Don’t Pullback on Maintenance

Often when a routine task becomes mundane, we look for alternative ways to break out of the rut. Yet trenchless experts like Bob Evans, Global Service Manager of the Vermeer Underground division with Vermeer, are firm believers that an established, well-disciplined routine is exactly what's required when it comes to compact drill maintenance.

Routine TasksOften when a routine task becomes mundane, we look for alternative ways to break out of the rut. Yet trenchless experts like Bob Evans, Global Service Manager of the Vermeer Underground division with Vermeer, are firm believers that an established, well-disciplined routine is exactly whatís required when it comes to compact drill maintenance. And while manufacturers go to great lengths to educate, illustrate and demonstrate important maintenance procedures, there are occasions — especially during crunch times ó when operators may become less diligent about performing routine maintenance.

“When performing maintenance chores becomes — excuse the pun — boring, compact drill operators and owners are probably doing their jobs,” says Evans. “Being diligent about maintenance may not be the most exciting thing about operating a directional drill, but we can make a good case for why it’s important. It’s all about the basics.”

“There’s often a mindset of ‘I can get by for another hour, or day, or week longer;’ especially when swamped with work and short on time,” says Evans. “The reality is that every increment of time that passes beyond what manufacturers recommend as a service interval will likely contribute to premature wear. We may think we’re saving time — at the moment ó but the chances are good that delaying maintenance will catch up with us at some point down the road.”

Diagnostics Complement Inspections

As computer technology and engineering innovations have helped to simplify many of the most common maintenance points, there’s also become a mindset that because many of these important functions are computer-monitored, the operator will be warned when something operational is going haywire. Evans warns against relying solely on the drill’s computer and diagnostics capabilities to be the end-all, warn-all, because not all items are monitored. Diagnostics should be viewed as another tool that complements visual inspections.

“Operators should not be lured into a false sense of security where diagnostics are concerned,” he says. “There’s still nothing more effective than visual checks and inspections. That said, operators should be especially mindful of computer warnings and stop operation immediately when alerted. If operation continues, the likelihood that potential damage will occur increases.

“It’s important for the customer and the dealer to discuss wear items so the customer understands when a particular item has reached the end of its useful life,” Evans continues. “It’s imperative that operators understand the significance of ignoring the visual indicators that can only be derived by inspection and observation.”

VermeerBecome One with the Rig

An important component for keeping a compact drill — or any piece of construction equipment for that matter — in top condition is for operators to have an intimate understanding of the machine. The more that drill operators understand about the capabilities of specific drill models, the better they will become at operating them more efficiently. This can be a challenge for municipalities where pairing a dedicated operator to a specific machine may not always be possible.

“Don’t push it,” says Evans. “Most machine failures occur when operators try to get more out of a drill than it may be capable of handling. This is even truer of compact rigs, because there can often be a tendency to push smaller drills beyond their maximum capacity, just to see how much they can actually accomplish. That practice can lead to problems.”

According to Evans, daily oil checks and greasing isn’t the problem, but rather being disciplined about visual inspections that are so necessary for identifying potential major service issues before they occur. “I think the term ‘maintenance’ is often misconstrued as tending to the simple things,” says Evans. “For the most part, operators do a good job of checking oil and hydraulic fluids and understand when fluids’ appearance doesn’t look quite right. Where some operators may need to be more diligent is in completing visual inspections. A leaky seal or hose or signs of wear on other items —like the drill stem — are usually indications that bigger problems are on the horizon.”

Stems from Abuse

The drill rod, while likely the most expensive consumable, is often the most overlooked. The tendency is for most operators to exceed the minimum bend radius — a practice that most often occurs due to the relative tight working conditions of most jobs employing compact drills. Exceeding maximum bend radii puts an extraordinary amount of stress on the rod, which is why inspecting before and after use is so important.
Rod threads should be checked to make sure they are clear and properly lubricated and threads should never be used dry. Operators should follow manufacturer recommendations using only the lubricants specified for a particular rod. The threads should also be checked for wear, removing any lengths that are visibly worn. Operators should also check for any bent rods, as a rod that is bent transfers additional stress to adjacent rods in the string and contributes to the possibility of failures. Bent rods should also be discarded.
“Rotating drill stem rods will help extend rod life,” says Evans. “Lead rods endure the greatest amount of stress during drilling. So moving lead rods to a different location within the drill stem string will help extend drill rod life. Leaving the same rods in the same position from job to job will compromise drill stem strength sooner. Also, the condition of the drive chuck threads should be checked and replaced if damaged or worn threads are found.”

While inspecting the drill stems, be sure to take a good look at the vice as well, paying special attention to the jaw assembly for wear or chipping. Also, check to see if pivot points at the wrench and cylinder ends are loose, and replace any worn bushings and pins as needed. It’s also important that all grease fittings will accept grease and are greased as needed. Fittings that won’t accept grease are an indication that there’s likely a potential problem brewing.


Keeping the hydraulic system of any drill in top operating condition should rank among an operator’s top priorities. The importance of completing a daily walkaround to check for hydraulic oil leaks is crucial in helping to contain smaller problems before they magnify into something significant.

“Small leaks turn into larger ones,î”says Evans. “Catching leaks before they become something of the magnitude that threatens drill operation is what’s important. Operators should also look for dampness, as this is a sign of potential problems. These non-dripping leaks usually occur at the hose crimp or at the point of the thread of the fitting and are a good indication that a hose failure will occur.”

Evans says that hydraulic filters should also be checked regularly. Most hydraulic filters utilize O-rings as a sealing component, and simply tightening the fitting may not fix leak problems. O-rings need to be replaced as necessary, and it’s important to recognize that the O-rings used in hydraulic fittings differ from those found in many off-the-shelf assortment kits, as they differ in hardness and size. Again, the best rule of thumb is to follow manufacturer recommendations for the specific O-ring grade required for high-pressure and temperature hydraulic use.

Keep It Clean, Fellas

The best way to keep compact drill engines running at peak performance is to follow manufacturer recommendations — service protocol that is especially important moving into Tier 4 engine applications.
“Regardless of the brand, compact drill operators need to remember that Tier 4-compliant engines are no longer self-servicing units,” says Evans. “Many of the service requirements now reside at the dealership, or in some cases, the engine vendor for servicing. Aside from things like checking and changing engine oil and keeping hydraulic oil cooler clean and free of debris, a common thing often overlooked is changing the antifreeze at regular intervals.”

And lastly, general machine cleanliness goes a long way toward keeping the machine well maintained and operational. “The outward appearance of a drill tells me a lot about how it’s being maintained,” says Evans. “Clean drills are easier to inspect, service and safer to operate. It only takes a few minutes at the end of every work day to clean a machine before the next inspection. The machine will thank you and reward the owner/operator with greater productivity, efficiency and a longer, more useful life.”  

Randy Happel is a Features Writer for Two Rivers Marketing, based in Des Moines, Iowa. 

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