Modern grass machinery must be reliable and deliver consistent levels of performance, be it on a golf course, in a park or street scene mowing. The pressures on time and output are growing, and with that can come the acceptance that daily and weekly maintenance is simply not going to get done.
If operators are told to get out of the yard in the morning, and are not allowed back in until the end of the working day, then cleaning and maintenance duties will be neglected. There may be a short-term gain (albeit marginal), but the longer-term results are higher operating costs, more repairs and downtime and, of course, a shorter working life for the machinery.
Operator Daily checks
The most basic level of maintenance procedures must be the operator's daily checks. These will vary from machine to machine, and the amount of work or ground conditions the machine is working on will affect what has to be done. However, they are an essential part of operating a reliable and efficient fleet of machinery.
Washing and cleaning: You can't carry out routine maintenance checks on machinery that is covered in mud and grass. To do this correctly, the machines have to be washed and cleaned, so the operator can actually see what they are doing and note anything which needs attention.
Washing and cleaning is essential, and failing to do this can be very expensive. Every year machinery catches fire, mainly caused by grass build-up under decks and seats, or around engines and exhaust systems. It's not a waste of time, but an essential part of the regular maintenance of the machine.
Radiator checks: The radiator may well require cleaning from grass and other debris. This can be done with a hand brush and perhaps a blower; but it's never going to be as thorough as cleaning the radiator core with an airline, with sufficient air pressure to clear debris from the radiator core. There will also be dust screens to be cleaned and checked for damage and, of course, the coolant levels must also be checked before leaving the depot. Coolant should be topped up on a cold engine using a correct mix, which is usually 50/50 water and coolant. This should, of course, be available in the depot, but it won't be available off site. Filling a system with water (which is all that may be available on site) will weaken the coolant mix and reduce the efficiency of the entire system, leading to more overheating issues in the future.
Air Filter checks: The air filter will get clogged with grass and dust during the working day. If the radiator has any debris in it, then the air filter is sure to have the same. The end cap must be removed, the filter element removed and cleaned, checked for damage and replaced if necessary.
When checking the filter, the rubber boot on the end cap should also be checked for wear. If it is damaged or missing, it should be replaced, otherwise the air filter's efficiency and ability to self-clean will be reduced.
Engine oil level: On an industrial engine, oil level checks are critical. These are hard working engines, often under pressure from driving hydraulic pumps constantly. What is often forgotten is that the engine oil provides cooling as well as lubrication to the engine, so keeping levels topped up is critical to the engine's performance.
Away from the engine bay, there are other daily checks which are performance and safety critical, and must be carried out.
Greasing points: Whilst the number of greasing points has greatly reduced over the years, due to better design and sealed bearing systems, there are still greasing points on moving parts which need weekly and, sometimes, daily attention. Of course, the operator's instruction book will detail what is required on your machine but, regardless of make or model, they must be greased regularly.
Cutting units, rotary decks, lift arms, drive shafts and steering axles: All will have greasing points and regular attention is needed to prevent wear, seizure and failures.
Faults and defects: There will occasionally be faults and defects which are found whilst carrying out the required daily checks. They must be reported and the necessary remedial work carried out. So many operations fail to run an effective reporting system, which means that damage goes unnoticed and unreported. Poorly functioning machinery goes out on-site and attempts to work under increased loads, leading to greater downtime and repair bills.
Of course, in order to do this, a suitable amount of time has to be allocated within the working week for the cleaning and maintenance duties to be carried out. It is usually recommended that an operator be allowed one minute per grease point, and the same again for cleaning and other daily checks.
So, a machine with twenty-four grease points will need to have forty-eight minutes for; cleaning down, engine and radiator checks, greasing up and fault recording. If it takes an hour per week to maintain the machine, then that time should be allocated for.
A tractor and gang mower combination will have many more greasing points, so will require more time to complete them.
Machinery Audits: The only way to run an effective system of reporting fault and defects is to audit the machinery on a regular basis, and target those individuals who do not carry out their daily checks correctly, or fail to report damage to their machines.
Cutting unit adjustment: Where cylinder mowers are used, the operators must set the cylinder and bottom blades correctly, or they will create additional loads in the hydraulic system, heating up the oil, stressing pumps and motors, valves and seals.
It is not difficult to see that this will result in premature wear of the bottom blades and cylinders, but it is perhaps less obvious that the hydraulic system is also getting additional wear and performance will drop off, failure occur and costs will rise accordingly.
Rotary decks also need regular inspection, and the deck adjustment should be checked regularly. Often, only the front wheels are adjusted, which can result in the deck being lower at the rear. This increases the load on the deck, and reduces performance. Debris wrapped around bearing spindles can result in premature bearing seal damage and resulting failures.
Damaged blades can be out of balance, causing vibration damage to bearings, housings drive motors and transmissions. Rollers do wear and need to be replaced. Failure to do so means additional wear of the deck, more load on the machine and a shorter working life.
Regular operator checks will ensure that the machinery is ready for use, that it is, in fact, safe for use and that all the routine maintenance checks and tasks have been carried out. This has to result in a machine which will last longer, work better and give a better return on the investment made in purchasing it.
Getting it serviced: Of course, it is not just the operator maintenance which needs to be carried out, as this is only a basic check. Every year, machinery requires a full service by a trained competent technician. Factory training courses teach how to correctly diagnose faults and identify potential issues. Having your machine serviced by a dealer is a good way to give it a health check. Be sure to get the filters and oil changed to protect the expensive hydraulic system.
Check all the fault codes on the engine and management systems so the machine will work properly next season, and replace any worn or damaged parts with the genuine articles, so they fit correctly and have been made to the right specification. This can be critical to performance, and to safety, so do not cut corners when it comes to servicing and repairs!
It is at the annual service where all those daily checks will either have saved you money, or the lack of any regular checks will cost you dearly.
Those less accessible greasing points may now be seized, or have created excessive wear, meaning that expensive parts now have to be purchased.
As we head into the new season, many will be looking at winter servicing bills and wondering why they are so high. As trainers, we see just how few operators carry out thorough checks and maintenance. Some do not have either the facilities or tools to carry out basic tasks, whilst many others are never shown what they should be doing, or trained to do it correctly.
Pre-season training is a great way to get things started on the right foot, especially if you have new machinery to introduce to your staff. Use the supplier's installation training to highlight the daily and weekly checks and make sure that the operators have the tools and time required to carry them out correctly.
Whilst time is money, and there is grass to cut, you still need to make time for daily checks and regular maintenance. Not only will this result in better performing machinery, but it will save you money by prolonging the effective working life of your machinery.