It's Gotta Be the Shoes

Compact track loaders are real work horses. But like real horses, they can go a lot further and do a lot more with the right shoes on. And in the case of compact track loaders, those shoes are, in fact, the tracks they run on.

The right tracks make the difference in your compact track loader performance.
The right tracks make the difference in your compact track loader performance.

If you have compact track loaders (CTLs) in your fleet, then you know these machines are real workhorses. But they can go a lot further and do a lot more with the right tracks to run on.

When selecting tracks for your compact track loaders, the first step is to consider the application the machine will be most often used for. Lysandre Michaud-Verreault with Camso, maker of OEM and aftermarket tracks, advises choosing a track based on the sort of catastrophic events that could arise under your normal working conditions — in other words, the worst-case scenario — and use that as a baseline. For example, if your machines are most often used in turf applications, you won’t have the same potential for failure as you would if your machines are typically used in demolition settings.

Secondly, think about weather, terrain and other variables that may influence track choice. “Wide tracks with deep treads do better in marshy, snowy and icy conditions than standard tracks because of the increased traction and lower ground pressure,” notes Bill Wake, director of product development, ASV. “Use tracks with little or no tread when turf damage is a concern, such as on golf courses or manicured lawns. Standard tracks are effective for most common applications.”

Style Matters

ASV uses rubber tracks on all of its models, but most other manufacturers’ CTLs use rubber track embedded with metal pieces and steel cable to increase durability. As such, Wake says it’s important to choose the correct style of track for the specific machine. Also check the equipment manual to pick the correct size of track.

Camso Track1Each track manufacturer offers unique features to extend the life and increase the durability of its tracks.CAMSOWhile most rubber-embedded track might look similar, there are many differences between them. “A good rubber track is one that lowers your operating costs in the application you’re running,” says Michaud-Verreault. “What differentiates them is the rubber compound, the tread design, the carcass thickness, iron core and alignment of steel cables.”

She notes that each track manufacturer offers unique features to extend the life and increase the durability of its tracks. Camso, for example, offers its CTL SD tracks featuring single-cure technology for even tread wear and long, predictable tread life. An optimized zigzag tread pattern maintains traction throughout tread life, while endless high-tensile steel cables help to eliminate unexpected downtime due to cable/track breakage. The Trackguard iron core improves rolling path life for enhanced durability.

The Camso CTL HXD heavy-duty tracks feature an optimized H-type tread pattern and endless high-tensile steel cables to handle severe applications.

ASV offers three styles of rubber tracks with different tread depths. The aggressive style has a deep tread for maximum traction, while the standard is effective for everyday applications. Turf tracks have no tread at all for minimal turf damage in highly manicured areas such as golf courses or lawns.

Check for Quality

According to Wake, the most reliable way to ensure tracks are of high quality is to buy directly from the original equipment manufacturer rather than choosing lower-priced aftermarket tracks.

ASVRT75Application Dirt“Customers are guaranteed quality and aftersale support when they buy from the OEM,” he says. “There’s no way for a buyer to know how a set of aftermarket tracks were made, if they’re manufactured from quality materials and whether there will be aftersale support from the seller. Anyone can pour rubber into a mold and create a good-looking track, but it’s what’s inside the track as a result of years of engineering and testing that matters.”

He advises, “Look for tracks that contain embedded co-polymer cords for extra strength, and that are manufactured with circular press technology and produced using a single-cure process, eliminating cure-point weaknesses in the track that can lead to premature breakage.”

Michaud-Verreault adds that quality is mainly determined by the components of the tracks. “The difference is not visible to the eye — except for the tread pattern — and goes back to rubber compound, carcass thickness, iron core and the alignment of steel cables.,” she states. “What’s most important when selecting a CTL track is to match it with your application and its severity, which will determine the quality level you will need.”

What’s Under There?

In addition to the tracks themselves, there’s the undercarriage to consider. There are two types of undercarriages: rigid and suspension.

Michael Shebetka, product manager, Takeuchi-US, explains that in a rigid-mount frame, the left and right track frames are bolted or welded to the main frame. A suspension undercarriage, on the other hand, uses movable track frames supported by torsion springs or in some cases rollers suspended by a leaf spring.

Takeuchi MaintenanceUndercarriage inspection should be a routine part of your maintenance discipline in order to maximize the life of your machine’s tracks.“Both undercarriages offer unique advantages,” he says. “A rigid undercarriage is better suited for the harsh environments it will endure over its useful life due to a more simplistic and rugged design. While the ride quality of a suspension undercarriage is generally more forgiving by reducing shock and vibration throughout the machine, take into account the additional components required to provide suspension. These components translate to additional wear points and added cost as the undercarriage ages.”

It’s important to pick the undercarriage that best suits your daily needs. No matter how well you maintain your machines, any type of undercarriage with moving parts has expensive wear items that will require maintenance and replacement over time.

Operation Is a Factor

In addition to the type of work the machine will be doing, the operator plays an important role. Improper or aggressive operation is a major contributor to excessive wear, says Wake.

“To minimize damage, train users on proper operation before they utilize the equipment,” he emphasizes. “Counter-rotations, or sharp changes of direction, are a big cause of premature track wear. This is especially true when driving over highly abrasive material, such as shale, granite or ragged materials commonly found on demolition sites.

“Encourage operators to use three-point turns to avoid cuts in the track often caused by counter-rotations,” he continues. “Operators should also avoid spinning the tracks, especially on abrasive surfaces. Like counter-rotations, spinning can result in cuts in the rubber and unnecessary wear.”

ASV Cut Track MonitorImproper operation and extreme underfoot conditions can result in cuts or chunking of tracks. Image provided by ASVShebetka says premature failure of tracks can typically be attributed to a few operational factors:

  • Improper track tension. Refer to the recommendations in the OEM manual or check with your local dealer.
  • Operation on hard, rough terrain. This can cause cuts or chunking of tracks and lead to excessive, premature wear. For this type of application, a skid-steer loader might be the best choice.
  • Riding over curbs. This can also cause cuts and chunking that expose internal steel cables, which can let moisture penetrate and cause the cables to weaken and eventually fail.
  • Demolition debris underfoot. Skid-steer tires can run right over demolition debris (rebar, concrete, sharp objects, etc.), while the same debris is very hard on tracks.

“We also advise running up and down slopes instead of across, and staying on as flat a surface as possible so the machine does not lean heavily to one side,” says Shebetka. “Leaning puts pressure on the idlers, rollers and sprockets, resulting in premature wear.”

Take Care of Your Sprockets

It’s no surprise the most important variable in getting the most performance and uptime out of your tracks is regular and meticulous maintenance. With this in mind, undercarriage inspection should be a routine part of your maintenance discipline.

“Regularly inspect the track,” Wake recommends. “The average ASV rubber track life is about 2,000 hours but can be as high as 5,000 if maintained well. On the other hand, neglecting a rubber track can result in a wear life as low as 500 hours. To get the longest track life, check track tension and condition daily.”

Many common problems associated with rubber tracks stem from improper track tensioning. “A track that’s too tight can accelerate wear on the track as well as on bearings, wheels and sprockets,” says Wake. “Alternatively, a loose track can result in ratcheting — lugs skipping over sprocket rollers — which accelerates wear or damage to the lugs. A loose track also increases the risk of derailment.

“Make sure the track tension matches what is listed in the equipment manual,” he stresses.

To some degree, ground conditions can dictate the frequency of inspections. “Despite an undercarriage’s all-weather versatility, snow, mud and sand can get into and pack the undercarriage, which increases track tension,” Shebetka says. “In colder environments, material can also freeze inside the track.”

“Florida is a prime example of how a maintenance schedule can vary,” he continues. “Most of the state consists of sugar sand, which becomes airborne around a working machine. It fills up the bottom of the chassis, plugs filters and can prematurely wear out an undercarriage if the tracks are not tensioned properly for this type of ground condition. A majority of the time you want the tracks to fit tight; but in the case of sugar sand, the tracks should be loose.”

ASVRT120F Application MudWhen selecting a CTL track, it's important to match it with the application and its severity.This is where proper cleaning of the track comes in. “Cleaning the entire track system is essential to ensure a long and productive life,” says Michaud-Verreault. “Material buildup can cause track misalignment, de-tracking, sprocket wear and over-tensioning.”

A more thorough inspection of the complete undercarriage and sprockets should be done when it’s time to change out a track, notes Michaud-Verreault.

Camso has been studying track life and the causes of track failures for many years. “When you find premature wear or damage to the track of your compact track loader, it’s often a sign of a worn or failing sprocket,” Michaud-Verreault indicates. “Worn sprockets, in fact, are the major cause of premature track failure. A sprocket, however, can be replaced for a mere fraction of the cost of a new track.”

The sprocket teeth should be the focus of your inspection. “They engage the interior tread of the track, and are carefully crafted to ensure the best fit with the specific make and model of your loader,” Michaud-Verreault explains. “Check the teeth for the appearance of a ‘shark-fin’ profile — the thinning and sharpening of the tooth — at the wear tips. This thinning of the metal, along with any broken teeth, will degrade the fit and will result in excessive wear and tear on the track itself. The shark-fin look tells you it’s time to replace the sprocket.

“Proper care, maintenance and sprocket inspection will more than pay you back in longer track life and reduced unplanned downtime, as well as maximizing efficiency,” she adds.

The Four Common Types of Treads and Their Benefits

You have several options for the tread pattern on your CTL tracks. Each trend pattern has its own strengths and weaknesses, and which one is best for you will depend on your typical work conditions.

Staggered Block Tread

As the standard tread pattern option provided for many factory-direct loaders from manufacturers such John Deere, Bobcat, Case, Takeuchi, Volvo, New Holland, Mustang, Gehl and others, the staggered block tread is perhaps the most popular and most commonly used tread pattern type.

This tread design is the most general purpose pattern available, though it is particularly well-suited for use on hard and abrasive surfaces such as paved highways and gravel.

In general, treads with this pattern will be the most durable and longest-lasting if your work conditions require you to turn frequently on hot paved surfaces.

While other tread designs are more adapted to specific different terrain types, staggered block treads will operate smoothly on hard surfaces, cause minimal ground disturbances when used on finished lawns, and are generally suitable for use on sand, clay, dirt, mud, gravel and asphalt.

C-Lug Tread

This tread pattern is very similar in appearance to the staggered block tread; however, the C-lug tread has notches cut out of each block, creating a sideways “C” shape. For those who need to operate their CTL or MTL both on and off-road, the C-lug tread is the mostly flexible across a variety of terrain types.

This tread pattern is extremely durable, and its high number of cutting edges allows for increased traction, superior handling and improved performance. Designed to provide a smooth ride over a number of different surfaces, the C-lug tread works well for clay, mud, asphalt, concrete, gravel and sand.

Straight Bar Tread

Designed to maximize traction, the straight bar tread pattern is specifically made for those who frequently need to operate their CTL or MTL on wet or muddy terrain. The design of this tread will significantly reduce the risk of getting stuck in the mud as compared to the staggered block or C-lug tread patterns.

Moreover, the straight bar tread design is the least likely to tear up finished turf thanks to its lower durometer rating, allowing you to pivot as well as operate at low or high speeds without scarring the underlying lawn.

However, this increased traction does come with some downsides, and straight bar treads provide rougher rides than either staggered block or C-lug treads.

Multi Bar Tread

While other tread patterns like the staggered block and C-lug treads work well on a variety of surfaces, the multi bar tread pattern is most appropriate when the operator needs to move back and forth between loose ground cover and hard surfaces.

This tread design is able to switch quickly between the smooth ride that is desirable on paved surfaces and the increased traction that is needed on loose ground cover. As compared to the straight bar tread design, multi bar treads provide a smoother ride across terrain types. In addition, the multi bar tread design is tremendously popular for use in snow.

Choosing the Tread That’s Right For You

Keep in mind that while each tread is specifically designed for particular applications, they are all intended for a wide range of applications. For example, while the multi bar is particularly well suited for snow removal, all tread patterns are capable of completing this task to some degree.

The biggest benefit to choosing a tread pattern that most closely matches your work demands is that doing so can help prolong the life of your treads, thus lowering your operating costs and boosting productivity. The more repetitive your tasks are, the more impactful it will be to choose a specific tread type.

Information provided by Dominion Equipment Parts LLC.