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Heavy equipment maintenance ensures longevity by protecting vital engine components

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Casper – “A lot of our machines and equipment are out in the field where they’re not easily accessible, so it’s even more important to maintain those machines, as getting someone out to it can be difficult,” said Rob Davis with Wyoming Machinery Company.

Davis discussed the importance of machine maintenance and contamination control, particularly in newer machine systems.

Changing demands

According to Davis, contamination control has become even more of a priority in recent years as greater demands are placed on machinery.

“Our customers are demanding more out of their machines – more power, greater breakout forces and quicker cycle times,” he said.

He also explained that there has been a transition to the use of electrohydraulics.

“With those components, we have higher system pressures and tighter clearances, so particles that get by in the oil past the filters are destroying the components and the machine in the long run,” commented Davis.

Davis continued, “Today’s fluid systems are more sensitive to contamination. All of the systems are working under tremendous pressures today compared to what they were 40 years ago.”


Davis explained that contamination is “anything in the fluid that does not belong,” such as sand, heat, water, air and metals.

Contamination can originate from a wide variety of sources, he continued.

“Some sources include built-in contamination, new fluids, introduced contamination, such as cylinder wiper seals or reservoir vent ports, and poor maintenance,” he said.

Davis noted that current systems are able to filter fuel down to particles two microns in size in some machines.

To put that in perspective, he commented, “A human hair is 80 microns in diameter and a grain of table salt is 100 microns.”

In the Fuel Analysis Laboratory, Davis explained that the company is able to monitor contamination and identify contaminants in Caterpillar equipment fluids.

“Spectrograph analysis identifies elements in the oil up to 10 to 15 microns in size,” he said.

A very small amount of a contaminant can mean fluids won’t don’t pass inspection in the laboratory.

“It only takes half a teaspoon of dirt. A ground up aspirin is enough to destroy a 55-gallon drum of oil,” stressed Davis.


According to Davis, 70 to 85 percent of all hydraulic failures are due to contamination, and he explained, in today’s systems, failures often require replacement of the whole system, rather than a component.

“The primary pumps we use today are variable piston pumps,” he said. “That piston works in a sleeve. We can’t even feel the clearance when it’s cold. When it warms up, it’s even tighter yet.”

Davis noted that the effects of contamination may include erratic steering, cylinder drift, slower performance, unreliable operation, lower productivity, machine down time and higher operating costs.

“None of that is anything that we need in our day-to-day work,” he stressed.

Davis continued, “Taking and testing fluid samples at the Fluid Analysis Lab can head off a catastrophic failure, catching things early, so we can repair, as opposed to replace, parts.”


To limit contamination and detrimental impacts, Davis encouraged equipment users to improve their housekeeping skills, including sweeping floors daily, cleaning up spills immediately, keeping workbenches uncluttered and free of debris and limiting use of floor storage.

Davis advised filters be changed carefully, adding that it is important to not fill fuel filters.

“When we dump fuel down the center of that fuel filter, we are already downstream of the plates,” he said. “What we put in there is going right into our injectors.”

Special care should also be taken with parts handling and storage and hose assembly and storage.

“To clean those hoses, we’ve got plugs we can force through them with air and it cleans all of the contamination out of them,” Davis commented. “If we cap them and seal them, they’re ready for reuse again.”

Proper maintenance and timely repair is critical to reducing contamination and elongating machine lifespan.

“We must perform daily inspections, keep the hydraulic tank filled, maintain valves, use rod protectors and watch temperature gauges,” Davis concluded. “We want to get all of our money back out of our machine.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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