Excavator Operator Training Pays Off

(Photo: courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment)

Imagine evaluating two excavators side by side. At surface level, both are identical — model number, condition, hours, price, optional features, and specifications — with no discernible differences. Yet, one of these machines will have significantly higher resale value and lower total cost of ownership. This would make the purchase decision a very simple choice — but often it comes down to operator behavior rather than the machine itself. Since operator behavior significantly impacts a machine’s total cost of ownership, the choice to invest in operator training should be simple.

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

#1 – Train them to reduce fuel consumption

There are many ways operators can maximize fuel efficiency on the jobsite. First and foremost, operators need to learn 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 200 to 300 rpm lower could equate to a 10 percent reduction in fuel consumption. VIDEO: How to use work modes.

In addition to properly using work modes, familiarize operators 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. Instruct the operators not to override the settings. VIDEO: Using fuel-saving excavator features.

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

When positioning a machine for excavation, look for ways to minimize machine movement. Minimizing movement will not only reduce fuel consumption, it will improve cycle times.

#2 – Train them to reduce wear and tear

One effective way 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. VIDEO: The operator’s daily checklist.

Check the machine to make sure it’s clean. Ensure that 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, operators should avoid running the hydraulic cylinders to their limits. If the operator can hear the cylinder hitting every time the bucket is curled in, that is causing undue stress on the machine.  ARTICLE: More on reducing wear and tear.

#3 – Train them to reduce idle times

Training operators to reduce idle time can slow depreciation and reduce maintenance costs. While it’s not uncommon to have idle times as high as 50 percent, it’s 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.

For example, let’s compare two machines over a five year period — one with 50 percent idle time (Machine A), one with 25 percent idle time (Machine B). Machine A is likely to run about 2,000 hours per year, whereas Machine B is closer to 1,500. Over a five-year ownership period, Machine A has 10,000 hours on it versus 7,500 hours on Machine B.
Based on machine hours alone, Machine B would likely fetch $20,000 more than Machine A after five years. Resale value isn’t the only upside to reducing idle times, however.

In the same scenario, Machine B would likely require five fewer 500-hour service intervals over a five-year ownership period, which would equate to increased uptime and thousands of dollars in service cost savings. Additionally, a longer percentage of the ownership period of Machine B would be covered by warranty — providing additional repair cost savings. The reduced number of hours on Machine B would also equate to significant fuel cost savings.

The fleet manager’s role

While a well-thought-out operator-training program provides 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.

By adequately monitoring operator behavior, the fleet manager can set specific, measurable goals for individual operators. No matter how you do it, there’s no doubt that investment in operator training can have a very high return on investment.

For more tips on getting the most out of your excavator, visit volvoce.com/exfactor.com

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