Isn’t it amazing how the ebb and flow of economic cycles can come and go so quickly? Many today have experienced the boom of the past several years and have been able to replace their construction equipment on a regular cycle. Unfortunately, when we hit the lower curve of a cycle, it becomes more difficult to stay on schedule with equipment replacement. So how does a contractor make his or her equipment last through the bottom of the economic cycle without replacing it? Here are some simple ways to stretch your equipment investment dollars to get the most production out of your operation.

Philosophy — Develop a company philosophy promoting maintenance as a high priority. Some companies trade their equipment on regular cycles and tend to not be as focused on a strict maintenance policy as those companies that have a longer operation policy. This philosophy must be communicated and adopted throughout the entire company to make it work.

Maintenance Plan — Develop a scheduled maintenance plan and do your very best to follow it. Regularly scheduled maintenance does not include emergency breakdowns, but rather the recommended service items that are typically identified by the manufacturer and assigned hour limits to measure service and replacement intervals. By following these schedules, you will decrease your downtime in the field and help ensure the maximum life out of the entire system.

Trained Service Personnel —
While it is advantageous to use factory trained service personnel in local equipment dealerships, it is not always a practical possibility. Identify your internal service
technicians and have them trained by your local dealer. HDD systems are not rocket science, but they are
specialized construction equipment. Having and utilizing trained personnel and appropriate service manuals will help ensure your equipment is serviced correctly and running smoothly.

Parts Inventory Plan — Many companies are not located in proximity to the construction equipment dealer. This frequently increases downtime due to the availability of repair or replacement parts. Having your own inventory of parts may seem like a large investment, but in the end it will pay big dividends. Most people do not consider the amount of time it takes or the mileage they have to drive to pick up emergency parts when equipment is down. Putting a price on labor, mileage and lost revenue will help you see how an inventory of parts will reduce your overall cost. It also allows you to stay on time with your regularly scheduled maintenance because you always have the parts on hand when the maintenance is scheduled.

Immediate Repairs — It is a common practice to use the limp home strategy: patching something up when it breaks in order to get the job done. Even though necessary in some cases, often times operators may fail to notify the service technicians of the problem and it does not get fixed. The next day, the machine goes back out, operating under the assumption that if it worked the day before, it should work again today. While this offers a short-term solution, such practices often lead to larger failures of other components associated with the one that was patched up. The result is a higher cost of repair and increased down time.

Once this general set of guidelines is put in place, you can develop a more specific maintenance plan. There are several manufacturers of HDD systems, none of which are exactly the same. But all HDD systems use a basic set of components that have similar maintenance requirements. Below is an outline of things to consider when maintaining your system.

The drill unit is the focal point of most HDD systems. The drill is the most complex and expensive component of the system and typically experiences the most wear. There are a few basic areas users should pay attention to. However, it should be noted this is not an all-inclusive list. Please refer to your operator’s manuals and service manuals for a complete list of maintenance items.

Drill Frame — Carriage frame and rollers, wrench jaw inserts and cylinders, saver sub (drive chuck), pipe guides or rollers, rack and pinion or chain and sprockets on the thrust system, pipeloader shuttles and grippers, fluid swivel.

Power Unit — Engine oil and filters, engine cooling system, air filtration system, hydraulic oil and filters, hydraulic cooler, hydraulic hoses and fittings, periodic hydraulic pressure checks to evaluate relief settings and pump/motor wear, electrical harnesses and couplings for wear and abrasion due to interference with other components, all guards and cowlings to maintain proper air flows.

Fluid Pump — Liners/packing, valves, seats and shut-off valves, antifreeze system for cold weather
applications.

Undercarriage — Check tracks for wear and ensure proper tension. Check the hydraulic drive motor or gearboxes for any wear or damage.

Drill Pipe and Downhole Tools — Drill pipe body for wear and straightness, tool joint wear and damage, rotate the drill pipe in the pipe box for even wear, beacon housing and beacon lids, nozzles, beacon buddy, threaded connections, drill bit bolts, drill bit wear for efficient penetration rates, hole opener cutters and fluid orifices, EZ connect collars and o-rings, swivel and clevises.

The fluid mixing system is an often overlooked component of an HDD system. It is integral as it provides the lifeblood to the system.

Fluid Mixing Pump — Inspect seals, connections and drive coupling. Test the drain system for cold weather applications.

Engine — Inspect oil levels, air breather, rope or electric start system.

Valves and Hoses — Exercise valve handles, check fittings and hoses for leaks, drain in cold weather.

Venturi — Clean mixing hopper and mixing system to keep the fluid path clear of any obstructions.

Tank — Clean regularly, check mixing jets and drain in cold weather.The electronic guidance system completes the HDD system.

Tracker — Keep clean and store in a dry area and keep a supply of fresh batteries or a fully charged rechargeable battery. Do not place the tracker in an area where it can be run over by other equipment.
Beacon (Sonde) — Remove from the beacon housing each day, clean and store in the carrying case, use fresh batteries and test before each bore.

Remote Display — Test daily, if not integral to the drill unit store in a safe place.

Many of these items are very basic, but often overlooked in day-to-day operations. It is crucial in today’s economy to look for every advantage you can gain to maximize efficiency. Following these suggested maintenance schedules will help you get the most out of your investment.

Richard Levings is a senior product manager for HDD products at Ditch Witch, based in Perry, Okla.

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