It goes without saying, but construction equipment failure can have significant consequences. These can include downtime, high repair costs or even injury.
Some types of malfunction are more common than others. This is due to the environmental conditions construction equipment is exposed to or the components that are put under the most strain on a typical work site.
Knowing these types of equipment malfunctions and their causes is a great way to improve equipment management practices and make a construction site safer and more cost-effective.
1. Electrical Failure
An electrical failure can be a major risk on any job site with power-generated equipment or heavy machinery. It can lead to electrocutions, fire and damage to machines.
The causes for electrical failure can vary significantly. These are some of the most common causes seen in construction equipment:
• Dust and corrosion
• Loose power connections
• Moisture and humidity
• Deterioration of or improper insulation
• Power overload
Good equipment management practices can prevent electrical failure. Regular maintenance can help prevent issues like the buildup of dust and debris that may lead to fires and other problems.
In addition, good electrical safety practices can go a long way in keeping workers safe on-site. The use of cord insulation and voltage regulators, thorough training and regular risk assessments can all help reduce safety risks to personnel.
2. Hydraulics Lubricant Contamination
Even in small quantities, contaminants like dust, metal, dirt and water can wreak havoc on a machine’s hydraulic systems.
Almost every common type of construction equipment relies on hydraulics in one way or another. Understanding their hydraulic systems — and how they tend to fail — is essential for preventing malfunctions and downtime.
Contaminants can enter a hydraulic system in several ways. Metal and dust particles can cause contamination during the manufacturing process. If the system isn’t properly flushed out, those particles will linger and cause performance issues or failure.
On the construction site, the ingression of contaminants — like dust, dirt and debris — can happen when intake filters fail or when contaminated oil is used as lubrication.
Internal components can also shed contaminants over time, producing additional generated contamination. This can damage weaker materials and introduce more particles that can cause problems.
As with other types of equipment malfunction, regular inspections can help prevent the contamination of lubricants.
Maintenance is also a key. Keeping the hydraulic lubrication or oil fresh can help avoid issues with a machine’s hydraulic pumps and controls. Regular replacement of damaged and clogged filters is essential for keeping hydraulic fluid contaminant-free.
Finally, a fluid inspection can tell if there’s external contamination from something like a loose seal or a damaged internal component.
3. Undercarriage Damage
A significant portion of lifetime maintenance costs will go to the upkeep of undercarriage equipment, which is constantly exposed to stress and wear. This also means undercarriages are a common failure point.
Undercarriage damage can cause problems quickly. A machine with broken components may perform less efficiently or face issues like water or oil leaks, misalignment that causes uneven strain on its roller frame, and excessive track wear.
Good maintenance practices can help prevent malfunctions due to undercarriage damage. Prevention and regular repairs are a good foundation for any upkeep plan and help managers keep their equipment running longer. Visual inspections can’t replace regular maintenance checks, but they are a good way to catch major problems that may crop up.
Operating conditions will also greatly impact how long a machine’s undercarriage lasts before needing maintenance. Rocky soil and steep grading can speed up the wearing of construction equipment. Avoiding these conditions — or factoring them into a preventive maintenance schedule — can help extend the life of undercarriage equipment.
4. Thermal Damage
Extreme temperatures can be a serious problem for construction equipment. Summer heat can sometimes lead to equipment damage or breakdowns when coolant systems fail or when machines are exposed to direct sunlight for too long.
Regular maintenance of coolant systems can help keep machines running even in extreme heat conditions. Coolant should be flushed and replaced at least annually, and the presence of contaminants — like rust — should prompt an investigation of the system.
Winter can also pose problems for construction equipment. Cold damage can be a major threat to the batteries, which is why it’s a good practice to store them indoors when they are not in active use. Frigid temperatures can quickly kill a battery, potentially rendering a machine unusable until a replacement can be found.
Good winterization practices, like using winter-grade fuel and balancing a machine’s antifreeze-and-water mixture, can also help ensure good performance during cold temperatures.
5. Material Corrosion and Fatigue
Corrosion likely costs construction firms millions of dollars every year, if not more. It’s one of the most common causes of equipment malfunctions and failure. This is especially true for firms that regularly use their equipment in humid environments or around standing water, which can accelerate the development of rust.
Organic acids, like those produced by lubricant oxidation, can also cause corrosion in metals like iron and zinc. Over time, this can break down seals, stress metal components and cause other issues that lead to equipment malfunction.
Regular maintenance is the best way to prevent failure due to corrosion or fatigue. Scheduled checks can also help catch any significant issues with corrosion or metal strain and give managers time to replace these components before they lead to more problems.
Preventing contact between metal and all corrosive substances will also help reduce the risk of corrosion-related machine failure. Rust and corrosion inhibitors are one popular way to avoid malfunctions of this kind.
Avoid These Common Equipment Malfunctions
Equipment malfunctions pose challenges for construction companies — like downtime, injury and excessive repair costs. And this is to say nothing of the potential profit losses.
Fortunately, a good maintenance plan and a solid knowledge of common failure types can help construction firms prevent malfunction. Planning for issues like extreme weather, rough terrain and the threat of corrosion can help managers keep their equipment and sites running longer and more productively.