By Mike Jiggens
By Bruce Carmichael
National Sales Manager, TurfEx
At the beginning of the season, there’s always a lot to think about—and
preseason spreader maintenance probably isn’t at the top of your list.
However, it’s becoming an increasingly important agenda item, as
tighter budgets postpone new equipment purchases, and existing
equipment is needed to last longer than before. Even more, with
heightened environmental initiatives, it’s also important to ensure the
spreader is tuned up and running efficiently. Considering all of these
growing concerns, it’s time to put first things first and kick your
preseason maintenance program into gear.
Of course, one of the first steps of preseason spreader maintenance is also the most basic. Start by washing the unit—even if it was cleaned before going into storage. It’s a good idea to remove any new deposits, as well as anything that was missed previously.
Although some like to use chemicals, only water is necessary to give the spreader a good cleaning. Plus, bear in mind that alkaline-based cleaners containing acetone, benzene, leaded gasoline or break cleaner can actually cause damage to polyethylene components. Additionally, proceed with caution if using a pressure washer on electric-powered spreaders. A good rule of thumb is to keep the end of the spray wand at least 36 inches away from all electrical items. If the wand gets too close, the high-pressure water could penetrate seals and lead to a short in the motor.
To help prevent corrosion on the spreader, touch up any bare metal spots with a coat of paint. This applies to both the hopper and the frame unless, of course, the hopper is constructed of polyethylene. If this is the case, only the steel frame needs to be checked. Again, this step should have been completed at the end of the previous season, but it’s always good to double check. Otherwise, once the spreader is subjected to the elements, uncoated metal is prone to rust.
Next, for spreaders with electrical components, one should apply a generous coat of dielectric grease to all terminals. This promotes easy reconnection of harnesses and ensures good electrical connections. Additionally, dielectric grease helps prevent corrosion of the terminals.
Then, it’s time to lubricate all bearings, chains, conveyors, rollers, augers and anything else with a grease fitting. How much time, effort and grease are needed will differ depending on the number of moving parts in the spreader. Since components vary so widely, it’s important to check the owner’s manual for a full maintenance checklist and the manufacturer’s recommendations for the type of grease or oil to use.
If the spreader does, in fact, contain belts, chains or conveyors, adjust the tension to avoid slippage or other performance issues. The owner’s manual will specify the proper deflection for these items, but make sure not to over tighten them, as this could lead to motor or gearbox damage. Additionally, before attempting to adjust conveyors, make sure nothing is trapped underneath the belt, such as sand or other materials.
Furthermore, units that contain engines or hydraulic systems require more maintenance than electric-, ground- or PTO-driven models. In fact, engines and hydraulic systems generally have completely separate checklists, so review the routine maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual and address any component that’s due for service. This includes the oil, air filter, spark plugs, hydraulic fluid and more. Also, it’s a good idea to inspect all hydraulic hoses and fittings for any signs of damage or leaks, so no hazardous fluids are spilled onto the turf.
Calibrate the flow rate
After completing the typical maintenance checks, it’s time to reestablish proper gate settings by calibrating the spreader. Although the unit may have been calibrated the previous season, this procedure should be repeated because application rates for each material can change from year to year. Therefore, if the gate settings go unchecked, an operator runs the risk of ruining the turf if he spreads too much of a certain material. And if too little material is spread, the application may be totally ineffective.
Manufacturers have various methods for calibrating their spreaders, but most are based on a number system. For instance, the owner’s manual often contains a chart with a list of numbers that correspond with various feed rates, which are given in pounds per 1,000 square feet. After deciding on a feed rate, the user then manually adjusts the gate height to the appropriate number setting. Sometimes this number is marked on the spreader itself, but more accurate systems use a key to create the size of the opening. Once the gate is in place, the user locks in the setting, so the gate cannot open past that position.
Before taking the spreader to the turf, the operator should also conduct a field test to verify the settings. Take the unit to a place where it can operate without the risk of damaging valuable turf. Then, run some material through the machine to make sure it appears to be working properly and spreading accurately.
If the spreader contains an adjustable spinner, the field test is an ideal time for making modifications to it as well. Although this feature isn’t found on all spreaders, being able to reposition the fins on some units can be a great help when fine-tuning the spread pattern to achieve a consistent application.
Before attempting to make adjustments to the spinner fins, run some material through the unit and take note of the spread pattern. Is the machine spreading heavier toward one side than the other? For instance, heavy materials oftentimes tend to spread heavier toward the left side. This type of lopsided delivery can be corrected, but it will take a little trial and error. There are no specific guidelines for creating the perfect spread pattern, so keep repositioning the fins and running the unit until it starts spreading evenly.
After undergoing the field test, the unit is finally ready to take on another season of dispersing seed, fertilizer and whatever else you have in store for the spring and summer. Not only is the spreader configured to spread accurately and operate efficiently, but it’s also better prepared to run for years to come.