Best Practices from Komatsu

Tips for Optimal Use of Komatsu Equipment

As a longtime Komatsu dealer and partner, we encourage our customers to take advantage of this industry-leading heavy machinery manufacturer’s experience through its best practices.

Fleet Management

Your fleet is the lifeline of your business. Proper maintenance is essential to keeping your costs low and getting the best return on your investment. Here are six simple best practices for managing your fleet to maximize productivity.

Be proactive with equipment maintenance
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Don’t wait for your machine to break down. Perform routine maintenance and fix anything that needs adjustment. This approach will help minimize operating costs, improve uptime and boost the resale value of your equipment. One easy way to stay even more proactive is to register machines in a preventive maintenance program that notifies you when it’s time for your next inspection.

Whatever route you take, always document all maintenance and repairs, so you’ll have complete records when it’s time to sell your equipment.

Repeat Offenders (The 80-20 Rule)
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The old adage is that 80% of all maintenance costs are spent on 20% of machine problems. The same issues continue to drain resources. To break this habit, identify repeat problems and take action to fix them before they grow, which can be expensive.

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KOMTRAX is Komatsu’s machine monitoring technology that comes standard with all models. This system collects and processes data about your equipment’s health and efficiency, alerting you if any irregularities occur, so you can have them repaired as soon as possible.

KOMTRAX both keeps you informed about what’s going on below the hood and maintains automatic, accurate records that will help you calculate ownership costs to manage your fleet in the most effective way possible. For more information, click here.

Perform Regular Fluid Analysis
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By periodically analyzing fluids for contaminant levels, you have predictions of when components need replacements, to help you plan downtime.

On the Record
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Records are essential in forecasting how well machines perform. With proper records for each machine, including all repair work, you can check fuel consumption, maintenance expenses and operation costs, all of which are useful when it’s time to decide whether to repair or replace equipment.

30% and Done
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The age of a machine can directly impact the cost effectiveness of continuing to own it or deciding to sell it. Operating costs will increase over time as repairs and other adjustments become necessary. It’s best to replace equipment once maintenance and/or repair costs exceed 30% of the machine’s resale value.

Heavy Machine Operation Checklist

Your team’s safety is of utmost importance to us. For the most protection possible, here are best practices for heavy equipment operation.

Systems to check before each use
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  • Brakes: The service brake system, emergency brake system and parking brake system all must be fully functional.
  • Light: Check headlights, taillights and brake lights before operating heavy machinery.
  • Horns: Make sure your horn and other audible warning devices are in working order.
  • Windshield: Look over the windshield for cracks, and run the wipers to make sure they’re working as well.
Added layers
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  • All equipment must have rollover protection and protection from falling debris.
  • If your vehicle loads from the top, make sure it has cab shields or canopies to protect the driver.
  • Worker transport vehicles must have enough firmly secured seats for all travelers, as well as seat belts.
  • Modification of safety features or equipment capacity must receive written approval from the manufacturer.
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  • Any and all operators of heavy equipment must be trained for the machine.
  • Check the machines’ parts, equipment and accessories at the start off each shift. Any defective or worn parts must be repaired or replaced before heading to the jobsite.
  • Vehicles with obstructed rear views must only be used if they have reverse signals louder than any ambient noise and/or if an exterior watchperson gives the OK that it’s safe.
Site hazards
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  • Evaluate all roadways and worksites to make sure they’re well constructed and maintained to accommodate the equipment that is used.
  • Avoid operating heavy equipment under overhead lines.
  • Visually scan for any other worksite hazards or obstructions.

Maintaining Track Tension

Regularly Scheduled Inspections
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Komatsu recommends regularly scheduled inspections for all brands and all types of track equipment. During our inspections, we routinely discuss proper track tension and cleaning requirements with your staff to maximize the life of your equipment’s track system. We identify operational and maintenance concerns that could reduce the life of any components and recommend an appropriate preventive maintenance program.

Adjusting Track Tension
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Track tension is maintained by a track adjuster that is situated behind the front idler. Adjustments can be made by pumping or draining grease through a fitting on the track adjuster. Large track sag indicates that the track is loose; small track sag indicates that the track is tight. A small adjustment in track sag – from 1″ to 0.5″ – has a huge impact on tension and increases tension by about 3,000 pounds.

Operating Conditions
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Remember to adjust track tension to the operating conditions. As packing conditions increase, the adjusted track tension should decrease.

When the track chain is too tight, there is increased wear on all undercarriage components, especially pins, bushings, links and sprockets. Large frictional forces burden the drive train, causing mechanical loss and reduced drawbar pull. Friction between moving components causes temperatures to climb – sometimes hot enough to melt seals.

When the track chain is too loose, the track chain swings side to side and the machine weaves violently, causing increased wear on all components involved in track guidance – flanges, roller guards, link side faces and sprocket teeth. Upper waviness causes the track chain to whip, resulting in excessive wear on the idler and carrier roller. High speeds will increase the damage. In reverse, the sprocket may climb or skip bushings – causing loud, popping impacts – and you could see excessive noise and shaking.

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Misalignment causes unnecessary wear to all undercarriage components. The most common type is idler shift, which can be fixed by adjusting idler shims. The quickest way to detect an alignment problem is to look for anything shiny that should not normally be shiny. Indicators that the track frame alignment system needs adjusting are: inside of track links are scuffed and shiny, roller and front idler flanges show wear, and sides of sprockets are coming in contact with the inside of the track links.

Operating Your Machine Properly
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Use the slowest operating speed that will get the job done in a timely fashion; wear rate increases with speed. When working in high impact conditions, it is critical to use the lowest gears available whenever possible. Minimize reverse travel, as it causes much more wear to bushings and sprockets than forward travel, especially in high gear or when climbing uphill. Spinning the tracks is ineffective and causes unnecessary wear on the undercarriage by inflicting action on the grousers. Also, avoid favoring one side. If it is impossible to use symmetrical operating patterns, swap left and right rollers periodically.

Tier IV Technology

Meet emission control standards, maintain machine efficiency, and reduce fuel usage with Komatsu’s state-of-the-art emissions control technology and maintenance tips.

Komatsu Diesel Particulate Filter (KDPF)
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  • What it is: Komatsu engines are designed with an integrated KDPF, a dual-action device consisting of a Komatsu Diesel Oxidation Catalyst (KDOC) and Komatsu Catalyzed Soot Filter (KCSF). The KDPF removes soot through “regeneration,” a process that collects inorganic materials that form during engine combustion.
  • Which pollutants it addresses: A complex mixture of solid and liquid particles (particulates are materials that are not burned up during fuel combustion). They can include carbon, soot, sulfates, nitrates, ammonium, various metals and much more, all suspended in the air. KDPF essentially captures these particles before they can escape into the atmosphere.
  • Maintenance tips: Recommended service intervals for KDPF are 4,500 hours and 9,000 hours.
Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) and Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF)
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  • What it is: SCR is an advanced active emissions control feature which injects DEF into the diesel engine’s exhaust stream, breaking down potentially harmful NOx into nontoxic water (H2O) and nitrogen gas (N2).
  • Which pollutants it addresses: Nitrogen oxides (NOx), a natural byproduct from fuel combustion, are not hazardous at typical ambient concentrations. However, concentrated amounts can contribute to smog and acid rain. In a cramped space, NOx mixed with oxygen in the air creates nitrogen dioxide (NO2), an irritant gas that can cause inflammation of the airways.
  • Maintenance tips: Check DEF level on a regular basis, just as you do fuel levels. Komatsu equipment continuously displays the DEF level gauge on the right side of the monitor screen. The DEF low level indicator will alert you as a reminder to refill.
  • DEF storage guidelines: Diesel exhaust fluid should always be stored out of direct sunlight, and the temperature must be above 32°F and below 86°F. Keep DEF in a plastic or stainless steel container, as it can rust raw steel containers, ruining both the fluid and the container.
Heavy Duty Cooled Exhaust Gas Recirculation (CEGR) System
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  • What it is: CEGR reduces fuel consumption, lowers combustion temperatures and decreases emissions by circulating portions of the exhaust gas into the air intake.
  • Which pollutants it addresses: The system reduces NOx and traps particulates in the diesel particulate filter (DPF).
  • Maintenance tips: CEGR machines generally require passive and manual regeneration cycles: cycles that heat the diesel particular filter hot enough to burn off particulates. Many Komatsu machines perform passive regen periodically during normal operation. Manual regeneration may also be required, depending on the operation and machine guidelines. Machines should be checked before operation. Check the operator’s manual for specific guidelines.
Komatsu Variable Geometry Turbocharger (KVGT) System
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  • What it is: The KVGT system uses hydraulic pressure to control how much air is fed into the engine. Using the machine’s control system, the KVGT delivers precise exhaust temperatures for regeneration, a process that also reduces soot in the engine’s cylinders.
  • Which pollutant it addresses: NOx.
  • Maintenance tips: Consult your operator’s manual. Follow recommended guidelines when replacing engine oil and air filters to maintain KVGT efficiency. A clogged air filter will reduce air flow and can result in excessive smoke, increased oil consumption and low machine power.

Heavy Duty High Pressure Common Rail (HPCR) Fuel Injection System
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  • What it is: The HPCR system utilizes computer controls to ensure the proper injection of high pressure fuel. Building on the technology found in previous Komatsu engines, the improved HPCR system uses higher pressure injection to reduce particulates and lower fuel consumption.
  • Which pollutants it addresses: NOx and particulates.
  • Maintenance tips: Water can wreak havoc on your HPCR system, so check your fuel filters and water separators often to prevent water accumulation in the fuel tank.

Avoiding Repairs with Operator Training

Conduct daily walkaround inspections
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It is essential that operators perform daily walkaround inspections for any equipment that is used on a jobsite. A careful inspection will allow small issues to be addressed before they become larger, more expensive and potentially dangerous problems. If any issues are noticed, operators should report them immediately and should not use the machine.

Examinations should include:

  • Looking for any fluids on the ground around a parked machine
  • Fluid and battery levels
  • Tire condition and inflation level
  • Horns and lights
  • Safety gear, including seat belt and backup alarms
Look and Listen for Equipment Irregularities
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It’s important for operators to be alert for potential equipment malfunctions on the jobsite. Things to look for include intermittent electrical failures, inappropriate noises, cracks or other signs of impending breakage, and any damage to a machine.

Know what situations increase the risk of tipping or overturning
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Fast swings of a load put machines at risk. Be sure operators are moving loads carefully and adhering to prudent speed limits. Never exceed the working range or lifting capacity of a piece of equipment, and keep the machine as level as possible when operating.

Hydraulic Hammer Maintenance

This three-part inspection will keep your hammer healthy.

Check for fit and check for leaks
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A loose or poorly-fitting attachment can quickly cause problems on a machine. Regularly inspect hoses and fittings for cracks or potential leaks. Also, make sure that hoses, fittings and shielding fit securely.

Keep them clean and lubricated
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Attachments should be power washed on a regular basis to remove dirt, debris and other contaminants that can damage connectors. Once clean, apply lube or grease, but only after consulting the manufacturer’s recommendations. Specific machines require specifically formulated agents. Standard grease is not acceptable for most hammers.

Lock check
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Inspect locking mechanisms for any bending or stiffness that may damage the attachment or machine. Attachments should go on and come off smoothly. Never pry an attachment or otherwise force it on or off.

Best Practices
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  • Keep hydraulic hose ends clear. Never let them fall into dirt or sand.
  • Make sure the hammer’s in and out ports are closed on the jobsite to prevent dust and sand from entering.
  • Once a week, or every 10 work hours, take out and inspect the retaining pin and tool.
  • Monthly, or every 50 work hours, check the tool shank and bushings for wear. Also inspect hydraulic hoses for cracks, holes or other damage.
  • Service hammers annually, or every 600 work hours.

Bucket & Teeth Maintenance

Bucket Inspections
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Buckets look tough, but they need extra care. A properly maintained bucket is more cost-effective because it digs and breaks out more efficiently, reducing fuel consumption and boosting work rate. Here are some tips on how to keep your bucket functioning well.

Mounting Hinges
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Inspect the mounting hinges weekly. Small cracks grow fast, so they should be immediately addressed.

Front Leading Edges and Corners
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Check for thinning or cracking. If there is any, corners should be replated and thickened to increase bucket lifespan. Unchecked damage can lead to corner failure during heavy lifts or, even worse, could tear out the bucket edge, requiring replacement.

Bucket Edges
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Look for signs of distress. If there are any, unworn reversible edges can be rotated. If you don’t have reversible edges, take the bucket in for service to prevent more costly damage.

Bucket Teeth
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Regularly rotate your bucket teeth. They will last longer and work more efficiently. Also, be sure to inspect corner teeth. These wear faster but, luckily, can often be moved to the center to expand their usefulness. The same goes with lower edge teeth, which wear faster; these can often be turned upside down to distribute wear more evenly.

Missing Teeth?
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Stop. Do not use buckets that are missing any teeth. With these spaces, the adapter nose erodes, resulting in a poor fit when new teeth are installed.

Correct Bucket Teeth?
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There are a variety of bucket teeth for various tasks. For example, abrasive teeth are best for coal, while penetration teeth work better on rock. Check to make sure you’re using the right ones for your job.

Lubrication. Again.
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As with hammers, buckets must be kept oiled or greased. This practice is the most cost effective and simplest way to maintain your buckets.

Check Pins and Bushings for Wear
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Worn pins and bushings put undue stress on the machine, resulting in less control, which can lead to expensive and complicated repairs. Inspect them for wear and tear as a preventive measure.

Machine Winterization

Machine Winterization
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Follow these best practices to make sure your machine is ready for winter.

  • Check chain tanks, final drives, swing gear baths and gear boxes for water: Check the label to make sure you’re using coolant that complies with ASTM standard D-621, with a freeze point low enough for your climate. If coolant freezes, it can crack the engine block and ruin the engine.
  • Add fuel conditioner: Fuel conditioner prevents your fuel from freezing and makes sure your engine starts in the cold. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations for the amount of conditioner required. Match the fuel conditioner to the type of fuel you’re using (e.g., low sulfur).
  • Check the fuel filter: If the fuel filter is clogged, moisture can build up and freeze in the winter, causing your machine to run improperly or fail to start. Empty the water traps in the filters before cold weather arrives. To avoid downtime, keep an extra set of fuel filters in your cab.
  • Check cold start aids: Diesel engines spray ether into the air system to help the engine start in cold weather. For older machines that have ether spray bottles, check the bottle to make sure it isn’t empty. For new machines with an automatic ether system, inspect the connections and hoses for cracks or loose connections.
  • Check the block heater: Block heaters keep fluids at the right temperature and viscosity. If it isn’t working, the oil can thicken, so it’s harder to turn the engine over and adds stress on the battery. Plug in the block heater to check it, then touch the hoses to make sure they are warm.
  • Inspect air pre-cleaners: Large dust particles and debris can build up during the summer and should be removed. Otherwise, snow and ice could collect around them, allowing moisture into the air system, which could cause engine failure.
  • Check battery and connections: Corrosion around battery connections causes less voltage to be transmitted, and increases the strain on the battery. Corroded connections can drain the battery, preventing your machine from starting. Periodic inspections for corrosion reduce the chance of having a drained battery.
Winter Storage
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  • Top off the fuel tank if possible: If you have a diesel engine, leave it completely full during winter months, to eliminate possibility of condensation forming in the fuel tank and spreading. Condensation can clog the fuel filter, which can clog fuel lines, carburetors and injectors.
  • Run the engine after cleaning: Run your machine’s engine after cleaning the engine and replacing the oil so that a protective film of oil coats the internal parts. The oil coating acts as a rust preventative. Pour a 50/50 mixture of water and antifreeze into the coolant system before running as well to protect the cooling system to -34°F.
  • Clean & fully charge batteries, then disconnect the power leads: Never store discharged batteries. Colder temperatures slow the discharge rate of fully charged batteries.
  • Start machines once a month: Avoid starting the machines in extreme cold weather. Find a time when temperature is above freezing to start the machine and operate the hydraulics for a brief time.
  • Do not try to break crawler type machines from a badly frozen situation: The result can be power train damage.
Cold Weather Operation
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  • Protect your machine: If you can’t keep your machine inside when it’s not in use, at least keep a weather-resistant tarp over the engine. With snow comes condensation, which can cause problems for the entire engine.
  • Manage productivity: Cold weather makes the earth harder, and frost can penetrate roadways and aggregates to make utility, road and crushing jobs much more difficult and time consuming. Winter months have less daylight, so manage your time wisely.
  • Keep the jobsite clean: It is imperative to keep jobsites neat and clean during winter months. When not working, leave a layer of snow on the ground to keep frost from penetrating the ground; the snow will actually insulate the ground beneath. When working, make sure to clear all snow and ice to avoid accidents.
  • Clean areas designated for snow removal: Clean up debris or equipment that will be hidden by fallen snow. Mark any areas of concern with reflective stakes so snow removal crews can easily identify and stay away from those areas.
  • Plan for earthworks projects: Frozen chunks of ground need to be placed in designated areas. The frozen chunks of earth contain water that can cause major problems in the spring, such as sink holes.
  • Use the best fuel: Make sure you are using high quality winter diesel fuel. The fuel conditioner should match the type of fuel you are using (e.g., low sulfur) and should be approved by manufacturer.
  • Check starting devices: Make sure block heaters and cold weather starting devices are working properly.
  • Warm up the machine: Let machines come up to operating temperature before working.
  • Keep a spare fuel filter: Keep an extra fuel filter in the cab, and follow installation instructions in your operator’s manual.
  • Check ice buildup: Check for Ice or snow build up in exhaust or intake if applicable. Inspect and clear ice or snow from throttle and brake area.
  • Warm up to improve steering response: Steering response on equipment with hydraulic steering may become very slow at low temperatures, even when the correct oils are used. Once the engine is started, let the machine idle until the engine reaches operating temperature.
  • Stay aware of safety: Mount and dismount your machine using three points of contact. Remember that you are working with snow and ice slips and falls are a common cause of injuries. Wear your seatbelt when operating equipment and stay alert.

Maintaining Your Compact Excavator

We all know that time is money, and equipment downtime on a jobsite can ruin profits, so I thought I’d share some basic maintenance tips to help you keep your compact excavator performing at its best.

Daily Checks
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One of the simplest – yet often overlooked – maintenance practices is the daily walkaround checklist. Be sure to check the engine oil, hydraulic fluid and coolant, and top off when necessary. Make sure that you’re using the manufacturer-recommended fluid. Remember, it never hurts to ask your dealer or your tech. After a week or so, it is important to check the fuel filter and drain any water or debris that may have built up, or replace it if necessary. Next, check the hydraulic hoses and air system for leaks; it’s always better to find a problem and fix it while it’s small than to wait until it’s too late.

Get out the Grease Gun
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Next, check all pivot points on the machine and grease where needed. You should also check the track tension – always check your operator’s manual for the proper technique. Something that is often completely overlooked is the bucket or attachment. Be sure to check all the pivot points on the attachment as well, and grease where needed. Also, take a look at the teeth on the bucket. If they are worn down to a certain degree, that can have a serious effect on the machine’s performance. If the teeth are worn and dull, the machine has to work a lot harder to get the job done, and there’s no reason for the added wear and tear on the machine. If you aren’t sure, ask your dealer or tech.

Cooling System
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It is important to keep the radiator, oil cooler and other heat exchangers clean during operation. Check for any accumulated debris, and wipe down when necessary. Remember, slow oil or coolant leaks tend to collect dust and other particulate matter. Keep an eye out for potential problem areas during your daily checks.

Special Maintenance Features
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Many modern excavators offer special features that allow for easier maintenance. Easy access is crucial when it comes to quick maintenance checks – all of our excavators feature a well-designed engine compartment and access panels. You should be able to access and locate components easily and safely. Another great feature on our newer excavators is a multi-function monitor in the cab. This electronic panel offers important performance readouts, and will let an operator know when fluid levels are low, or when maintenance is required.

Check the Manual
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You probably hear this a lot, but it is really important to use OEM filters and manufacturer-recommended fluids and fuel. The machines where developed and tested using these fluids and filters, and any difference in specs can affect the performance of the machine.

Be sure to check your operator’s manual and make sure that you are keeping up with the regular service intervals. Your technician will be sure to check the belt tension and alignment, keep up with the proper oil and fluid changes, and keep the cooling system running properly. Ask your dealer or tech about regular service intervals – again, it’s always better to stay on top of things.