Reuniting Man and Machine


by John S. Ball

The first day back on the job at the start of the work season is an exciting day. It's like a reunion among not only the crew, but between the crew and their equipment. Often, a company will kick off the start of a new season with a seminar or workshop involving the crew, company management, and the manufacturers and dealers - not the sales staff, but the technicians.

Once that seminar is completed, management will begin the task of assembling the crew. The paving managers will get together with the supervisor and a group decision will be made as to whether the same crew members will hold the same positions as last season. The decision makers will ask themselves, "Do we want Bill back this year? Should Ted run the paver this season?" If not,somebody else in the ranks might move up. So, management will look around the crew and remember that a certain laborer is just dying to run the roller, or that veteran roller operator has been asking to try the back end of the paver this year.

This is when the excitement of getting people into the right slots is generated.It is also when the nucleus of the paving crew - the supervisors, the backend person, the paver operator, and the No. 1 roller operator - is formed. The supervisor comes back every year if he has done a good job, and he usually has between 10 and 15 years experience. The next most critical position is that of the screed man or backend person. He or she works hand in hand with the paver operator to the point that they are almost like twins. They act alike, think alike and can anticipate each other's moves. They mesh well together. The screed man must also work well with the operator of the first roller. These two keep eye contact, and like the backend person and paver operator, they know each other's gestures.

Once these four positions are established, the rest of the crew falls into place like a puzzle. But make no mistake, the rest of the crew is just as critical to the overall picture, especially because a good company is likely to train from the ground up. That's why it's just as critical that the decision makers choose the right person to serve as laborer, who dumps trucks and rakes - and any other position considered important to the finished product, including a person tomark lines or a flag person.

So, the season's game plan is discussed and then put down on paper. The nextstep is to meet with each person and give him or her the opportunity to decide whether they want the position. You should talk about the job performance - what will be expected of that person and that position. The supervisor will know what the job entails, but he needs the input from the crew member filling the job to discuss the position and to be sure they both have the same objectives. Then the crew member can assume what he or she will actually do.Working with your crew member to formulate the job strategy will pay off in many ways. As a company owner the relationship will make you more money in the field in better performance and production.

The next phase of work season start-up is to act on the new game plan. It's time to go paving! The first day, when the crew gathers together after a long hard winter, is like a reunion. Everybody greets old friends, meets new hires and talks about how the winter went, what's for lunch, who's operating what equipment. Then everybody looks over the equipment, sharing their excitement over new equipment purchases. But in the back of each person's mind, they're all wondering when that first load of hot mix is going to arrive.

And when that first load does arrive, and the crew gets a whiff of asphalt, there's truly an excitement in the air as each person moves into position. The truck backs up to the paver, up goes the truckbed, the tailgate open and the paver hopper is flooded with hot mix. The paver engine starts rumbling, and it's showtime. Crew members start looking at one another for the signal, and when it is given, off they go.

And as the crew looks around at their work stations, they also glance at one another to see how their co-workers will do their job - and whether they'll be using the same moves as last year. There is also a curiosity about the new hires and how they will perform their duties.

One challenge in particular falls on the roller operator who wants desparately not to pick up the mat on the first day. He's making sure he has enough water on the drum so that he doesn't pick up any material. He enters the mat, and it's not so bad going up the pavement, but coming back is a challenge. If he doesn't have sufficient water, he'll pick up the mat. If he has too much water the mat will ribbon. He goes in, comes back out, and breathes a sigh of relief when the drum rolls back clean.

The paver operator, on the other hand, has to worry he'll have a continuous load of material so his hopper is never completely empty. And when he reaches the end of the road and picks up the screed, he's concerned he hasn't left too much material on the mat to be shovelled back into the hopper.

The second pass is of concern to the back end man because he has to match the joint. He'll be using automatics on that first day, and he may need a refresher course in how they operate.

The superviser's objective is to make sure all goes well, and at the end of the day he can breathe a sigh of relief knowing his new crew was a team, everyone worked safely, emphasis was on quality, and production was high.

How do you keep this first day attitude and the momentum going for the remainder of the paving season? That is the challenge for management and supervisors. Days get long and hot, crew members get tired, machinery breaks down. Reinforcement, communication, feedback and follow up are important tools to keep handy during these periods. The title "Manager" comes with responsibility: How to keep the spirit alive under challenging situations.

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