To Keep Your Waste Trucks Running, Focus on Preventive Maintenance

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Curtis Dorwart, vocational products marketing manager with Mack Trucks, says that operators who make sure that their trucks are properly oiled and lubed will save their municipalities plenty of money in eliminated repair bills. “Routine maintenance is absolutely critical for the long-term durability and reliability of the vehicle,” he says. “You will avoid a lot of downtime and expensive repairs later on by applying solid maintenance practices as recommended by the equipment manufacturer. Oil and grease can provide inexpensive insurance against high-dollar issues later.”

Municipal solid waste (MSW) vehicles suffer from many of the same potential trouble areas that most heavy-duty work trucks face. Missed oil changes, tires with low air pressure, and air systems that aren’t cleaned often enough can all lead to expensive repairs in the future.

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But MSW vehicles face some specific challenges when it comes to maintenance. These trucks make several stops and starts throughout the day. Their lift arms are constantly in use. And they work in dirty, messy environments—meaning that it’s easy for equipment to get clogged with dirt and dust.

“Many times it is the simple things that get ignored, things like proper tire inflation and proper air system maintenance, including daily air system draining and air dryer service,” says Dorwart. “Keeping the equipment clean is a simple prevention to keep the buildup of debris, road dirt, and chemical salts from causing a corrosive environment for electrical and other components.”

Maintaining Waste Vehicles
Operators that ignore regular maintenance—such as oil changes, lube checkups, tuneups, and tire pressure checks—run the very real risk of seeing their collection vehicles break down in the middle of a route. When these vehicles are then sent in for repairs, not only does the municipality have to pay for what might be an expensive fix, it also loses the service of that particular vehicle. Taking a vehicle out of commission, even for a short period of time, could put a strain on other fleet vehicles, leading, of course, to possible overuse of the remaining waste collection vehicles and further costly breakdowns and repairs.

Dorwart says that waste collection fleets are especially susceptible to break downs that result from overuse and neglect. “Collection vehicles are typically in and out of landfills, which really differs from where other types of equipment operate,” he adds. “These vehicles may get into some really mucky situations to the point of maybe needing some tow assistance to get out. Couple that with intense stop-and-go duty cycles, and you have a situation where you really need to keep an eye on the aforementioned maintenance areas.”

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Fortunately, regular maintenance isn’t necessarily complicated. Aaron Kleingartner, sales and marketing development manager with Doosan Infracore Construction Equipment America, says that operators should be able to tackle most maintenance duties simply by reading the Operation and Maintenance manuals that come with their waste vehicles. “It’s all about following the regular maintenance checks that are recommended by the manufacturer,” he says. “Equipment, such as ours, come with recommended daily service checkpoints. If you check your engine oil, your tracks, pivot points, tires and other equipment, you’ll be giving your machines an advantage when it comes to avoiding breakdowns. These simple daily checks are where you’d start.”

Some maintenance checks need to be performed at the beginning of shifts, while some tasks must be completed after the shifts end.

Kleingartner says that operators need to clean off any debris in their machines’ track systems at the end of their shifts. The need to make sure that their sprocket and chain links are clear. Operators should also check to make sure that there are no leaks from their machines that might have occurred during the workday.

If operators do find damage to their vehicles once their shifts end, they need to make sure that the proper repair technicians are informed. Ignoring damage will only increase the odds that a machine will need more costly repairs in the future, Kleingartner says.

“The communication between the operators who run the machines daily and the maintenance teams that service them is essential,” he says. “Operators need to make sure that everything is taken care of. They don’t want any problems to affect downtime later.”

The regular checks that operators need to take before their vehicles’ shifts begin are equally as important.

Kleingartner explains that operators, before putting their machine to work, need to check their engine oil and hydraulic fluids. They should check their air filters to make sure that they are clear and clean. It’s important, too, for them to check the lights to make sure they are all in working order. If your work includes traveling on a roadway be sure to check indicator lights, so that other drivers will be able to tell when you are going to be turning or stopping.

He also recommends that operators examine their equipment’s hydraulic lines for leaks and to make sure that the connections are sound. “It’s really about checking in general the things around the machine,” says Kleingartner. “You don’t want to drive away with anything that is loose or damaged in any way. You want to make sure that the machine will operate at its optimal performance throughout the day.”

Is Maintenance on Their Minds?
The big question is whether operators and managers actually focus on preventive maintenance. Do these professionals regularly check lube and oil levels? Do they make sure that air filters aren’t clogged?

Kleingartner says most operators and supervisors do take good care of their equipment and take the proper steps to keep them running as efficiently as possible. “Most people in general are fairly good at doing these things,” he says. “The machine is their livelihood, whether they are the owner or the operator. For the most part, people are cognizant of the basics things that they have to do on a daily basis. Operators are on deadlines and may be in a hurry so when they get past the basic daily things, some of the maintenance can slip the mind of an operator. They, on occasion, are not fully aware of the more intensive maintenance that has to be done the equipment.”

Because of this, Kleingartner says, Doosan recommends that fleet managers or owners regularly check their machines for the daily checks that they expect their operators to perform. He adds that telematics can play a role here.

This technology can give owners or fleet managers information about how specific pieces of equipment are consuming fuel. It can also indicate to an owner how much a machine is being used and if it is logging more hours than other vehicles.

“We recommend this second level of visibility of the machine and its capabilities by fleet managers and owners,” says Kleingartner. “But on the whole, contractors are keeping up with the basics such as lubricating the machines to make sure they are working properly. They know if that machine isn’t working they may miss a deadline. No one likes missing deadlines.”

It makes financial sense for owners and fleet managers to focus on daily maintenance, Kleingartner says. Those who don’t run the risk of increasing the number of machine breakdowns in their fleets. That could result in thousands of dollars for costly repairs.

“The financial impact of not performing regular maintenance can be hard to quantify, but depending on the size of the machine, it can cost thousands of dollars for a repair that could have been prevented with a regular lubrication schedule,” says Kleingartner. “Catching a small leak in a hose that turns into a ruptured hose later can time and money. The machine could ingest material that could damage pumps or valves. There are a lot of things that could vary from a cost perspective.

“Keeping an eye on things early also helps to make sure you don’t lose your uptime,” he adds. “You don’t want too much downtime because of repairs that you have to make. It’s easier to fix things when you see them early than trying to fix them after the fact. It can cost from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars if you don’t maintain a machine properly.”

Could Be Better
Matt Lee, service training specialist with McNeilus, says that he sees plenty of room for improvement with how fleet managers and owners handle oil changes. McNeilus recommends that fleet managers schedule oil changes twice a year or after trucks reach 1,250 work hours.

Unfortunately, Lee says, few municipalities and private waste haulers actually stick to that schedule. Instead, many change their vehicles’ oil only once every year.

“Some people have come up to me to tell me that they change their vehicles’ oil only when something doesn’t work,” says Lee. “It’s all over the map what they do. If we had our way, though, it’d be twice a year.”

And he doesn’t expect this to change. “I’ve been here 20 years and I’ve seen it all this time,” says Lee. “So, no, unequivocally it won’t change.”

He says there are two main customer types for McNeilus trucks: the private and small mom-and-pops, and the large commercial fleets, and surprisingly, McNeilus sees more maintenance negligence from the larger customers than it does from the mom-and-pops.

Why is that? Lee says he’s not sure. But he does note that many of the larger fleets are more resistant to change. They prefer to operate the same way as they have during the last 20 years, and might be less willing to change their routines because of this, even when manufacturers recommend different maintenance schedules.

Lee says that it’s important for fleet operators to follow the oil change schedules recommended by the manufacturers of their trucks. “They will see fewer truck breakdowns if they change their oil twice a year,” he says. “You can’t change your hydraulics too often, really. With waste machines you will get plenty of dirt and debris. You might get rubber debris from a hose or metal debris from a pump gear tooth that is starting to go out. That can be damaging to equipment. Your fluids are flushing away contaminants. The more you change it, the better.”

Lee explains that the largest waste companies operate thousands upon thousands of trucks. Companies with so many vehicles are often more likely to postpone oil changes.

“Their maintenance costs in lubricants alone drives them to prolong those service intervals,” he adds. “You are talking millions of dollars just in oil. And that’s just the start. This doesn’t even include the maintenance work that they have to do on tires and valves and whatever else. It’s not surprising, then, that some of the larger companies want to stretch out the time between oil changes.”

Changing the oil, of course, isn’t the only form of maintenance that fleet operators need to monitor. Lee says that greasing waste trucks’ mechanical systems is a key step, too, in keeping fleets on the road.

Unfortunately, far too many municipalities fail to keep up with recommended greasing schedules, he says. “Most fleets are even worse when it comes to greasing than they are with the lubricants. Greasing is extremely under done. Some of our trucks are rated between 800 and 850 homes a day. There is some equipment that we recommend daily greasing on. Other components we recommend weekly greasing intervals.”

For instance, side-loading garbage trucks come with a mechanical hydraulic arm that drivers control. Lee says that operators should grease that arm once every week. Forks and grabbers used to pick up garbage at every stop, though, need to be greased on a daily basis.

“If you change your oil as recommended, grease your machines and maintain your air filters, your equipment will last longer,” says Lee. “That is the bottom line. This kind of maintenance prolongs the life of the vehicle.”

Instant Oil Analysis
Janet Keefe says the faster truck owners and operators can get information about the health of the oil protecting their waste vehicles, the better. It’s good then that Chelmsford, MA-based Spectro Scientific, the company for which Keefe works as global product manager, manufactures small and portable oil-analysis tools. Municipal maintenance staffers, owners, and operators can use these tools to quickly test the health of their vehicles’ oil and lubrication.

The company’s MicroLab lubricant analyzer lets maintenance staffers determine if it’s time to change vehicles’ oil without having to send oil samples to outside facilities. This saves time and money, and reduces the chance that municipalities’ waste trucks will break down unexpectedly.

Spectro Scientific says that when municipalities can test oil on location, their technicians no longer have to wait days or weeks to hear back from outside sources on the results of these tests. This is important for technicians trying to diagnose problems on vehicles before these waste trucks leave their service bays.

MicroLab systems provide results in less than 20 minutes. Armed with this quick information, maintenance personnel and operators can determine if vehicles need an oil change or other service.

“Our products are designed to be put in the hands of the operators so that people can test their vehicles’ oil onsite,” says Keefe. “That instant information is so important. We consider oil analysis to be a blood test for vehicles. This analysis gives an indication of the health of the oil and equipment.”

She adds that municipalities have long been aware of how important it is to regularly analyze the oil protecting their vehicles. But most of these municipalities continue to send their oil samples to outside labs.

Spectro Scientific is trying to change this trend by promoting onsite analysis, Keefe says. “We are trying to show the benefit of bringing this analysis in-house. We are trying to show how beneficial it is to have that ability to make instant decisions, to have that oil analysis information quicker. The time savings can be quite significant. Fleets that are dealing with a large number of trucks can certainly benefit by performing their analysis in-house.”

When operators and maintenance staffers analyze a vehicle’s oil, they are looking for two main things, Keefe says. First, they want to see if they can extend the intervals between oil drains. By extending the time between drains, municipalities can save a significant amount of money. With onsite analysis, municipalities can analyze their vehicles’ oil to determine if the existing oil can be safely extended. This is a more scientific approach than simply draining oil based on time- or mileage-based drain intervals, Keefe says.

“Some of these fleets might have hundreds of vehicles. If you just extend one oil drain on each vehicle in a year, it can add up quite a bit,” she says.

Maintenance personnel are also looking for potential failures that typical diagnostics might not catch, Keefe says. An oil analysis might confirm some diagnoses that technicians already suspect or it might uncover a problem in its early stages that maintenance personnel hadn’t yet identified.

“Some of these diesel trucks have reoccurring problems with coolant failure in their engines, for example,” says Keefe. “They have cracked head gaskets that introduce coolant in the engine oil. That is a huge problem. We can identify the chemistry of the coolant that might show up in the oil. Oil analysis can help identify the problems early when it is a smaller cost to fix it. That’s a better alternative to seeing a vehicle’s engine failing when you have to repair it or rebuild it completely.”

When promoting MicroLab, Keefe says Spectro Science personnel focus on the cost savings the product can provide to municipal fleets. These cost savings don’t come from reducing outside oil tests solely, but also in this ability to detect potential engine problems earlier. So Spectro Science focuses on both cost-saving avenue when discussing the product with potential municipal customers.

This is important: Municipalities are always concerned about their bottom lines. They want to reduce their operating costs. Anything that can help them do this will make for an easier purchase decision.

“Preventing failures is almost like buying insurance,” says Keefe. “Did you prevent enough problems where buying the product paid off? We think our product allows fleet operators to do that. Engine replacements can be a huge cost. Our product can help operators prevent engine failures.”

Other fleets are under increasing pressure to reduce their carbon emissions, Keefe says. Green initiatives might require that MSW fleets reduce the amount of oil that they dispose. When fleets use onsite oil analysis to lengthen the time between oil drains, they also reduce the amount of oil that they need to dispose and the amount of oil that they need to consume. Green initiatives are encouraging fleet operators and managers to pay closer attention to their vehicles’ oil consumption.

Keefe says that fleets, if they typically drain their oil every 5,000 miles, might run an oil analysis at this time. If the analysis says that their oil is healthy, they might be able to wait until a vehicle logs 5,000 more miles before having to perform an oil drain.

“The goal here is to reduce the amount of time and the dollars that operators are spending on oil drains,” says Keefe. “And we want to do that without jeopardizing the health and performance of the vehicles. That’s how portable oil analysis can really help.” Msw Bug Web

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