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Winter Ready – Making the most of your pre-winter maintenance

September 29, 2022
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Preparing equipment for winter is a bit like fixing a leaky roof. On a nice day, it feels pointless, but when the weather turns bad, it's too late!

Every winter, the SMS Equipment parts and services organization gets dozens of emergency service calls involving equipment that was not adequately prepared.

To help you avoid such incidents, we've assembled advice from four of our service experts:

  • Stephen Stanley, Service Supervisor
  • Terry Penner, Field Service Supervisor
  • Thierry Wilson, Technical Product Specialist
  • Chaunce Edwards, Technical Support Specialist

Together, they tell you how to avoid the most common causes of winter failures.

Tip #1: Start with the basics.

Like many types of preparation, preparing for the winter months is routine and ensures that essential items are covered.

Stephen: Most emergency calls we experience in the winter are for straightforward items. Equipment not starting is always a common problem, with the most frequent cause of the issue being dead batteries. Every fall, we provide services to adapt equipment for harsh winter applications. When these requests come to us, we charge and load test batteries and go through a checklist that includes winter oil, winter grease, and checking pumps, hoses, wear parts, and other components that could fail under harsh conditions.

Download our winter checklist guide

Tip #2: Go beyond the basics.

Once a machine is in the shop, it makes sense to do an overall check for any component that's approaching the end of life – it's much cheaper to replace a defective wear part in the shop than it is to fix it when it fails on an ice road or in a remote location.

Chaunce: When doing a pre-winter inspection, it's a good idea to look at the condition of various wear parts. Given the various supply chain issues, this helps us forecast requirements for these parts and ensure that we have them when our customers need them. If we know that a machine part is nearing end of life, we'll be ready when the customer calls us mid-season. Otherwise, we all face supply and demand issues which can cause delays in receiving appropriate parts to get the machine up and running.

Stephen: If a component fails 900 km from a service centre, it will cost significantly more dollars in travel time to get there, with limited tools and equipment to fix the machine. There could also be a waiting period. Ultimately, it's much cheaper to do these things while the machine is in the shop.

Tip #3: Plan for the worst.

When it comes to preparing for extreme conditions, there's no economy in cutting corners.

Stephen: We treat equipment the same way, whether it will be exposed to minus 10 degrees or minus 45. We had record low temperatures in various regions in recent years, so you can never be sure what to expect. Sometimes, you may not know where the equipment will end up. When we prepare equipment for winter, I am confident that our customers can send it anywhere in the world.

Tip #4: Save it for the spring!

If your equipment is idle for the winter, save the routine items for the spring.

Thierry: If equipment is parked for the winter, you want to wait until spring to check things like the batteries and the fluid levels. Take care of the big steps during the winter so that the machine is in good shape, but you can complete a full inspection before the spring season starts and the machine needs to be ready to run. It also makes sense to store equipment indoors whenever possible, which is advice I share.

Tip #5: Equip your operators to stay safe.

When itemizing preparations for winter operations, always remember that operator safety overrides all other considerations.

Terry: If something goes wrong with a piece of equipment, an operator could be stuck in the middle of nowhere in an unheated cab. We supply our people in the field with warm clothing. We also have auxiliary heaters for them to use, emergency tarps, and take many other safety precautions. Communication is critical – we have satellite communications in case they are in a no-cell service area. The point is that working in the wintertime is not about production so much as staying safe.

Tip #6: Take special care with emission systems.

Selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology, which greatly improves the environmental performance of modern diesel engines, is new to many people in the field. Still, it's critical for operators and support personnel to understand how the technology works.

Terry: The biggest knowledge gap is about the current tier-4 emission control systems. SCR systems use diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), which freezes at -12 degrees C. We provide special heating equipment to deal with that, but many people aren't aware of the problem.

You can't ignore this because the emission system can shut down a machine or limit it to an idle. So, in addition to having downtime, the operator might be stuck in a remote location with no heat in the cab.

Tip #7: Get help on specialty systems.

Modern construction equipment has more features than it did years ago, and many specialty attachments require special attention.

Thierry: Many people who work on construction equipment are general mechanics who know how to keep equipment operating but aren't trained on specific equipment. The problem is that there may be issues that they don't see. For example, we might see premature wear on a belt that might indicate another problem. You have to know the equipment pretty well to see that.

Chaunce: When our technicians assess the equipment condition, they use an ultrasonic tool to measure the state of wear parts and then compare the reading with the specification for the new part. That way, they get an accurate reading on when that part would likely fail.

The bottom line:

Winter operation is like a stress test – the stresses on the equipment are amplified, and at the same time, the downsides of unexpected equipment failure are the most severe. Fall is the right time to ensure that equipment will run trouble-free throughout the winter, and pre-winter maintenance is a perfect time to check the condition of major wear parts to ensure that replacements are available when required.

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