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Hey Prairie Dawg, “What are some best simple practices to maintain my Sand and Gravel operation?”

Usually by the time our customers are calling me they have gone just little further running the plant in hopes of finishing the job than maybe they should have. For this topic, we will determine some simple maintenance checks and practices that can really save the day today — and possibly tomorrow too.

  • What are the most practical parts to keep on hand?
  • When is it better to stop and repair something before it turns into a much larger problem?
  • What typically defines a little problem versus the big one?
  • What simple daily practices can we implement to help in eliminating unnecessary repairs?

Most aggregate producing locations have many pieces of equipment working in unison that often require regular maintenance personnel for each shift of operation per the manufacturer’s suggested maintenance schedules. These persons are most critical in keeping the plant operational daily until something either breaks or fails beyond the routine maintenance expectations. Breakdowns are quickly assessed and the determination is made whether to wait just a bit longer or an immediate shutdown is best. Often the “wait just a bit longer” seems to win the call. Based upon experience this is the decision more often than not as the specialty repair parts needed usually aren’t sitting on the shelf and may take a few days to arrive, which brings up my first topic.

  • What parts are best and most practical to have in inventory without breaking the bank?

This all depends upon location but some great starter items would include multiple bearings, idlers, pulleys and motors — or other items with a shorter run life, and items used for multiple pieces of equipment.

A great practical exercise to consider when buying equipment is to make sure it is manufactured with specific details that compliment other pieces already owned. NOTE: Most large-scale operations such as mining installations live by this theory to help with their massive spare parts overhead. They instruct their design engineers to create very detail-specific RFQ documents and design criteria under this very principal when making future expansions.

  • When breakdowns occur when the parts are on the shelf, it is definitely best to stop and repair it quickly before it leads to a more expensive repair. For instance, replacing an entire conveyor belt because the one bearing that failed resulted in a misaligned pulley, causing the conveyor belt to track out of alignment and consequently cut 6-8 inches of the edge off of the belt and then the belting started to cut directly into the steel lattice structure of the conveyor frame. This could easily have been eliminated if repaired two weeks earlier when it was first noticed. And, yes I realize it is usually the one bearing which is the most difficult to change — located behind the gear reducer drive and way up in the air.
  • Little problems are unexpected but can usually be resolved within 4-5 hours and it is my opinion that they should be taken care of before it turns into something of greater downtime. Larger problems are typically repairs that require planned or scheduled downtime and often require outside assistance from the manufacturer’s local dealer organization and the manufacturer themselves especially if warranty is in question. These larger types of scheduled repairs are often internal, and are considered precision based repairs, systems operation controls and monitoring devices, and all things structural. These breakdowns should not be bandaged or bypassed in order to limp along until the job is finished — unless you enjoy playing with dynamite. Continuing to operate with this type of repair may put a plant out of commission upward of 8-10 weeks and will likely result in expensive renting of a backup machine if available.

So what are the simple items that can be done each day that will help keep our operation up and running and eliminate costly repairs?

  • Housekeeping is number one, keep all moving components clear of dirt and debris as best as possible. Maintain clear work platforms and catwalks so that the routine maintenance persons are able to access all the moving parts without issue for their daily inspection process.
  • Follow and maintain all manufacturers daily and weekly preventative maintenance (PM) schedules and keep daily logs of these activities. It’s amazing what proper bearing greasing will save in dollars along with oil and filter changes in both hydraulic and gear case systems. Make sure all crankcase breathers are operable and free of debris and not missing the cover or internal screening/filter elements.
  • Knock out the simple repairs quickly, especially those pesky wear parts needing replacement all the time.
  • Keep all electrical controls and wiring clear of dust and debris that may create premature electrical failure or cause motor overheating and short circuiting.
  • Award employees for keeping the plant running smoothly and meeting targeted production goals by maintaining uptime with a monthly appreciation lunch

There are thousands of moving parts and all of the above suggestions are proven to play a critical part in better maintaining the equipment within an operation and often times the entire process may take a dedicated position or simply an outside resource to get all the pieces into place for a long term of success.

Questions? Tim Holmberg at



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