The New Generation of Machine Operators’ Bring Attention To Control Patterns & Their Preferences
It’s not your father’s workforce anymore, that’s for sure. While construction firms across the country are having an overall tough time recruiting skilled machine operators, the entire demographic is changing. Some of your dealership’s customers may even be working with a “split personality” group of operators. This can affect equipment choices, because different generations prefer different control patterns.
Machine operators are getting older
According to the US Census Bureau, the median age of construction workers is 42. Not surprisingly, older operators prefer easier-to-use controls. For many, “easier” means familiar – the traditional control patterns they’ve used for years. However, the computer game generation typically prefers to use joysticks.
Let’s see how this plays out with compact wheel loaders and skid steers.
It’s all about choice
Today’s skid steers and compact track loaders can come with three types of controls. Most machines offer multiple systems, allowing the operator to choose which control pattern they prefer. Often that’s as simple as pushing a button. This can be a significant benefit for fleet owners whose machine operators span the generations. It can also provide a distinct benefit in your dealership’s rental fleet machines, since you have no way of predicting who will be operating the loader of skid steer.
Standard manual controls
These mechanical controls that use multiple linkages are well-known to older machine operators. They have separate steering levers to control each drive side. And separate foot pedals control hydraulic lift or tilt. But that’s a lot of arm and leg movements hour after hour. So operators may be more comfortable from a familiarity standpoint, but they are likely to be not-so-comfortable physically by the end of their work day.
This system still uses hand controls, but it eases movements so operator fatigue is less of a problem. Both right and left steering levers are actually handles the operator can pivot in either direction. The left handle operates the lift arms – left to raise, right to lower. The right handle controls tilt – right to tilt an attachment forward or dump a bucket, left to curl the attachment back.
Some OEMs enable operators to choose hand or foot control of lift and tilt actions.
ISO-pattern joystick controls
As noted, the younger generation of crew members operating skid steers and compact loaders tends to relate better to joystick controls. The movements required are familiar, and electronic joysticks are considerably lower-impact for any age operator’s hands and wrists. With these controls, the left joystick operates drive functions, and the right operates lift and tilt.
Using the H-pattern configuration, the left joystick moves forward and backward to control left-side drive, while the right joystick controls that side. To control lift, the operator moves the left joystick from side to side; tilt is controlled by moving the right joystick sideways.
One other reason fleet owners and machine operators like joysticks is that they can help boost productivity and accuracy. Depending on the specific model machine, these expanded features allow:
- Adjustment of the machine’s drive system to achieve maximum power for digging and pushing
- Slower travel speeds, which improves precision with less effort
- Adjusting drive and steering system responsiveness
- Setting operator-specific throttle positions
- Various other options, including multiple travel speeds, auxiliary hydraulic functions, fingertip lift-arm float control, turn signals, or a horn.
Some compact track loaders and skid steers can even be operated remotely, when worksite safety is a special concern. This can be a distinct benefit when weather conditions are especially unpleasant, or for projects such as demolition. With this option, operators use a radio remote control device to start the machine’s engine and control drive, lift, tilt and auxiliary hydraulic functions.
Having options when it comes to control patterns can improve productivity. And it can help operators feel less fatigued at the end of the day. Your dealership can help customers choose the best machines for their fleets by encouraging them to consider their operator demographics.