Nigel Church is a Product Trainer with Cutting Edge Training, an operating division of Ransomes Jacobsen. A well-known and highly respected figure within the industry for over 40 years, he began his career as an apprentice at Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies in 1970 and has worked in the UK and Europe. In this article, he looks at winter servicing
The traditional winter service in our part of the northern hemisphere is increasingly becoming less and less time bound. It seems that the climate is changing, and we are working with variable mowing conditions which easily takes us into December, and we are still cutting grass. In fact, December has often been milder (over the last few years) than spring in April. Gone are the days of parking up the mower in October/November for a few months, stripping it down, checking it for wear and rebuilding it ready for action the following spring.
Climatic changes aside, machinery still needs its annual service once a year. More and more golf clubs are getting staff to carry out this work, either the greenkeepers themselves or employing a technician/mechanic. This can be cost effective and, given the reliability of both hydraulic and electrical systems on many machines, a winter service does not necessarily mean a workshop full of machines, stripped down into multiple parts. Simply following the guidelines in the operator's manual can ensure that, at least, the power unit is serviced sufficiently for future use. The cutting units are, of course, a subject in themselves when it comes to the grinding of cylinders (reels) and bottom blades (bedknives).
So, should you prepare the machine with a good pressure washing?
Well, not necessarily. I would often find that a walk around a machine 'before' pressure washing may highlight some areas not seen after washing. For example, there may be weeping connections on the hydraulic system, and you can see whether the engine bay and cooling system is dry (no leakages/wet areas). If anything is found, then note where they are for later attention during the service.
Engines and hydraulic systems have benefitted from improved technology as oil coolers and radiators have been replaced with more efficient heat exchange units. The improved technology has also been applied to the warning systems; digital display screens offer more information, and horns and buzzers give the operator clear warnings. Some systems even record the number of warnings given to the operator, so that accurate investigations can take place in the event of system failure. This recorded information can be very beneficial in the planning of the servicing the machine, and also perhaps asking why the problem arose in the first place.
Installing service indicators on key components, such as hydraulic filters and air filtration systems, is also a good idea. These could be in the form of a sight gauge, a pressure gauge, warning lights or warnings on the operator main display unit. So, check the hours of use on your machinery and, based on the information supplied in the operator's manual, determine whether or not the filter or oil actually needs replacing.
Instead of draining and replacing hydraulic fluids as part of a routine service, most manufacturers now recommend that hydraulic fluids are tested before unnecessary expensive replacements, and the costs and environmental issues involved with disposal. Testing also checks for particle build up, moisture content and viscosity.
An inexpensive test kit can be purchased from many machinery suppliers and the samples sent away for analysis.
Oil Test Kit
So, whilst fitting more expensive filtration systems has actually reduced the running costs by reducing hydraulic oil and filter changes, there still comes a time when both will need replacing.
Braking systems have also improved dramatically, with many machines now using hydraulic wet disc brakes and requiring no maintenance. However, there are still plenty of machines with mechanical disc, drum or band brakes systems which will require servicing and a quick test can highlight potential requirements for service or repair.
As well as visual indicators for service items, many machines now have warning lights to test the operator presence control system. These may give a simple warning or may be more specific in identifying potential faults. Safety switches have vastly improved over the years with proximity switches replacing less reliable micro switches.
Check that the system is functioning correctly
This has to be one of the most crucial areas of correct functionality when machines are being serviced or overhauled and then returned to mowing duties.
Earlier, we mentioned giving the machine a pressure wash. Yes, an effective way of having a clean machine to work on, but there are few things to bear in mind:
1. Don't do it with the engine running! If water gets into the engine air filter system, you will have a very expensive repair bill
2. If some areas were in good condition, lift arm pivots, roller bearings, then ensure you grease those soon after the pressure washing to expel any water/debris that may have entered those areas
3. Keep water away from the radiator/heat exchanger wherever possible. Unless you can be absolutely certain that pressure washing this area will totally clear out the cooling fins, then don't do it! Use compressed air
4. Dry the machine, wherever practical, using an airline and ensure water is blown away from electrical areas in particular
5. Wear protective eye wear and clothing
We now have a check list to work to, an operator's or maintenance manual to follow, and a clean machine to service, so what now?
1. Order the required parts from the dealer - always use genuine parts
2. Ensure any oils purchased are the correct specification - brand is not a problem
3. Always support machinery correctly and safely when removing wheels
4. Replace chaffed or damaged hoses
5. Do not undo hydraulic hoses unless you are aware of the outcome - maybe a raised cutting unit could fall to the ground unexpectedly
6. Beware of trapped enertia - hydraulic systems on mowers can operate at pressures of 3,500psi and above
7. Work in a clean environment and dispose of waste materials responsibly
8. Have a supply of correct tools to carry out the tasks. Machinery can vary between imperial (inches) dimensions for nuts and bolts and metric (mm). Use of wrong size spanners and tools can lead to damage to both you and the machine
All manufacturers have factory trained dealer technicians, so always remember that if the task requires greater, in depth diagnosis, service and repair, they are there to supply their knowledge and expertise.