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CTS Maintenance Tips to Extend Equipment Life

by: Scott McKinley, Product Manager, Ditch Witch
Landscapers and dedicated green industry professionals know that the key to success lies in their machines. Whether operating a ride-on trencher or walk-behind machine, it’s the performance parts – the chain, teeth and sprockets (CTS) – that often determine the productivity of an operation. In other words, when faced with the cost of a new digging equipment, contractors often look at the CTS system to extend the life of their equipment and get the highest ROI. One of the most important items industry professionals can do to extend the life of their CTS components and maintain jobsite efficiency is to be diligent with regular maintenance and equipment best practices.

However, it is not always easy to know when maintenance on the CTS system is required or what visual clues are indicative of equipment repairs. This is especially true as one part of the CTS system can often wear at a different rate than the others. But with consistent care and routine maintenance, contractors can keep trenchers digging deep and running smoothly for the long haul.
Here are some maintenance best practices for a trencher’s chain, teeth and sprockets that will keep machines hard at work.

Know the Equipment’s Limits
One of the most common causes of CTS wear and tear occurs when a system is forced to perform a task beyond what the machine is designed to do. Many contractors think that if the trencher’s engine starts, then the digging system is good to go. But depending on the jobsite conditions where the equipment is being used, the CTS components need more frequent monitoring to maintain jobsite efficiency.

To ensure that trenchers are in peak condition, it’s important to know the limitations of the machine and correctly match the CTS system to the conditions that they are digging in. Not properly outfitting the CTS system with the correct chain and teeth for the ground conditions can lead to increased wear and tear on the digging system and trencher unit – ultimately causing costly downtime.

Visual Clues are Key
But what exactly should contractors look for when inspecting their CTS components? One answer is an apple core. The main wear component on a digging system are the chain rollers. If the rollers start to look like an apple core – or if the pin is visible – then it’s time to replace it. Because the roller is the one component of the CTS system that is constantly used, operators should be sure to inspect it often.

While looking at the rollers, it’s also important to inspect the sprockets. Sprockets are engineered to interact with the trencher chain to enhance the overall performance and wear life of all digging components. When the teeth on a sprocket start “thinning” it is time for a replacement. It is strongly recommended that customers replace the head-shaft sprocket when replacing the digging chain. Not changing the sprocket will likely lead to premature wear on the new chain and will end up costing you more money.

Minimize Tooth Trauma
Another indicator of CTS component wear and tear can be seen on the trencher’s teeth. Manufacturers like Ditch Witch often apply carbide to reinforce the strength of the teeth and extend the life of a machine. However, when that carbide begins to wear down to the base steel, the tooth becomes worn and risks breaking off.

A worn-down tooth can negatively impact a machine’s efficiency. For example, when the front tooth begins to thin – and it is not addressed – the other teeth are then forced to take more of the shock load and the brunt of the labor. This can prematurely wear out the other teeth and risk the loss of teeth altogether. As a best practice, contractors should either replace teeth that have worn down right away or replace all the teeth together. This will help save time, money, and minimize additional tooth wear and tear.

The Right Amount of Tension
Chain tension plays an important role in how the machine operates. Improperly tensioned chains will lead to premature wear and will not perform as well. To prevent abnormal wear and tear on trencher chains, operators should ensure that the chain has the appropriate tension by regularly checking its fit. This will ultimately improve productivity and prevent any lost revenue from efficiency lags or downtime. The proper tension for a trencher chain can be found in the operator’s manual for the equipment.
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Chains are available in multiple sizes for a variety of different trenchers. When checking the tension, contractors should ensure the chain is not sagging or too tight. If chains do begin to sag, they’ll vibrate the equipment and cause unnecessary wear; if chains are too tight, different wear patterns on the sprocket or sidebars will begin to appear. It’s important for contractors to keep in mind that larger trenchers require bigger chains that will require more sag than smaller equipment. As such, industry experts agree that a good rule of thumb when checking proper chain tension on a standard walk-behind trencher is that two to three fingers should fit between the chain and the lower part of the boom.

Know the Soil Conditions

Success is all about using the right tool for the job. For trenchers, that means knowing the correct tooth configuration for the kind of soil and ground conditions on the jobsite. Not only will this help extend the life of the trencher, but it will also keep operators efficient and profitable.

For example, a cup tooth is the standard utility tooth for most soil conditions. It is designed for soft and medium-type soils and has a scooped shape. Due to natural wear and tear, cup teeth will often lose their hard surface. Signs of excessive wear are noticeable at the wider points of the teeth, and wear will begin to show into the body of the tooth. In cases of extreme wear, the tooth will shear off, drastically reducing productivity.

Another tooth that plays an important role in the digging process is the shark tooth. Named for its resemblance to a shark’s tooth, it is designed to pick and break through harder soil. This is ideal for operators trenching through rocky or frozen ground. However, it’s important for contractors to frequently check for fractures or chips in the teeth and replace them immediately to minimize equipment damage and downtime.

If a jobsite is filled with rocky soil, an alligator tooth can help contractors stay efficient. It constantly rotates while in operation, meaning that the teeth chip away at different parts of the soil throughout the digging process. However, if contractors notice any teeth at a standstill, they should inspect the teeth immediately and replace as necessary. Regardless of soil conditions, it’s always best practice for contractors to consult their local Ditch Witch dealer to help ensure they are set up for success.

Maintenance for Success
When it comes to extending the life of a trencher and improving the bottom line, following best practices and adhering to recommended maintenance tasks play a critical role. Not all soil is created equal, and every piece of equipment has its limitations. Contractors who perform routine maintenance, check for signs of wear and tear, replace broken teeth immediately and ensure they have the correct tension on the chain will be set up for success.

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