Equipment Life Rewind: Repair, Refurbish, Remanufacture
Routine maintenance keeps the wheels rolling and the fluids flowing, but there comes a time in every machine’s life when a little more attention is required. Repair, refurbish, remanufacture—all are ways of extending the life of machinery, or of giving it an entirely new life, for less expense than purchasing new equipment and often with the same, or better, parts and warranty.
When it comes to heavy-duty equipment in the rugged grading and excavating industries, extending the life of a contractor’s investment increases the benefits associated with the amortization of the original purchase over time. According to Bob Straw, vice president of sales and marketing for IPD, “The longer the effective and efficient useful life of the equipment, the greater the benefit can be in terms of contractor operations cost containment.”
IPD, established in 1955 and based in Torrance, CA, is a parts manufacturer focusing on a product line of engine parts for Caterpillar Engines. Its high-quality repair parts promote longer equipment life of diesel- and natural-gas-powered equipment without risk to reliability, Straw says.
One way to lower operating costs over a lifetime is to perform major repairs on equipment, or to refurbish or remanufacture it after extensive wear. Paul Moore, senior marketing manager for Komatsu parts, who has been in the business for 10 years, says he sees more “reman” all the time. “In fact,” he adds, “it’s mandated by some customers. If you don’t offer it, the customer questions your commitment to support.”
|Photo: Bore Repair Systems Inc.
BRS2 BOA408i bore welder and boring bar
Benefits of remanufacturing versus purchase, as spelled out by Diego Navarro, aftermarket sales manager Americas for John Deere, include returning a machine to operation quickly, lower cost, and a better warranty on parts. “Don’t waste energy and materials by buying new,” he advises. “The core of the component has a lot of life.”
How much life? The question of repairing versus replacing comes down to a cost analysis, says Ron Miller, product support manager for Case Construction Equipment. “Be sure to include the labor costs in your analysis,” he advises.
Is it worth repairing a machine, component or system when a newer, more efficient version is available as a replacement? Use a matrix system, suggests Robert Griffiths, marketing manager and Florida district branch manager for Heavyquip, in Jacksonville, FL. Heavyquip is the largest independent aftermarket parts and service company in America, specializing in parts for bulldozers, excavators, track loaders, wheel loaders, asphalt pavers, elevating scrapers, motor graders, and more, with the most complete line of aftermarket undercarriage parts. A calculation based on the value of a new tractor versus what has already been invested in a current one will help determine whether to repair or purchase. “If the value is too low, they should sell it,” he indicates.
It’s important to take advantage of rebuild versus replacement, Griffiths continues. “Everyone is running lean.” In theory, he says, rebuilds can be performed repeatedly, but at some point the equipment has no value to the company. As Egan Hernandez, marketing manager at IPD, explains, “The condition and operating efficiency of machinery are important factors in determining whether or not a particular piece of equipment should be kept in operation.” A replacement system may have a higher initial cost but a much longer lifespan, which provides a lower long-term cost. “When machines complete their life cycle,” Navarro summarizes, “it’s best to scrap them.”
The life expectancy of equipment depends on the operating conditions and effective preventative maintenance, points out Steve Scott, director of product development and technical support at IPD. However, Case’s Miller notes that “if you do the right things to prolong the life of your equipment, you can avoid—or substantially delay—the need for major overhauls.”
|Photo: Bore Repair Systems Inc.
The BRS2 BOA408i bore welder and boring bar package features fully automated setup to cut and weld.
Some of the factors in the matrix Griffiths uses include oil sampling and inspections. Analyze fuel and oil samples frequently to look for signs of unusual component wear. Check for signs of water in the fuel, such as rust or algae in the fuel tank. Be aware of the impact of using attachments that can introduce contaminants to the hydraulic systems.
Case strongly recommends sampling and analyzing your oil and fuel. “As the machine ages, you can track problems accurately by seeing what’s in the oil and fuel,” Miller explains. “Look for traces of brass, bronze, sulfur, and other materials that will provide evidence of component wear.” Traces of brass, for example, narrow the possibilities of the origin of a problem because only certain components are made of brass or contain brass. Tracking a problem to a specific bearing or bushing saves time and makes it easier to perform a repair before a breakdown occurs.
When metals show up in oil, that indicates wear on internal components...and the need for repair or refurbishment. That’s why an oil-sampling program is so important, says Komatsu’s Moore. “It’s important to look for indicators of component issues in the power train.”
It’s also important to perform them regularly. Navarro says an oil analysis at 250 hours is ideal, but 500 hours is typical. At 1,000 hours he says there’s little benefit. “By then, you’re reacting to things that have already happened.”
While regularly scheduled maintenance intervals are routine, Miller says, it’s more difficult to put a standard hour interval on overhauls because of the variables involved: climate, application, job-site conditions, operator expertise, and the quality of routine maintenance. Too often, people rely on hours rather than monitoring the machine, Navarro adds. “They prefer to replace at intervals because there’s no single way to monitor; it’s based on experience and the environment.”
Difficult though it may be, he says condition-based maintenance is “great” because “you know the health of the equipment every day. You implement the right processes, have the right people, report what’s wearing on the machine, and correct it.” Knowing the condition of the equipment and having a process in place helps contractors be proactive, which enables them to eliminate catastrophic failure by repairing before problems occur.
The key to a successful process is having the discipline to conduct a good inspection. Navarro lists several factors to consider when examining a machine. “Contamination is the number-one issue,” he insists. “Dirt is everywhere.”
Water is almost everywhere; it’s present in cheap oil and in air. Reservoirs breathe, capturing moisture in the humidity. It gets into cylinders. “If you don’t use the [moisture content] Karl Fischer test, don’t test.” Most labs have this capability, he notes, although the cost of this test is a little higher. The OEMs use labs to get these reports, which John Deere fleet care can then interpret for the end user, adding suggestions on equipment care. “The labs are good at doing the testing, but not at telling you how to maintain the equipment.”
Other things to consider during an inspection include the mixing of fluids. “Pumps react to inconsistencies in lubrication,” Navarro explains. “It shortens the life; you can lose pumps at 1,200 hours.” The indicators are very small, he adds, and require proper analysis. In addition, he recommend checking for high temperature, air, and other component failures.
One other important consideration Moore mentions is that the older a machine gets, the more out of synchronization it becomes. “Maintenance intervals are the same,” he explains, “but components may be replaced at different times.” With 30 types of components ranging from engine and transmission to circuit box, monitor panels, electric, hydraulic, and mechanical systems, he says it’s common to do a complete rebuild at 15,000 hours.
Rebuilds are what drive this economy, Griffiths says. They may not exactly be driving the economy, but they may be an indicator of the health of the industry. He reports business is picking up for Heavyquip, particularly in Texas and Florida. “A local contractor with 162 pieces of equipment—all with low hours—started a rebuild program,” he says. “We took a $525,000 Komatsu down to the frame and rebuilt it from scratch. We’re doing a partial rebuild on two of his other machines. He has enough work this year, but doesn’t know about next year, so he’s hanging on to the equipment he’s already paid for; he doesn’t want to buy now. He told us to put his name on one of the bay doors because he intends to repair everything, not
It’s a familiar story, he says. “Waste companies are worried about next year, so they’re using funds to repair their trucks. We just did a complete off-frame rebuild for an 836.” Some customers are doing rebuilds as early as 10,000 to 11,000 hours, particularly if the machines were run hard. “Sometimes they do a power-train refurb at that point. The life is restored; they can run as many hours as new.” A power-train rebuild includes the engine, transmission and pumps (steering, hydraulic), torque converter, final drives, cooling system (oil, radiator), and usually paint, too.
Miller sees fewer engine and transmission rebuilds and overhauls. “More machines are getting to 10,000 hours without any major work because the initial quality is better than ever and people are more serious about preventive maintenance.”
“Good maintenance or power-train rebuilds are a necessary evil,” believes Rich McKelvey, general sales manager for WPT Power Corp. in Wichita Falls, TX. As an international manufacturer of pneumatic and hydraulic power takeoffs, clutches, and brakes for a broad range of industrial and petroleum applications, WPT Power Corp. has been a leader in the power transmission industry since 1992.
Scheduled repairs are much better than a field breakdown when the equipment is located somewhere remote or difficult to get to, McKelvey adds. For example, “a breakdown of major production equipment may cost a company $8,000 per day to cover the cost of keeping the lights on, but without producing anything. That same downtime as seen by the shareholders, for the same period of time, may be a loss of $29,000 in profit by not having any production.”
A power-train rebuild is just one of the “segments” Griffiths mentions that can be done instead of a full restoration. Others include an electronics rebuild: Cab-down, it’s modular and easy. It includes the engine harness, frame harness, lighting, wiring, sensors, and valves. This can be an important rebuild because, he says, “old machines have electrical problems.”
Some have only undercarriage work done: track rollers, chains, sprockets, guiding guards, the equalizer bar (suspension for a track frame), and shafts—wear in the bushings causes tow-in or tow-out, so it needs realignment. Griffiths recalls one customer whose D8T bulldozer got something lodged in its track, which bent the fender. “You can’t buy those pieces, so we had to cut out and fabricate a new one.”
When it comes to heavy-duty equipment in the rugged grading and excavating industries, extending the life of a contractor’s investment increases the benefits associated with the amortization of the original purchase over time
For mini-excavators under 12,000 pounds, Jeff Sheu, founder of Rex Undercarriage Corp., recommends converting from rubber tracks to steel tracks with bolt-on or clip-on rubber pads for durability and versatility to work on fragile surfaces like sidewalks and pavement to demolition. Compared with new rubber track, they provide 25% to 35% longer life as a result of the steel, he says, although, of course, life expectancy varies due to such unforeseen factors as terrain and operator skill.
A new hybrid track from Rex Undercarriage—steel chain with rubber pads—also provides pavement protection. Sheu says its steel link foundation is more durable and lasts longer than rubber tracks. When repair is needed, instead of the entire rubber track, only the broken pieces are replaced. “It’s faster and cheaper; it only requires two to four bolts.”
Other refurbishing segments include cab work, in which the glass is replaced, along with the sound suppression, floors, wiring, gauges, and paint. An implements refurb is self-explanatory and can include blade work, buckets, and linkages. Trash compactors (Cat, Terex, Bomag) have “a lot of electronics, and the axles need attention,” Griffiths says. And, finally, there’s hydraulics refurbishment, when every line, O-ring, and pump is replaced. The main hydraulic pump in an excavator is very expensive, Navarro says.
One of the most common overhauls contractors require involves fuel systems, which are vulnerable to major damage that requires costly repair or replacement, says Miller, who works with Case dealerships in training and support mentoring programs. Often, the cause is contaminated fuel. “We’re seeing a lot more contaminated fuel than we did in the past. Keep in mind that you never burn 100% of the fuel.” To mitigate problems, the operator should keep an eye on the water separator that’s part of the fuel system: any amount of water in the fuel can cause it to fail. Case recommends topping off fuel tanks at the end of day to prevent overnight condensation due to fuel-tank cool down.
Whichever segment is being rebuilt, Griffiths recommends choosing an experienced shop in order to get a quality result. “Find someone with experience who has the resources to do the job and follows manufacturer specifications so it doesn’t void the warranty.”
“Again,” McKelvey reiterates, “it is just as critical to make certain the installation is done correctly, because a unit installed wrong is also subject to early failure.”
Additional advice from Navarro involves scheduling. “Try to be proactive,” he urges. “Schedule, don’t react to a crisis. Try to catch issues early enough to schedule on your calendar, not the machine’s calendar, because the best time to repair is when it’s a planned activity, not an emergency. When a machine is down during a critical application, it impacts the entire operation. You need a contingency plan; you can’t expect a machine to be available 100% of the time.”
Parts Time Help
Griffiths also advises considering aftermarket versus OEM parts. “Aftermarket parts can be a big cost savings, but still meet or exceed OEM specs. When we do a rebuild, it could be 90% original equipment parts or 50% aftermarket or rebuilt; it depends on the use.” He says Heavyquip uses ITR-branded parts, which some OEMS buy and sell as their alternate line because of the quality; the parts are certified and tested.
As the cost of new machines continues to rise—and the economy continues to falter—more contractors are opting to extend the life of their equipment to get the most out of their investment. Hernandez believes the availability of quality aftermarket parts and service factor into that equation. “High-quality parts help to ensure the proper operation of an engine after a major repair. The proper operation of an engine helps to ensure extended durability (lower repair and maintenance costs) and more efficient operation (lower fuel costs).”
While reman can save money (when compared with replacement), it’s important to ensure the quality of the part. “IPD understands the importance of cost savings, but not at the expense of reliability,” Scott says. Aftermarket manufacturers provide an alternative source of repair parts for a cost-effective option for repairs for contractors, he continues. Moore calculates that reman products cost 50% to 55% of new products and provide roughly 85% of the life of an equivalent new product.
Those numbers are particularly important because most companies perform maintenance on their own equipment, even to the point of engine rebuilds, McKelvey says, although some mines arrange for a rebuild exchange program with a local distributor. In that situation, the distributor takes the old unit and does a complete teardown, which includes inspection of all metal parts, degreasing, and even sandblasting, if necessary. They then rebuild the unit with all new parts and repaint. “This method is more expedient for the mine, and they will receive a new unit warranty as well.”
More typically, clutches and brakes used on auxiliary engines for operating the working part of the machine are maintained or replaced by the contractor. “It is always a good investment to return the brake or clutch to its original condition. Any shortcuts will typically be short-lived and cost a great deal more in the end,” McKelvey states. Typically, wear parts are replaced during maintenance intervals. “This would include friction surfaces, drive plates, springs, and perhaps the engagement actuator (airtube).” Matching wear components, such as brakes, should all be changed for new.
Refurbishment is an effective means of extending equipment life and avoiding untimely repairs, but it can’t fix everything. Replacement parts are like for like: You’re not going to get a Tier IV–compliant rebuild out of a Tier III machine. “It’s a major factor in the decision to sell or rebuild,” Griffiths admits, adding that Tier IV will affect Heavyquip “big time. We have to learn new electronics, get new software…”
Tier IV has also caused some customers to change products in order to fit the new engines. “It could be the same product specifications and features,” McKelvey explains, “but it no longer fits the new design, which has caused the customer to change due to bearing pilots or some other simpler modification, but enough that they can no longer use their old products.”
New equipment design often changes slightly as manufacturers introduce new models. One of the reasons for it, McKelvey believes, is “to keep the aftermarket builders away.” It requires contractors and distributors under exchange programs to go back to the OEM for parts, which are often more costly.”
Although new technology is available in remanufactured components, retrofitting emissions components is difficult, Navarro concurs, and is typically limited to items such as exhaust and particulate filters. “Complete retrofit is not available: the electronics, engine and cooling system are different.” Knowing that it limits the potential for extended life, he suggests moving older equipment to states where Tier IV is not yet an issue. “A lot of pre-emissions engines go south—what we call the “gray market.”
A Bore-ing Subject
The more equipment is used, the more Bortech Corp.’s business picks up. “There was a drop-off in 2008 through 2009,” recalls Leo White, president, “but there’s been a gradual pickup in 2010 through 2011.
Since 1991, the Keene, NH–based business has been producing a proprietary welding system designed to produce uniform welds and consistent results. “The weld is just as strong as from the manufacturer,” White promises.
Bortech’s system offers several benefits, chief among them elimination of the need to buy replacement parts. The portable unit accommodates fieldwork, reducing downtime. No expertise is required, and with training provided by the manufacturer, White says, customers are up and running in one day. “It lets contractors, equipment dealers and independent service shops repair rather than replace. Even equipment manufacturers have our equipment to correct manufacturer defects.” At $6,000 to $15,000, White says, a contractor with 20 pieces of equipment could see a one-year return on investment. “It’s affordable.”
Bore Repair Systems Inc., out of Alstead, NH, also offers affordable options. In addition to its $20,000 BOA-408I professional system, weighing 50 pounds and featuring a fully automated setup to cut and weld, the manufacturer developed a “light” version, as sales manager Erik Esslinger describes it, when the economy declined.
The $8,000 BOA-MI weighs only 25 pounds and sits in a tool case. Still manageable by one person, Esslinger says it requires more operator input and is best for farms or infrequent users. “This opened the door to a new market: small contractors.”
Previously, bore welders were usually sold to OEM dealerships with in-house repair capabilities and fleets to do service. These portable units allow contractors to take it to the job site. “You can put a bore welding system onto the equipment in the field and weld up a worn bore,” Esslinger elaborates. “The machine is back to smooth, round.”
Typical wear points that might need welding include pivot points and any rotating part. On an excavator, there are pivot points where the bucket attaches to the lift arm: They can become dirty, out of round or oversized, rendering the machine difficult to control. A typical bucket repair—four bores—takes about four hours, Esslinger estimates.
In addition to buckets and attachments, other common repairs tackled by the bore system include the steering pivot in the middle of a pay loader, the ends of the hydraulic cylinder where it attaches to the lift arms, dipper sticks, the main boom on an excavator, haul trucks and mine trucks where the dumper goes up and down, and anywhere else a machine pivots. In addition, off-brand buckets featuring different pivot points can be fitted to almost any brand machine by resizing the bore to fit, adding further economic value.
The weld overlay is made of the same composition—cast steel—that is used on OEM equipment. “We’re restoring the casting to new,” Esslinger says. “Our goal is to repair to factory spec.” Considering that a new bucket on a midsize excavator runs about $4,000 to $5,000, and this repair costs $600 to $1,000 and has the same life, he thinks the choice is clear.
A unique feature of Bore Repair Systems’ equipment is a telescopic pass-through drive that allows the operator to set up one time to do two bores. “For example,” Esslinger says, “if you’re doing two bores in alignment on a bucket, you can telescope out to the other side, without having to tear down and set up a second time. You can do both lift arms on a payloader the same way: Set the system between both to invert the gun position. The system stays put. It saves 30 minutes teardown and remount time. Simplifying the setup is an important feature. It’s less time-consuming, less complicated, and has better accuracy.”
The portable bore welders help maintain a wear area that’s often overlooked. “Motors and undercarriages are well looked after,” Esslinger believes, “but pivot points get sloppy. People are good about oil changes, but they don’t check pivot points.”
Writer Lori Lovely focuses on topics related to transportation and technology.
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