Equipment Type

Equipment Accountability: The Operator is Key

Follow these two strategies and take advantage of an equipment operator’s front-line ability to keep machines running efficiently and cost-effectively

July 08, 2011

I am a huge advocate for accountability. If we can encourage our equipment operators to feel that accountability, they will usually operate the equipment more productively (like get more done with better uptime) and more efficiently (at a lower cost per hour or cost per ton). The trick is to assign and manage equipment so that the operator and your team members recognize he or she is accountable.

 You can have all the greatest telematics in the world, all the greatest used oil analysis programs, the best brands of equipment, and a fantastic computerized preventive maintenance program, but none of these is as close to that machine as the operator. He or she sees the machine in real time. Operator accountability is a big cost saver.

The quickest and easiest way to gain accountability is to permanently assign the operator to the machine. That usually works well for specialized machines such as asphalt pavers or large plant wheel loaders, but not so easily for general line machines. At my previous company, we had about 50 crawler dozers. Approximately five or six of the tractors had assigned operators that traveled with the machine when it moved from job to job. Those five or six pieces never seemed to have significant unplanned downtime. Those operators always kept the equipment division informed of any problems, and we dealt with them before they turned into expensive repairs.

If you can’t permanently assign operators, then assign them for the duration of a job. Identity the operator’s name with the machine, such as “that’s Bill’s D6 tractor” or “that’s Mary’s 644 wheel loader.” If you run a double-shift job, try to assign the same two operators to the same machine each day.

A second strategy is to involve operators in all important decisions about the machines.

• The operator should be given 15 minutes at the beginning of the shift to do his/her prestart checks. That’s when the machine is cool and the only time anyone can check the engine coolant level or see a leaking joint in a sealed and lubricated track.

• Ensure a readable operator’s manual is stored on each machine in a water-tight resealable plastic bag.

• Train your operator on his or her machine.

• Expect and insist the operator participate in the daily fueling of the machine.

• If the machine comes into your shop for repair, have the operator accompany the machine and safely assist your technicians in the repair.

• If you have an auto-lube system on board, ensure your operator understands its operation and how to fill the reservoir. If you expect your operator to do daily mid-shift greasing, provide a quality grease gun on board in a sealed tool box. Give your operator access to replacement tubes of grease and a couple of wrenches.

• When machine, tire or undercarriage inspections are done, have your operator participate and initial off the completed forms. For track machines, there should be a shovel in the cab so the operator can dig out the undercarriage each day.

• Make sure your operator knows and understands your preventive maintenance schedule. Expect him/her to advise you if you miss or extend an inspection.

• When the operator goes on a week’s vacation, either park the machine for a week, or have him/her inspect and accept the machine when the operator returns from vacation.When you calculate your monthly, quarterly and life-to-date running costs and downtime figures, inform your operator.

This whole approach is all about ensuring the operator REALLY is accountable for the machine; it’s not just some window dressing that tries to fool him or her into working harder. The more the operators are part of the success of their machines, the more accountable they become.

This will cost you some money up front, and it will take some effort. But you’ll probably see 10 percent more uptime and 25 percent fewer repairs. It’s a no-brainer. Now, here’s the real question: Are you and your company good enough to successfully get this done?

Think about it.

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