Maintenance may be in the eye of the beholder. Equipment manufacturers and service personnel say that contractors often neglect to perform routine maintenance procedures and then wonder why equipment breaks down. Most contractors, on the other hand, consider themselves to be conscientious about following service recommendations. They know equipment represents a major investment, which can cause major headaches when it fails to function properly.
Perhaps it's a matter of perspective—that service mechanics are more likely to encounter and remember cases where something has gone wrong, and contractors do things right most of the time. Of course, it also depends on the equipment in question, especially with regard to repairs. It may be more efficient and cost-effective just to replace a malfunctioning power tool than to get it fixed, but nobody's likely to junk a pickup truck that needs a new radiator.
There's also a middle ground: equipment complex enough to need regular maintenance and expensive enough to justify some repairs, but not necessarily crucial to a contractor's everyday operation. Some examples include ride-on power trowels, skidsteer loaders, and trailer-mounted concrete pumps. This article will examine the key maintenance procedures for each of these machines, the kinds of repairs they might need throughout the typical service life, and the ways some concrete contractors approach this care.
What they need
Specific maintenance recommendations vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model, but they are readily available and communicated to equipment owners. In addition to service manuals provided with an equipment purchase, many manufacturers offer service information online and in person.
Ian Moore, vice president of customer support for Putzmeister America Inc., Sturtevant, Wis., says educating customers about properly servicing equipment is a constant effort. “We post service tips on our website monthly, provide service information in our customer magazine, and run about 15 customer training seminars every year,” Moore says.
Other equipment manufacturers offer customer service training programs as well. For example, Allen Engineering Corp., Paragould, Ark., runs free two-day classes to instruct dealers, rental companies, and large fleet owners how to maintain and service its power trowels, power screeds, sprayers, and pavers.
One important reason for contractors to understand and follow recommended maintenance schedules is to ensure warranty protection. Although it's not a common occurrence, manufacturers can and sometimes do void the warranty on a piece of equipment that has not been maintained properly. Mike Fitzgerald, a skidsteer loader product specialist with Bobcat, West Fargo, N.D., says, “The vast majority of owners are conscientious about equipment maintenance, because they know their repair costs will be less if they follow the recommendations. But if there is a warranty repair issue, a failure to do routine maintenance could void the warranty.”
So what must you do to care for your equipment? Machines that regularly come into contact with fresh concrete, such as pumps and power trowels, must be cleaned thoroughly every day. Concrete constitutes an aggressive operating environment, which can cause a lot of wear and damage. Below are some other key routine maintenance procedures. Keep in mind that these are only general guidelines. Review and follow the manufacturers' recommendations for the particular machines in your fleet.
Ride-on power trowels
Key daily steps for these machines include greasing trowel arms and thrust bearings, checking and tightening external hardware, and checking fuel and hydraulic oil levels. Also check every day for leaks around hydraulic fittings, wear on hydraulic hoses, and scoring on cylinder rod ends. After every 20 hours of operation, grease the control linkage and inspect air filters, replacing as needed. After every 100 hours, change engine oil and replace oil filters. Additional engine maintenance steps generally are spelled out in a separate manual supplied with the power trowel.
Another important area in caring for power trowels is maintaining the edge and alignment of trowel blades and rotor arms. Trowel blades wear and trowel arms can bend. Either condition will affect the profile of concrete produced by the trowel, so ensuring the blades and arms are aligned properly is key to quality finishing work.