Maintaining Loaders and Backhoes

November 2010, Government Fleet - Feature

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

Loaders and backhoes at the City of San Antonio have an eight-year lifecycle. Preventive maintenance is based on the calendar year, with different PM levels performed monthly. Pictured is the City’s equipment from Samsung.

While loaders and backhoes don't constitute a large percentage of public sector fleets, they are an essential part of many construction and public works projects. A loader, normally used to lift and move materials on the ground, can be equipped with a backhoe for digging, called a loader-backhoe.

This equipment is used for a variety of purposes across various public agencies. Fleet managers and maintenance equipment supervisors from Snohomish County, Wash., Department of Public Works Fleet Management Division; Collier County, Fla., Fleet Management Department; and City of San Antonio Department of Public Works Fleet Services Division discuss acquisition, maintenance, and tips for ­managing loader-backhoe maintenance.

Approaching Purchasing and Training

To attain the best price and ensure fair purchases, most public sector fleets procure loader and backhoe equipment (and other equipment) through ­competitive bidding.

According to Allen Mitchell, CPFP, fleet manager for Snohomish County, the County also purchases equipment through state contracts that allow municipal purchases. Of its total 386 off-highway fleet vehicles, Snohomish County maintains 17 loader-backhoes used in paving operations, as portable compactors, for road projects, and for use at a mining quarry. The equipment includes units from Case, Kubota, John Deere, Caterpillar, Bobcat, and ­Hyundai.

Florencio Peña, assistant director of the City of San Antonio Department of Public Works, who manages the Fleet Services Division, explained that fleet works with the user department to understand its operational requirements and works with manufacturers in a pre-bid meeting to ensure comparable specs are developed for fair bidding. The City of San Antonio, which maintains 15 backhoes and 25 loaders from Terex, New Holland, JCB, Case, Hyundai, and Samsung, will only use a cooperative purchase agreement if an expedited ­purchase is needed.

Specifications for loaders and backhoes can depend on the user department or geographic location. "We always buy cabs, heaters, and air conditioning for a broad temperature operating environment," said Mitchell of Snohomish County. He said this also helps keep out dust and ­contaminants.

Mario Menendez, fleet maintenance supervisor for Collier County, said the County's policy is to  allow the user department to choose features and accessories as long as they are justified and within budget. Collier County owns and maintains 23 units (seven front-end loaders and 14 loader-backhoe combinations) from Caterpillar, John Deere, Case, Ford, and New Holland, used in solid waste and recycling centers, for road maintenance and general material handling, water department projects, and beach maintenance.

San Antonio sometimes includes rippers in its specs, mainly for street operation use, where breaking up concrete is needed, and at mulching centers.

Operator and technician training can be completed in a number of ways, which include studying parts and service manuals and watching instructional DVDs that come with the equipment. However, on-site training is also often written into the bid to familiarize operators and technicians with new equipment.

According to Peña, San Antonio ­requires on-site training for both operators and technicians for new or unfamiliar equipment. The Fleet Services Division meets with the user department and the superintendent of heavy equipment to decide how much training the bid should include. "It depends on the equipment, but it can be anywhere from two hours to two days," Peña said. He added that retraining is provided on an as-needed basis.

Mitchell explained training usually takes place within 15-30 days of equipment delivery and additional refreshers are sometimes purchased. Menendez added that private companies specializing in hydraulic and electric training may also come in to train staff.

Equipment safety features include standard or available lockout/tag-outs, wheel chocks and blocks, guards, and covers. Fleet managers agree safety features should be kept unmodified.

Common sense plays a large role in equipment safety, according to Menendez. "Never crawl into confined spaces in an articulating loader or any other equipment unless you have disabled the starting mechanism," he said. "Report damaged holds, ladders, or steps as soon as possible to a supervisor."

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