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Researchers aim to show how operators' work affects wear and tear on machines

Plant Academics spotlight operator proficiency

RESEARCHERS at the University of Wolverhampton are to study the effect plant operators have on the reliability of their machines.

It is well-known that the way the operator drives and maintains his machine affects the level of wear and tear, but as yet nobody has calculated how big a part this factor plays.

The 'Maintain' research project, to be conducted by doctors David Edwards and Gary Holt, of the university's Department of the Built Environment, starts in January and aims to create a model that will predict the likely effect on reliability and maintenance from different ages and experiences of operators.

Such knowledge is likely to prove useful not only to hirers and contractors in reducing maintenance, but could also be used to provide more focused training courses for operators.

'A machine's health ultimately depends upon people, most notably its operators, who have an inextricable, intimate relationship with their equipment,' said Dr Edwards.

'Plant is dependent upon operator competency to manually monitor machine condition; take periodic oil samples for analysis and perform maintenance when required. A lack of maintenance can negatively influence the construction process, profitability and health and safety, to name but a few.'

The project, which will involve questioning a number of operators about their work practices and comparing the survey to machine maintenance data, to look for a correlation, is being supported by Finning, Liebherr, JCB, the CPA and the Ministry of Defence. It is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Dr Edwards said the operator represented an important part of the production equation: 'Estimating production costs or planning excavation production output can be problematic, not least because machine breakdown continually plagues the industry.

'Many instances of breakdown are claimed by manufacturers to derive directly as a result of inadequate operator maintenance. Here lies the need for a standardised methodology for categorising an operator's on-site maintenance proficiency.'