A Little TLC for A Lot of Machine Performance

Words: Joanne Anderson

Words: Joanne M. Anderson
Photos: Pettibone 

Telehandlers are some of the most useful, reliable, well-designed pieces of equipment in the construction and masonry industries. They were an instant hit coming on the scene in 1977, the same year Elvis died, personal computers by Apple and Commodore were sold, and “Star Wars” was released on the big screen. The film budget was $11 million, and thus far, box office receipts top $775 million. 

This functional, intriguing forklift-backhoe-crane combo was developed by the farm equipment company Matbro in England. The name is derived from its owners, the Mathew brothers. When the company went under in 2003, John Deere purchased many of the designs, sub-licensing them to Terex. This corporation, based in Westport, CN., began in 1933 as Euclid Company. The current name is a blend of “terra” for the earth and “rex” forking. This king-of-the-earth has annual revenues of more than $4 billion and continues to develop, modify and optimize heavy equipment.

There are now several manufacturers of telehandlers, with some exceeding work heights of 65 feet and load capacities of more than six tons. Many offer 4-way steering, 2-way steering, and a crab steering option. Pettibone, founded in 1881, developed its Traverse machine with a horizontal traveling boom because it can place loads more precisely and safely than driving a load into position. 

Our commitment to superior performance is evident in every feature of every machine we produce. Solid construction. Smart features. Heavy capacities. Long reaches. It all adds up to some of the best engineered, most reliable, highest-performing material handling equipment on the planet. [gopettibone.com]

Knowing what you need in any piece of equipment may seem obvious, but when it comes to trucks pulling trailers and telehandlers lifting masonry products, it’s imperative to understand load weights. One of the most common mistakes in hauling horses is not about the horses or the trailer, but all about having the proper size truck to pull a multi-ton load safely. It’s the same with a flatbed loaded with a bulldozer and telehandlers managing pallets of bricks and CMUs. The risks are great if power is not enough, yet there’s no call for the additional expense in having more than necessary. Like the porridge, it needs to be just right. 

“Someone in the market for a telehandler needs to know not only if they need a 10,000-pound max capacity, but also how far they expect to be extending the load,” explains Mitch Fedie, marketing manager for Pettibone. Also, he cautions on evaluating likely job site conditions. “More commonly now there are telehandlers that have a high horsepower option or a lower horsepower option. If you'll be using it in muddy conditions, you're going to want a higher horsepower machine. But if it will be on paved ground, you could be fine with a lower horsepower.”

Attention to Detail and Total Concentration

Willie Sutton (1901-1980) indulged in a 40-year career in a bank robbery, stealing some $2 million and spending more than half his adult life in prison. In response to a reporter’s question why he robbed banks, he supposedly responded “because that’s where the money is.” Well, he is reputed to have stated: “Success in any endeavor requires single-minded attention to detail and total concentration.” With regard to telehandler maintenance and operation, Mr. Sutton is spot on about attention to detail and total concentration.

“There are several grease points for the boom,” Fedie says. “You want to make sure all of them are greased to prevent friction which then wears out pieces and pads more quickly. Without adequate grease, the boom gear can get sticky, might make a chattering noise, and the load may not move efficiently. There are grease points at different sway cylinders and other places.” Anything grinding on metal is not going to last or function properly. The boom should be lubricated every 8 hours or every day.

The user’s manual for a telehandler outlines comprehensive lists and instructions for routine maintenance, safety, and troubleshooting. Attention to detail is imperative for the equipment to operate as intended for a very long time. Total concentration is required during operation for the safety and protection of the operator, people in the vicinity, and effective movement and placement of very heavy, valuable loads. 

Everyone who operates a telehandler needs to be trained not only in the basics of moving the machinery but also in the visual inspection before turning the key. They need to be alert to leaks, rust, damage, fluid levels, tires and lugs, safety guards, secure clamps, and anything that doesn’t look right. 

One sometimes overlooked item, according to Fedie, is the diesel exhaust fluid. “Our higher horse machines require diesel exhaust fluid in a separate reservoir from the fuel tank. It basically sprays into the exhaust system and reduces engine emissions. But this stuff has a shelf life, so it can get old. Make sure that you have fresh diesel exhaust fluid because if you don't, the machine will eventually stop. It can lock you out where it will just idle but can't be moved.”

There’s usually an error code from the onboard computer which comes up if there’s no diesel exhaust fluid, and at that point, one may need to call a technician to come to the job site and flash or reset the computer. When a computer geek is needed because someone did not grease, oil, or add clean diesel exhaust fluid, no one is happy for the cost in downtime and tech services. Again, the owner’s manual should be reviewed thoroughly by the mechanic or team responsible for maintenance. There’s a lot of it – maintenance - but there’s a lot of machines here performing a lot of tasks with a lot of weight and a lot of function. It’s worth taking a lot of care with its maintenance for its dependability.

Fedie, like anyone else in the industry, tosses out cautions on personal maintenance as well. “Make sure every telehandler operator wears safety glasses, a hard hat or bump cap, steel-toed boots, and gloves. It's also important if you suspect a hydraulic oil leak that you don't put your hand over where you think the leak is. It can be a pinhole leak, and the fluid can be so powerful that it can puncture your skin. Always place a piece of cardboard over a leak.” Then report it to the maintenance crew before trying to use the telehandler.

However cliché it may be: Time Is Money. “Once a piece of equipment breaks down more than it is operating, and parts are costing more than the payment on a new machine, well, it’s time to consider replacing your telehandler,” Fedie relates. “You’re not making any money if you can’t keep the project moving forward because of idle, broken telehandler equipment.” All along the way, however, Fedie concludes: “It’s the simple things that you can do on a daily or monthly basis that go a long way to assuring that your machine has the maximum amount of uptime. I know a lot of contractors are very cognizant of this and make sure that they're their employees and operators know it as well.” 

A high quality, well-greased, and expertly cared-for telehandler’s usefulness can be measured in decades. And that alone is worth every minute spent on visual inspection, in-depth examination, check-ups, tune-ups, and sufficient grease, oil, and TLC. 

Joanne M. Anderson is an experienced freelance writer and the editorial director for the new national Fins Life Magazine, a 66-page, ad-free, hammock reading publication about sun, surf, sand, tropical island fare, and the people who love it all. www.finslife.com

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