How training operators can help reduce costs

By |  February 24, 2017

Imagine evaluating two excavators side by side. At the surface, both are identical – model number, condition, hours used, price, optional features and specifications – no discernible differences.

Yet, one of these machines will have a significantly higher resale value, consume far less fuel and require far fewer repairs. This would make the purchase decision a simple choice.

However, the difference is not in the machines themselves, but rather, the people operating them. Operator behavior can significantly impact a machine’s total cost of ownership, and consequently, the choice to invest in operator training should be as simple as the choice to purchase a superior machine.

Here, we’ll discuss three key areas in which operators can impact total cost of ownership and provide a few tips for how to reduce operating costs.

Reduce fuel consumption

There are many ways operators can maximize fuel efficiency on the jobsite. First and foremost, operators need to familiarize themselves with the work modes on the machine. Many operators have a tendency to select the highest setting available, regardless of task.

Often, however, the task could be achieved at a much lower rpm without any loss in performance or cycle times. Training operators to run at the lowest possible work mode and rpm, while still maintaining performance, could provide significant cost savings. In fact, running at 200 to 300 rpm lower could equate to a 10 percent reduction in fuel consumption.

In addition to properly using work modes, it’s important to train operators to be familiar with any built-in fuel-saving features such as auto idle and auto engine shutdown, which can be set to engage after a pre-set amount of time.

Daily maintenance also helps maximize fuel efficiency. For example, keeping the machine greased creates less friction, and the resulting smoother movements require less power and fuel.

When setting up for excavation, look for ways to minimize machine movement. Position the excavator at a height that is efficient for loading, meaning the bench height should be close to the height of the haul truck sideboards. Additionally, place the vehicle to be loaded so the machine doesn’t have to swing and travel more than necessary. Minimizing movement will not only reduce fuel consumption, it will also improve cycle times.

Reduce wear and tear

One of the major ways to reduce wear and tear is for operators to begin each shift with a walk-around – checking filters and fluid levels and looking for any leaks, damage or accumulation of debris. Operators should check for loose hardware or leaky seals, as well.

Check the machine to make sure it is clean. Ensure rollers are free of debris and can turn freely. Otherwise, a roller could freeze up and cause wear on the tracks. Dirt and debris should be cleaned from the undercarriage every 50 hours, at minimum. In freezing conditions, the undercarriage should be cleaned daily. The cab air filter should also be visually inspected every 10 hours.

Don’t skimp on the grease. It’s cost-effective preventive maintenance that helps keep bushings, bearings and pins operating smoothly.
Ignoring track tension can also be harmful. Loose tension can lead to excessive bushing and sprocket wear, and overly tight tensions can cause stress on the undercarriage.

At the end of each day, along with cleaning and greasing, fuel up to avoid getting condensation inside the tank that can damage the fuel system and result in significant repair costs.

Beyond daily maintenance, the operator should also be trained to use the machine in a manner that doesn’t put it through unnecessary wear and tear. For instance, running the hydraulic cylinders to their limits should be avoided. If the operator can hear the cylinder hitting every time the bucket is curled in, that is causing undue stress on the machine.

Most machines will provide operators with alarm codes or maintenance reminders. Train operators to let managers know when those alerts and reminders appear so you can stick to the machine’s preventive maintenance schedule, as well as avoid unplanned downtime and more costly repairs.

Reduce idle times

Training operators to reduce idle time can slow depreciation and reduce maintenance costs. While it is not uncommon to have idle times as high as 50 percent, it is possible to cut that idle time in half to 25 percent in many cases – a reduction that could have an enormous impact on resale value.

Fleet manager’s role

While a well-thought-out operator training program provides a huge opportunity for cost savings, it’s only as effective as its ongoing oversight by the fleet manager. A good operator training program is one that includes ongoing monitoring to track progress of the operators’ improvements. Telematics can play a strong role in comparing the behavior of operators side by side – from average fuel burn to average idle times – allowing the fleet manager to pinpoint areas of continued training with operators.

No matter how you do it, there’s no doubt that investment in operator training can have a high return on investment for a quarry.

Information for this story courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment.

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