Preventive Maintenance

Inspection of machinery during the off season is important here in the Central Valley of California. Due to good climate and long growing season, it is important to keep machines going without break downs.

Anyone with a checklist and some tools can inspect a tractor and find what is already broken. It takes a skilled Technician/Mechanic to inspect a tractor and be able to tell you what will break before the next scheduled inspection. You technicians are the experts that growers depend on for the advice to maintain their equipment. Sometimes the machine needs to start a season fresh to make it through the season. Other times it is important to evaluate the percentage of wear or usable life and make the determination whether or not a part needs to be replaced. If a part is easy to change and wonít cause expensive downtime it can go until it fails. Some machines have large crews depending on them to run. When they stop you have guys sitting around playing cards until they run again. The cost of payroll for the truck drivers and tractor driver that are sitting while a harvester is broken down can be more costly than the failed part.

Knowing how to predict what will fail and when only comes with experience. To speed up gaining that experience, keep detailed notes and or pictures. Snap some photos with your phone or a cheap digital camera. See how long a part wears in different environments. Make note of the hours of operation. Soon you will be able to predict the failure of a part with confidence.

Batteries should be kept clean and charged for the longest life span. Keep the dirt off the top of them. Dirt collecting on the top of a battery can create a path between the posts for current to pass through draining the battery. You don't want a machine that you just gave a clean bill of health to need a jump start when the grower is ready to use it because the battery drained. You may need to charge the batteries on machines with high electrical loads periodically. Donít assume the charging system will keep up. Test batteries and when they are low charge them. This is even more important on newer machines with a lot of electronics. Test and clean battery cables and connections often. Voltage drop testing on ground connections will reveal problems before there are symptoms.

An infrared thermometer passed down the length of a cylinder can reveal leakage passed the piston seals. Oil when passing through a small hole will generate heat. A hot spot in a cylinder indicates a leak that the pump may be able to overcome. You may not notice the leak until it is big enough that the pump can't keep up. Knowing what is coming can be the difference in production. If you know a cylinder is bypassing slightly, you may have the opportunity between fields to make a repair and eliminate downtime.

Oil sampling is very useful if done regularly to establish a baseline. Elevated levels of some metals can alert you to coming failures.

Measure tire wear and compare the amount of wear to the machine hours. New tire tread depth information is available from Goodyear and other manufacturers. I have picked up free copies at farm shows and agricultural tire suppliers.

You will be more valuable as a Technician/Mechanic if it appears as though you have a crystal ball. If you warn a customer that his alternator is about to fail, or a hydraulic cylinder may blow the seal soon, and then it does, you will be considered an expert. This is the reputation that we need to get to. We have the opportunity to raise our own value. We only have to take it.

©Steve Blankinship 2008