By Lee Padgett, Product Specialist at Takeuchi-US
Extreme conditions — whether it’s exceptionally demanding terrain, or extremely high or low temperatures — can present additional challenges for the day-to-day operation of a compact track loader (CTL). In the following article, we’re going to take a quick look at some key considerations to remember when preparing to work in challenging conditions.
The operator should always refer to the operator’s manual for detailed maintenance instruction and perform a walk-around inspection of the machine prior to startup.
When starting the machine, use proper warmup procedures as found in the operator’s manual and always limit engine idling time. In addition, there may be a cold weather kit, such as a block heater, to help promote proper engine warmup in regions where glow plugs and intake air heaters are not sufficient enough to effectively start the engine. The operator should always make sure the windows and front glass are completely defrosted before operating.
In freezing temperatures, there are a few additional things to check for at the end of the day. Make sure the undercarriage is relatively clean to prevent mud and debris from freezing up in the undercarriage components. This could result in premature wear and damage.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are also steps to take to address high ambient temperatures to ensure proper machine cooling. Refer to the operator’s manual to ensure your machine is prepared for the change in season and temperatures.
First, the radiator and hydraulic cooler should be cleaned and inspected. Additionally, belly pans should be removed so the tub of a compact track loader or skid steer can be properly cleaned, and then reinstalled before operating the machine. Many times this area becomes packed with mud and debris, which can insulate components, preventing heat from dissipating efficiently. Keep an eye on the operating temperatures of engines and hydraulic components, especially when operating hydraulically powered attachments.
If the operating temperatures start to rise (consult operator’s manual for your specific machine temperature guidelines), remove the load until the machine has cooled. Then, take a few moments to clean and inspect the coolers again to ensure they are clear of debris. Your dealer can also be a valuable resource to not only make sure you have the right machine for the application, but to also advise of proper maintenance and care of the machine when operating in extreme temperatures.
When a new project begins, it is crucial to first perform a thorough inspection of the jobsite to see what potential hazards exist. Potential hazards can include ledges, severe slopes, soft ground and other conditions that are essential to identify and avoid.
Also, be aware of any underground or overhead utilities that may be in close proximity and make sure they have been properly identified. Services like 811, First Call or other underground location services are vital to properly identify where hazards are located so the contractor can effectively avoid them for greater peace of mind.
Respecting the terrain when operating should also be a key priority. Slopes and soft ground can cause the machine to shift suddenly, causing it to become unstable. It can also impact the operating capacity and performance of the machine.
For gradeability, it is important to first consult the operator’s manual when traversing up and down the face of a slope, as the operator will be limited by the machine’s capabilities, as well as the load and attachment.
In extreme conditions, speed can be the difference in maintaining machine control versus losing control. It is best to travel with the load low and at a reasonable speed for the conditions.
Working around water presents additional and unique hazards that need to be accounted for. Ledges, water depth and undercut banks are just a few of the things to check for.
Crossing shallow water is sometimes necessary. As with all other operations, be sure of the terrain and exactly how deep the water is, what the bottom conditions are like, and if there is any current. Should the operator need to cross water, they should never exceed the allowable water depth as instructed by the manufacturer, nor let the engine, fan or electrical components come into contact with the water.
Understanding safe operation practices is critical. In any rough terrain, make sure that the most seasoned operators are in control of the machine, otherwise it can not only lead to a dangerous situation for the operator, but could also severely damage the machine.
As an example, a newly licensed teenage driver may be capable of driving a few miles to school, however, the same driver may not necessarily be qualified to drive a pickup truck and small travel trailer through a mountain pass. Both involve driving a vehicle, but one requires much more skill and experience than the other. If the operator feels uneasy about a certain terrain, likely they are right, so it is best not to take any chances.
Be cautious and careful out there, whether in extreme temperatures or terrain. Because at the end of the day, getting home safe and unharmed each and every day is the most important thing you can do.