctuating temperatures and a wide range of conditions, allowing longer intervals between relubrication, which keeps operators on the job.

“Support from the manufacturer in this industry is crucial,” Holt states. As an example, he says, millions of dollars are at risk in mining operations. “They need a partner that understands best practices and preventative maintenance.” Valvoline’s program includes technical recommendations for the right fluids in accordance with OEM recommendations and current product specifications. “There are a lot of changes in the lubricant industry. Valvoline keeps on top of the latest.”

He dubs the program “Lube 101” because it includes onsite training on best practices for storage and dispensing and maintenance schedules. “Storage is a big issue. You want to watch for old drums or water in the drums.”

Oil Change for the Better
Valvoline isn’t the only company conducting classes in lubrication. A well-defined equipment lubrication program is such a critical component of a successful maintenance program, several organizations and companies are offering training because they recognize the timesaving value to operators and fleet managers.

The first thing Denny Whitmire did when he took over Jerry T. Whitmire Grading in Brevard, NC, was to check oil changes. Some machines had done 900 hours without an oil change. Determined to get his shop back on track, he first tried incentives and bonuses before considering other options. “We had so many major component failures, I started figuring out it was cheaper to get on a program.”

The program Whitmire chose came as part of a service agreement with Volvo when he purchased equipment. “It cost more initially,” he admits, “but in the long run, the equipment is serviced on time. We’ve saved money due to scheduled maintenance because we have less downtime.”

Whitmire does a lot of work in subdivisions, as well as commercial site work. He owns approximately 40 pieces of Volvo equipment: six A25 articulating trucks, seven 210 excavators, a 330 excavator, and a Champion 710 megagrader, to name a few. It’s a lot of equipment to maintain. “It’s too big to keep up with—and the operators weren’t keeping up!”

Whitmire is on a 250-hour service program, although he realizes some now advocate 500-hour intervals. Under the service agreement, Whitmire turns in each machine’s hours every week. Volvo schedules oil changes—even recommends what oil to use—and does other preventative maintenance.

“I tried offering a $1,600 bonus for watching oil changes, et cetera, with deductions from the bonus for abuse: cracked windshield, trashed cab, sheet metal damage, wear points, buckets, and blades,” Whitmire details. “We ran five excavators [previously], and busted 11 windows. After the bonus incentive, we ran eight excavators with only two busted windows.” Believing that “you have to put money into it to get money out of it,” he says the bonus makes his employees “think about it if they tear things up. If I bleed, they have to bleed a little bit, but I’m fair. I deduct $150 for a cracked windshield; it costs me $450.” Whitmire pays his 40 employees their bonus every six months, essentially offering them a clean slate twice a year.

No matter what you do, Whitmire says, you’ll have some problems. He handles minor repairs, but calls the dealership for major failures—and under his service agreement, if a machine is down for a few days, he gets a substitute piece of equipment so he can keep working.

No More Greasy Fingers
Keeping equipment working is important, but not always easy when environmental conditions are extreme. Winter temperatures in Hearst, ON, can dip as low as –30°C. “It gets cold in winter here,” reiterates Martin Villeneuve, fleet manager for Villeneuve Construction Co. Ltd. He says that because the company isn’t a “twenty-four-and-seven operation” and doesn’t operate “round-the-clock, like mining,” it faces many cold starts.

The family-owned company, which has been in business since the early 1970s, has a growing fleet. Villeneuve estimates 70 pieces of mobile equipment and 50 trucks are used for the demolition, curb, and sidewalk work, as well as such civil projects as right-of-way clearing, dam construction, site development, portable bridges, airport runways, water systems, and sewer systems that make up the bulk of the company’s jobs. Some of the work, such as aggregate screening and quarry applications, is very dusty. The company purchased two John Deere loaders in 2007 and also owns a motor grader and 844-J wheel loader, one of the largest loaders Deere makes.

John Deere had something else of interest: NeverGrease pins. “Greaseless pins sounded funny at first,” Villeneuve remembers. “They’re uncommon. But they guarantee 10,000 hours; that has to mean something.” After weighing the pros and cons, the French Canadian fleet manager decided it was a good gamble because, he says, he’s “always looking at what’s new, better—always changing to keep ahead of the game” because “competition is very strong.”

NeverGrease pin joints are exclusive for John Deere 544k–844k 4WD loaders and are sealed and lubricated for life for all joints in the boom, linkage, and bucket. They offer some advantages Villeneuve likes, such as less maintenance. Grease viscosity changes with the temperature; in cold conditions, it becomes thicker. NeverGrease eliminates that aspect. “So far, so good, but I’m not saying it’s the answer for everything.

“Nothing is trouble-free,” he continues, admitting that they have experienced some issues with the steering-cylinder bushings that were replaced under warranty, “but it’s the closest we could be.” Currently at 2,400 hours, he notes that the loader frame has not been touched.

“Maintenance is very important,” Villeneuve emphasizes. “You can’t overlook it; it shows on the bottom line.” Although he realizes there’s no choice but to stop machines for regular maintenance, he wants to avoid any other stoppages. Working in small communities along Highway 11 within a 250-mile radius of headquarters means crews have to travel a few hours to job sites. Villeneuve doesn’t want to worry about emergencies causing downtime that far from home, especially in –30°C weather.

Running Automatic
Made by Beka-Lube Products Inc., the Beka-Max automatic lubrication system consists of a pump, progressive distribution blocks, hoses, and fittings. The pump consists of a lower motor housing, a cast aluminum base, and a reservoir. It also uses a pump element to deliver the grease to the distribution blocks. The Beka-Max pump element is one item that sets the Beka-Max system apart from all other systems. The pump element works on the [ITALIC]desmodromic principle[ITALIC]. A piston sits inside an eccentric, allowing the Beka-Max pump element to run without springs. Through this design it also allows it to pump at very high pressures. A built-in pressure-relief valve at the pump element is set to 280 bars, protecting the system from extreme pressures. The Beka-Max eccentric is designed with a groove, which pulls and pushes the pump piston. The positive pumping action is the desmodromic principle.

Beka-Max automatic lubrication pumps are used in a wide variety of machine-driven industries, including construction, agriculture, manufacturing, and trucking. By using the maintenance-free system, customers can save a lot of downtime. Their machinery will last much longer, and they will notice a significant reduction in lubricant consumption and service labor.

New Lube
To help with cold weather startups, ConocoPhillips Lubricants, based in Houston, TX, introduced a new product: Triton ECT 5W40 Full Synthetic, a premium-tier, API CJ-4 diesel engine oil for enhanced engine performance from equipment operating in a wide range of temperature and service conditions. Reginald Dias, director of commercial products lubricants, says it has the potential to improve fuel economy relative to a 15W40 oil, benefiting customers through reduced fuel use. In addition to preventing wear at startup in extreme conditions and featuring better low-temperature viscometrics for proper lubrication at low temperatures, it provides soot control, which prevents oil thickening and reduces filter deposits, and it provides wear protection, which reduces wear on critical parts and extends equipment life.

Holt contends that there’s “not as much focus on synthetics in off-road,” although he says Valvoline is testing case by case to extend oil life and uptime. However, Dan Arcy, OEM technical manager for Shell Lubricant in Houston, believes there is increased interest in synthetics, thanks in part to significant growth in the diesel pickup market and its startability advantage. “Synthetic products work in extremely low temperature conditions; they help with startup in cold climates.” That’s important for customers who run year-round. In fact, current interest convinces him that synthetics “will become more popular in the future, due to fuel economy. You can gain up to 1% savings for on-highway.”

Another boost to improve productivity is ConocoPhillips’ upgraded transmission oil. Dias says the company is “pleased … [to] proactively address the wear and tear that modern machinery endure” with a state-of-the-art additive technology that provides better equipment protection and improved performance while increasing productivity through reduced maintenance and downtime.

The company’s new TO-4 fluids are available in different viscosity grades: heavy for the final drive gearbox, medium for the transmission, and light for hydraulics systems. They provide improved performance in friction control for more precise clutch engagement and load-carrying capacity to prolong gear life, setting a higher performance standard for lubricants used in loaders, graders, dozers, and other off-highway machinery.

To meet API CJ-4 requirements, ConocoPhillips, the fourth largest US lubricants supplier, introduced upgraded 76 Firebird Heavy Duty EC 15W40 diesel engine oil, made from re-refined base oils and a tailored, low-sulfated ash, phosphorus, and sulfur additive to meet lubrication requirements of 2007 and later-model, low-emissions diesel engines equipped with exhaust after-treatment devices. Dias explains that it gives customers the option of using just one kind of oil for an entire fleet and has the advantage of being an environmentally responsible product that helps conserve natural resources.

In addition, it offers extended wear and corrosion protection to reduce engine wear and prolong engine life, enhanced oxidation resistance and thermal stability to extend oil life, and soot control to minimize oil thickening. “Today, a majority of collected used oil is utilized as burner fuel, which is a huge waste of an increasingly valuable material,” Dias says. “Instead, this used oil can be re-refined and utilized to create products.”

Predictive maintenance doesn’t apply to lubricants, Arcy believes, because they are typically changed before they fail. Nevertheless, it’s important to use the right product, and it should be a quality lubricant, whether synthetic or a traditional lubricant. Echoing Holt, he adds, “Premium products make a huge difference; they can extend life because they incorporate the latest in technology.” Shell’s CJ-4 meets OEM specs and the requirements of all on- and off-highway equipment and provides “the best oxidation.” As with ConocoPhillips’s 76 Firebird Heavy Duty EC 15W40, it works for all machinery, so customers have to carry only one product.

Whatever type of lubricant is chosen, Arcy says the issues are the same: Keep it clean and dry. “How are you storing and transporting your lubricant? Housekeeping can make a huge difference. Some people use the same container for engine oil, gear oil, and coolant. You get cross-contamination that way. You need individual containers to minimize contamination.” If cross-contamination has occurred, he advises checking with your lube supplier to clean the tank and remove debris if necessary.

In addition, he suggests, make sure transfer containers aren’t exposed to dust. Servicing a vehicle in the field can pose other concerns. Adding oil outside risks potential exposure to contaminants. An oil analysis program can detect contaminants, especially in off-highway applications, Arcy advises. Shell’s lube analysis looks at wear metals, contaminant metals and additive metals; it looks at viscosity, water, and fuel. “We pull a sample with every oil drain for trend analysis.”

A Fan of Clean Radiators
“New products don’t happen a lot,” Holt says, “but new classifications do.” That may be somewhat true for the lubricant industry, but innovations are occurring in other areas that can serve as beneficial assets in a preventative maintenance program.

Radiators run the risk of becoming plugged, which causes the engine and oil system to overheat. Many machines have several coolers—radiator, air-to-air, or charged air—stacked in front of the radiator. If they aren’t kept clean, operators must find a compressor to blow them out, as often as hourly.

That, of course, causes a lot of downtime that quickly becomes expensive when a machine costs $100–$200 per hour.

Additionally, there is potential for damage to the radiator when blowing out with an air wand. Conversely, if a radiator is blocked and not blown out, the bill can run $10,000–$30,000 for a new engine.

A new, patented reversible fan keeps radiator systems clean of debris. If a radiator is clogged with trash and you have to blow it out on a regular basis, the reversible fan is a “no-brainer,” says Ivan Van Dyk, owner of Cleanfix West in Twin Falls, ID. At programmable intervals—typically 30 minutes—the fan blades turn 180 degrees on individual axes (while the engine is running) to blow debris off the radiator. The fan itself never stops rotating, continuing to turn clockwise while the blades rotate on a hub. “It’s a simple design.”

Using air pressure and a piston inside the air hub to change over from blower to sucker fan, it uses only 10% of the engine’s horsepower—less than a standard radiator-cleaning fan. Because it uses less horsepower and less fuel, it saves money.

Its variable pitch fan automatically alters to minimum pitch in cool weather, using less power, but if external temperatures increase or the engine heats up, the blade pitch changes to draw more air in, Van Dyk adds. He calls the fully automatic fan the “only true reversing fan using correctly sized blades” and describes the back of the blade as “eating soup with the soup spoon upside down when reversed.”

At 15 to 50 inches, the reversible fan fits heavy equipment as well as small orchard machinery and off-the-road trucks. Van Dyk says Cleanfix’s customers include recycling and greenwaste centers, landfills, construction, farming, composting, demolition, forestry, and original equipment manufacturers.

“People with a problem are listening,” he says. “There’s a black-and-white need for this new technology; it’s not a gray area. There are so many dirty environments, the payback is incredible. Machinery and downtime are expensive; the business world recognizes that.”

Fleet managers recognize it, too. Not every budget can handle after-market products, but every fleet should follow a total predictive maintenance program to keep machines in top shape to reduce downtime and costly repairs—or replacement—and improve performance and productivity.

About the Author

Lori Lovely

Winner of several Society of Professional Journalists awards, Lori Lovely writes about topics related to waste management and technology.

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