Equipment: Get Ready Now To Maximize Success

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Retailer, grower

From the first day you go to the field in the spring, the application season is a race — something like a daily Indianapolis 500. Before the green flag is unfurled, there are steps ag retailers can take to optimize their performance this season.

Both preseason and structured in-season maintenance can help keep your machines in the field, your customers smiling and your business ahead of the competition.  And, better maintenance means your machines will operate at a higher level this season — producing more accurate application of high-priced inputs and more satisfied growers. Long-term benefits of well-maintained equipment include a longer useful life, safer operation, and higher resale value at trade-in time.

Whether you have the expertise to do the work yourself or prefer to rely on your equipment dealer’s service technicians, there are some basic components that should receive a careful eye well before it’s time to go to the field and on a regular basis throughout the season.

Checking The Lists 

Paul Haefner, marketing specialist with AGCO‘s Application Equipment Division, has been working with the big machines for 13 years and offers this checklist as a starting point for preseason inspection. He also suggests reviewing the owner’s manual for comprehensive maintenance checklists for preseason inspection and in-season maintenance, as well as recommended service intervals.

Product Delivery Systems. Haefner reports these systems, most important for accurate application, are often the most neglected. Check and properly calibrate the flow meter, product pump, control valve, controller, plumbing, boom valves, nozzles and nozzle bodies. Replace worn components, especially nozzles. Bag test the calibration of air applicators and pan test spreaders as well. Calibrate the radar gun to ensure it’s accurate. Then, make certain correct numbers are entered into the application console.

Wiring. Be sure wiring is intact and protective wiring looms are in place and secure to prevent pulling or rubbing.

Tires. Today’s machines haul huge loads at high speeds and are equipped with heavy-duty tires designed to take a beating. Even though they’re engineered for the task, don’t take them for granted. Closely inspect tires for cracks and damage to the lugs. Check proper tire inflation with a tire gauge. In-season tire pressure should be checked at least weekly. While you’re there, re-torque the wheel bolts.

Grease points. Check all grease points to ensure they will take grease and that nothing is rusted or seized up, particularly those in the steering components. During the season, grease per the operator’s manual directions.

Booms. Booms can take a beating in the field, and are often victims of trees or poles. Verify booms are folding in and out correctly. Check actuators and hydraulic components as well.

Hydraulic System. Since most machines have hydraulic drives, it’s important to inspect all hydraulic hoses for abrasion and wear. Patch or replace as needed and install guards to prevent future problems. Close attention to hydraulic hoses is often the biggest way to prevent downtime in season.

Drive train. With the engine warm, ensure the drive system will reach maximum speeds in each gear range.

Fluids and Filters. Replace all filters and change all fluids at scheduled intervals.  Be sure to check fluid levels after refilling. Fuel tanks also should be drained to eliminate sediments from the system and water that may have condensed during the off-season.

Air Filters. Pre-season, check and replace the engine air filter and all cab filters.  Cab filters should be checked every 250 hours and cleaned or replaced as needed.

Belts, Chains, Hardware and Fasteners. Check for wear on belts and chains and replace appropriately. Visually inspect all hardware and fasteners to make certain they are in place, properly tightened, and free of rust.

Safety Equipment. Lighting should be functional for both roadway and field operation. Fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and fresh water wash tanks should be on board and ready for use.

Using The Dealer Network

If this list seems long and you’re short of time, manpower, or expertise to complete your own preseason inspection, many dealers offer options for comprehensive preventative maintenance inspection programs preseason and in-season.

Loren Steenstra, a field service technician for Ziegler Ag Equipment, spends the winter doing preseason inspections for the company’s application customers within a 75-mile radius of his home base — Ziegler’s Jackson, MN, facility.

“Many of our ag retail customers are running short on help that is experienced with the equipment, so they rely on us for preseason inspection and maintenance,” says Steenstra. “Our 4-hour inspection goes deeper than what the operators can do themselves and includes fluid analysis for each component. Analysis results come back from the lab in as little as 24 hours and can detect problems such as bearing failures, engine wear, seal failure, and many other deficiencies before they become a problem in the field later on.”

Depending on the dealer, the preseason inspection costs around $400 and results in a full report of findings, as well as a detailed estimate and parts list for any recommended repairs. In some cases, the cost of the inspection is applied toward the labor for needed repairs or waived with a qualifying repair order. In any case, considering machines often cover 700 to 1,000 acres per day during the season, the preseason inspection and repairs can pay for themselves quickly by keeping the machines in the field.

Educating customers about the importance of proper maintenance is a big part of the service provided by Altorfer Ag Products, Clinton, IL. During the past two years, Altorfer has hosted customer meetings to train operators and owners on proper preventative maintenance and operation of application equipment. 

“With the conditions these machines operate under, you can’t put the machine in the shed in the fall, pull it out in the spring, and expect your performance to be perfect,” says Derek Strunk, shop service manager for Altorfer. “Preventative maintenance inspections should be done before equipment is put away, and repairs done before the season begins. Operators can help this process by making a list of things they know need to be fixed so machines are ready to go when they’re called upon in the spring.”

About 50% of the application equipment customers served by Altorfer turn to the dealer and its mobile service crew for contract preseason maintenance and inspection service.

“The machines are changing fast, and our customers know we have extensive training and experience with the equipment, particularly the electronics,” says Strunk. “There are a lot of high-tech components involved, and this equipment runs in the worst possible conditions for computers — dirt, moisture, and fertilizer — which can cause some serious problems.

“Every one of the newer RoGator and TerraGator machines ties into a laptop computer for diagnosis, which really helps us uncover a problem faster and more accurately and also saves money for our customers,” he says.

Altorfer has numerous mobile field service technicians based across the territory. When an in-season repair is necessary, technicians usually respond within 24 hours and are equipped to complete nearly any repair right in the field. In many cases, parts ordered by 4 p.m. in-season can be delivered by 8 a.m. the following day to a convenient location near the customer.

“Our customers are getting bigger and covering more ground, and it’s important to us to keep them in the field maximizing their uptime and their profitability. Proper maintenance is a big part of that.  When they do need service, our technicians are literally equipped with a mobile repair shop in the field,” Strunk relates. “That includes a welder, a 5-ton crane, air compressor, 20-ton air jack, and a full complement of tools and a selection of common parts. We can pull an engine in the field if that’s needed to get the customer back to work.”

Weeda is a writer for Broadhead + Co., Minneapolis, MN.

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