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Three Questions to Get Longer Cutter Life

You get that dreaded call from your grinding truck operator:

“Boss, the cutters I just loaded on the drum burned up after only 2 hours of use! I think we got a bad batch!”

Are you prepared for this call? What do you do next?


Great leaders are prepared to respond in a crisis. Even though you are in the middle of preparing a bid and are pressed for time, you are prepared to offer your operator guidance.

You process the information and review the job details. Here’s what you know:

  1. Based on prior experience, the estimated life for Flail-it cutters removing preform tapes on flat concrete surfaces is approximately 25 hours.
  2. The truck has been recently serviced with new bearings, but has a cutter control box that requires active operator management to continuously re-set the depth and pitch when working on uneven surfaces.
  3. The operator was working the night shift, and is the one guy in the crew who pushes truck speeds, RPMs and cut depths to maximize removal rates. You know that the operator was promoted from drum builder and seems to always set the teeth pattern on the drum with the correct spacing set-up array.
  4. Your supplier is a leading brand of ultra-premium-life cutters with a long track record with your company.

So you ask, “Do we have enough cutters in stock to keep working?”

He says, “Yes, but not enough to finish the job the way we are grinding…”

Armed with this information, you say, Answer these three critical questions:

“Was there anything in my job estimations, listed in your job log, that appeared different from the stretch of roadway you were working on?”

“Not from what I can tell, boss. I was doing my job and the cutters now are very worn.”

“Were you operating the truck and cutter rotation at any different speeds then previous operations?”

“Just pushing the truck as fast as I can while getting complete preform tape removal on this concrete highway.” 

“What can you grade the condition of the concrete road, from flat (SP1) to rough with many uneven control joints (SP10), and were you removing solid center, skips or edge lines, straight, or curved lines?”

“Boss, the surface was in all conditions – from flat to uneven – with control joints every 100 feet, and the work we were doing was ripping up the preform tape on straightaway skip lines.”

cutter impact zone

“From what you have answered and from working with the SMITH University Job Log12-Step Guide, here are the five things you need to do:”

  1.  “It seems to me that the road surface is putting a lot of pressure on the face of the cutters causing premature wear. Until we can add a depth/pitch-control stop on the cutter box, we need to keep the cutter tips off any high spots so they just rub on the surface without striking a joint.”
    “Set the box at the highest spot on the road surface to remove only the top layer of tape (and any concrete) without undercutting the carbide pins. This will require removing at several passes until the surface can be leveled. Then repeat, going at progressively deeper passes (but not too deep) until the surface becomes level and the tape can be removed by the cutter tips alone.”
  2. “Since you are working on skips where the drum carriage must be raised and lowered, we are not certain if the carriage-lowering mechanism is causing deep grind marks. This most be avoided at all costs, so the tips alone gently are lowered with the box. Striking too hard will cause flat spots due to the weight of the carriage, and the downward force on the hard, uneven concrete surface will create a negative impact on the cutters. This must be carefully controlled to get the required performance.”
  3. “When we finish the job and get back to the shop, we will add a wheeled carriage depth control so you will not have to eyeball or use the truck speed to determine cut depths.”
  4. Finally, I’ll send a completed job log to my supplier with all the job data so they can assist in anything we could have missed.  I’ll also make certain that the cutter batches we received meet specifications, if we selected the right cutters for the job, and ask them to have more cutters ready to ship out.”
  5. “I’m going to send you the 12-Step Guide and a Job Log so we can record our cutter performance results during the job. I would like you to take some photos on your phone of the surface condition, before and after the removal so I can see how deep the grind marks have penetrated. This will give us both a good indication on how the cutters failed, and allow us to dial in pro-active controls going forward.”

“I am certain that if we actively manage these variables – and keep the tips in the cutter impact zone – we will get the life I estimated, based on the surface conditions requiring more removal passes, and we will all be better prepared for future projects.”

“Anything else?”

“No boss, but I’ll start watching my cutter tips, remove in shallower passes to avoid joints and will record all details in the job log.”

Are you prepared to answer the call?  How will you respond?

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