Ergonomics Play Major Role With Equipment Productivity

September 2011, Vol. 66 No. 9

Improvements in ergonomics should not be limited to looking at designs of levers and other manual controls to operate machinery. Vermeer has developed an electronic control system that troubleshoots difficult and problematic situations for the operator. Once the computer senses that the trencher is on rock, for instance, the machine will stop and back up the chain in order to get around the obstruction. This is a definite improvement in ergonomics because instead of handling many different levers and controls to get the machine out of a difficult spot, the system does the work for the operator.

Ergonomically designed equipment makes operators more productive. The work is less labor intensive, so they can get more done during a work shift. Overall, a more productive crew gets more work done in the course of a month or year, which improves the profit margin.

Horizontal directional drills
Ditch Witch, Richard Levings: When the first small horizontal directional drill (HDD) models designed for utility construction came out in the late 1980s, they brought a completely new technology. Those early machines were very primitive compared to today’s models, and they were very labor intensive.

One of the first models had control levers on the drill’s carriage. As a joint of pipe went into the ground, the operator walked along with the carriage, then walked back with it to add another length of pipe. Pipe makeup during drilling and breakout during pullback was done by hand. Crew members anchored the drill by physically driving stakes into the ground.

Equipment evolved rapidly. Operator stations had seats and controls that were arranged to be easy to access and use. By the mid-1990s, HDD machines were available with automated pipe makeup and breakout and stake down. Larger models had on-board cranes to handle pipe racks.

Advances in tracking systems improved pilot bore accuracy and remote displays became available for the driller’s station, showing drill head clock position and other information gathered by the walk-over receiver.