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Heavy Equipment in Winter

Road construction in winter

Road construction in winter (Finning Canada)

Road construction in winter

Road construction in winter (Finning Canada)


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Learn how people keep heavy equipment working in the most challenging conditions

Heavy equipment operators in Canada’s North work in some challenging conditions. They need to be experts in how to operate their equipment. But they also need to know how to work in cold temperatures and remote areas.

Peace river road in winter
Winter work near Peace River, Alberta (Source: Finning Canada. Used with permission).

Challenging Conditions

It can be challenging to work in remote northern locations. Sometimes it’s hard to get the right equipment for the job. This means it takes longer to do the work and it costs more money.

Infrastructure is the term for things like roads, sewers and water mains. Taking care of these things happens in lots of places. But in northern locations, this can be challenging. Temperatures can drop to -40℃ and there are days with little daylight. The ground is often frozen, and some places are only reachable by road at certain times of year. These tough conditions means that planning and logistics are very important.

Woman walking on ice road
Woman walking along an ice road near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (Source: RyersonClark via iStockphoto).

It can be tough to keep equipment working in the cold. You need to prepare equipment properly before it’s used. You also need to maintain it while it’s on the worksite. It’s important to stop breakdowns before they happen. It can cost a lot of money to repair a machine after it breaks down. This is because fuel, parts and repair technicians are harder to get in remote locations.

All kinds of equipment break down more often when it’s very cold. This is because some metal, such as steel, becomes brittle at low temperatures. Machines also break more easily when they are used to dig up and move frozen ground. This kind of work takes longer and puts more strain on machines and attachments.

If a machine breaks down in a remote location, it can take a long time to get parts and make repairs. The longer a machine is out of use, the more time and money it takes to complete a job.

Equipment moving logs
Caterpillar grappler moving logs (Source: Finning Canada. Used with permission).

Keeping an Eye on the Fleet

Construction companies need to know how and what their equipment is doing at all times. This is where equipment telematics can help. Telematics is a field that includes telecommunications, vehicle technologies, electrical engineering and computer science. Telematics helps companies make sure that their machines run efficiently. It can provide real-time information to operators and managers. This includes things like the location and availability of machines. It can also include fuel consumption and scheduled maintenance. Equipment managers study the data gathered through telematics. For each machine they can see things like how fast it is going and its engine temperature. They even know how many hours the equipment is not running. This means they have a full picture of how machines are performing. They can also identify problems and errors before they become serious. This means the machines work better with less downtime and less maintenance.

Equipment telemetry
Equipment operators looking at telemetry data (Source: Finning Canada. Used with permission).

Remote fleet monitoring helps managers make sure maintenance of machines happens on time. This means the machines keep working longer. Remote fleet monitoring connects all the machines in the fleet using telematics. The monitoring system provides alerts about maintenance or other issues. Heavy equipment technicians use the information to plan for upcoming repairs or maintenance. This lets them order and deliver parts in time for regular maintenance. This is very important when you are operating in a remote area.


Technology is also helping to improve safety on job sites. Technologies in machines can track operator’s eye and head movements in real-time. Operators and managers review the data. This can help them understand how tiredness relates to the risk of accidents. Another safety feature is seat-belt indicators. These remind operators to buckle up when in their machines. They also have back-up and side cameras. These are very useful during the winter when there is less daylight and lower visibility. Finally, you may think that heavy equipment would be cold to work in. But it’s not! These machines are very comfortable and heated to protect operators from the cold.

cab interior
Looking out from inside the cab (Source: Finning Canada. Used with permission).


Heavy equipment operators face many challenges when working in remote areas in winter weather. But they face them using high-tech equipment and training. If you’re interested in a career as a heavy equipment operator, check out the Let’s Talk Science Career Exploration resource.


Let’s Talk Science appreciates the work and contributions of Finning Canada in the development of this Backgrounder.


Finning logo wordmark black

Finning Canada is a division of Finning International Inc., the world’s largest Cat® equipment dealer. Headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, Finning Canada sells, rents and provides customer support services for Cat equipment and engines in British Columbia, Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and a portion of Nunavut. They serve a diverse range of industrial markets, including mining, forestry, construction, pipeline/oil field construction, agriculture, government sector, marine, transportation, fisheries, and the commercial transport industry.


Forest Machine Helps Marlo Logging (2018)

In this video (2:19 min.) see how a heavy machine operator strips and stacks logs in the winter.

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In this video (5:02 min.), meet a heavy equipment operator in Fort St. John, British Columbia, who works on road construction, pipelines and major excavations.

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Not Your Grandpa’s Energy Industry – Day in the Life: Beckey (2020)

Learn about a day as a heavy equipment technician apprentice in Canada’s oil sands with Beckey Unrau in this podcast and video.


Finning Canada. (n.d.). Careers.

Finning Canada. (n.d.). Industries.

Finning Canada. (2020). Launch of Tier IV 797F.

Finning Canada. (n.d.). Technology.