A mobile generator is often the most important piece of equipment on a drilling site — after all, it’s what keeps the operation running. A well-maintained generator not only provides the performance and productivity necessary for powering important jobs, it also has the best chance at a long equipment life and greater return on investment.
1. Stick to a Maintenance Schedule
A well-maintained generator is one that follows the manufacturer guidelines for scheduled maintenance. Because generator use is measured in hours, recommended maintenance intervals typically occur at 500 hours with filter and fluid changes, including the engine oil, oil filter, fuel filter and air filter. These intervals are generally repeated every 500 to 1,000 hours.
Daily, weekly and monthly generator maintenance should also be conducted. This includes a visual check of machine components such as fluid levels, wiring and hose connections, air inlets and parts that may be susceptible to wear. A simple two-minute inspection could save one to two hours of downtime to replace a minor part. For instance, a frayed or cracked fan drive belt is an indication of excessive wear and an opportunity for proactive replacement.
2. Adjust Maintenance to Environment
While 500-hour maintenance intervals are standard, more frequent intervals may be necessary for generators operating in harsh environments or challenging weather conditions.
Dusty environments are particularly demanding on generators due to the volume of airflow through the machine. If dust gets wet, whether from a leak or other cause, it has the potential to clog the radiator fins. When airflow through the system is impeded, the machine becomes more likely to overheat. A visual check for dust buildup and a quick pressure wash can prevent an avoidable machine shut down.
Airflow can also be an issue in colder climates where snowfall can clog or freeze the air inlet grating. Another maintenance measure when a generator is operating in colder temperatures is switching to a lightweight synthetic oil to ensure adequate oil flow to vital engine components. A thicker oil grade may be recommended to provide better engine protection in hot climates.
3. Understand New Tier 4 Maintenance Requirements
New maintenance requirements resulting from Tier 4 compliance should also be part of the regular maintenance checklist. These new requirements include replacing the crankcase ventilation (CCV) filter that prevents engine combustion byproducts and oil droplets from being emitted into the atmosphere from the CCV system. A plugged filter can lead to engine problems, so it’s important to be aware of the additional element and the prescribed service intervals.
Tier 4-compliant engines that utilize diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) will also require additional attention as the DEF filter must be replaced at the manufacturer recommended service interval. The filter removes impurities that may exist in the DEF fluid or DEF tank before the fluid enters the aftertreatment system.
Inspect other emissions components that may be present depending on the engine model and system installed, such as the exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system, diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC) or selective catalytic reduction (SCR). Components should be inspected for buildup of carbon or soot. Components such as the EGR valve can be cleaned by hand, whereas for aftertreatment components, a load bank may be needed to remove the buildup.
4. Maintenance Beyond the Engine
With all the emphasis on engine emissions, it’s important not to overlook other critical components of the generator, such as the electrical system. Periodic inspection of the electrical system can go a long way toward preventing catastrophic damage and downtime.
Visually inspecting wiring from the alternator to the control panel can help prevent dangerous sparking or electrical short circuits by drawing attention to the need to tighten a loose wire, insulate a rubbing hazard or bend a wire away from a sharp edge.
The trailer of a mobile generator is another area that is often neglected from a maintenance perspective. The necessary generator trailer maintenance is similar to the routine service performed on a car or truck. This includes checking tire pressure, rotating the tires regularly, maintaining the braking system and ensuring the trailer lighting functions properly.
The trailer-to-vehicle lighting connector, tow hitch and jack stand may need special attention, as these pieces of equipment are exposed to excessive wear and tear on drilling sites and in transport. It’s a good practice to replace these parts when worn or damaged to avoid a potential safety hazard.
5. Use Manufacturer Filters and Fluids to Ensure Performance
The primary purpose of routine maintenance is to extend the life of the generator. One of the best ways to ensure performance is to use genuine manufacturer aftermarket parts that have been tested during the development of the machine. Using off-brand filters and fluids introduces unknown variables that could affect machine performance and equipment warranty packages.
When a generator has been properly maintained, the benefits are clear — longer machine life with greater reliability, performance and productivity.