Paving industry’s Rembrandt brushes with change By John S. Ball III


What’s ahead for our faithful paver operator?

Wherever the paver goes, the operator's brush goes. Whether the lane is straight or crooked, the paver operator is the one who decides. He's always been in the back-ground, the master at work, high and mighty, above us with his brush, bringing the asphalt picture to reality. But we often take this asphalt paving artist for granted way up there in his seat. We should examine his role in the paving pic-ture as his tools alter and consider the training he'll need to adjust to the changing paver.

Recent pavers increase in complexity
The pedestal from which the paver operator works has changed dramatically from the way it looked 50, 40 or just 30 years ago, and it will continue to change. The paver operator of the 1950s and 60s concentrated on operating the machine strictly by experience and talent. He had few buttons to guide him no extensions slid in and out, no hoppers folded, no feeder controls existed. It was all manual in those days.

Back then, the paver operator's console was a series of clutches that went left and right, back and forth, like an early airplane. If he wanted to go left, he bent the stick left.

His console has come a long way in the last 30 to 50 years. Now pavers have electrical hydraulic steering, which makes them a lot easier to maneuver than in the past. They're more complex, yet easier to operate, because of all the microprocessors and computers on board that help guide the paver.

The consoles on today's paver models are much like the Blaw-Knox 5510 pictured at right. Pavers now have gauges to track feet per minute, oil and water pressure; temperature gauges; and meters to track revolutions on the engine. They have four gears to move forward, on-board generators and feeder controls that are ultrasonic. The free-floating screed has even become more sophisticated than its earlier models. One Cedarapids paver model, built with a microprocessor, has 54 different console selections for the operator to choose from. As you can see on the Barber-Greene model 5Al5O, built 30 years ago and pictured on page 47, in the old days, paver operators had four or five buttons from which to choose. To make that leap from five to 54 takes great skill. And that's just the console! It does not include all the functions the screed operator has to go through just to meet the truck, receive the hot mix and pave a straight line.

Operating a paver takes a lot of finesse, a great deal of talent. Not just anyone off the street can get up there and do the work. When the project comes out beautifully, it's because the line the paver leaves behind is so straight. That's the operator's signature. So when we ask him to go from an older model to a newer one, we have to understand it takes adjustments and time to learn the newer model. With electrical hydraulic controls, it's like having power steering. That makes it easier to maneuver a paver than it was in the past, but it takes a little more time to get the hang of.

To get a pretty picture, the painter has to learn the intricacies of the brush Yes, critical in paving is the aesthetics of the job an the end result. Are the lines straight? Does the job look good? Today it takes an artist to operate a paver. The job has gotten more sophisticated than ever and there's more demand on operators than just going forward down the road.

As the newer paver models come out and become more sophisticated, training is a must. A paver operator climbing up onto a new machine may not fully understand how to run the console. It's great to invent something that runs more efficiently, but it takes more than a day to get used to it. The paver operator has to know how his machine works, and now it may take a couple of weeks before he knows what all the bells and whistles are for. Speed up the learning curve with training.

We take this guy for granted on the paving crew. We take for granted the skills he had to acquire to get to where he is, how fast he goes, how straight the line is. In the past, he had no guide bar to guide from. Most of the time, he goes through the motions from experience. He knows from memory what to guide off of because he has done this application for so long. That is why we call him our Rembrandt. He sets the path for what we will follow. He knows where a widening occurs or where a cutoff or over-lap is coming in. He adjusts accordingly and is out there guiding his team. He has done it for so long that, as he is operating, he can look ahead and guide the crew accordingly.

Forces driving the paving industry lean toward automation
And what lies ahead in the future for our paver operator? What new technology and best practice is on the horizon that our operators are going to have to learn to adjust to?

Let us daydream a little.
Sooner or later we will have a remote control unit running the paver. The veteran paver operator will be off of the operator's stations, down the steps of the paver and on the side of the road. The environ-ment in which we work will behoove the operator to do a better job from the side of the paver rather than on top of it. The screed man controls the head of material, speed and material flow. The operator runs the machine, and maybe he can do that even better with a joystick in his hands. With global positioning systems (GPS), remote-controlled bulldozers, trucks and graders will become more commonplace in the construction business.

Change is occurring in our life more frequently now than ever before in history. Some people cling desperately to the past, hanging on to the familiar. We should look at change not as an obstacle, but as an opportunity. Generally, changes in our equipment are for the better and can make our lives easier. Taking the time to train your employees on new equipment helps them embrace change. Training is the very area that could give your company the competitive advantage as new technology develops. It will certainly help keep your paver operator paint-ing in the lines.

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