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Fluid Power Safety Alerts

(Ref. No. SA-036)

The LETHAL STRIKE DVD is now available!


Does "dumbing-down" USA’s mechanics boost corporate profits? -
By Rory S. McLaren - Director

Synopsis -

Interesting question! - one might ask why a billion dollar-a-year heavy-equipment distribution company put a 19-year old mechanic with absolutely no hydraulics training behind the wheel of a monstrous service truck, to travel far and wide to service, troubleshoot, and, repair, amongst other things, the hydraulic systems on their client’s heavy-equipment? The answer is very simple - it is good for business, and what’s good for business is good for the bottom line!

Many corporate executives have apparently discovered that untrained mechanics can contribute generously to a very lucrative bottom line – and they are taking advantage of it!

Physician vs Technician -
When last did you have an argument with your physician as to his/her diagnosis of your ailment? Probably never! The simple reason, he/she has the knowledge – you don’t!

On the other hand, if your knowledge of the human anatomy was on the same plane as that of your physician, there would be no reason for you to leave home – you could conduct self-diagnosis and save a great deal of time and money.

Could you, without a day of training, open a business and practice medicine? Absolutely not! The very first obstacle is the law! Then there is the problem of error – you would be literally “burying your mistakes!”

Becoming a physician is no easy task. One has to first attend years of medical school. Thereafter, serve a few years of residency, and then apply for, and meet, stringent board certification requirements. And finally, apply for State licensing!

A skilled technician is for all intents and purposes a “physician.” His/her patient is a hydraulic system. To learn the patient sufficiently well enough to make an educated diagnosis, a technician must spend years in school learning the theory of hydraulics – or if you will, the anatomy of the patient!

Upon successful completion of the critical “book learning” phase of training, the technician-in-training MUST serve a “residency” – or as it is known in the trades, an “apprenticeship” – an important aspect of our nation’s strength and future that Corporate America abolished decades ago!

What if the person whom you thought was a highly trained physician was in fact, an imposter? You would naturally heed the advice of this person and pay handsomely for his/her services.

Due to numerous "checks and balances" and the "rule of law," makeshift physicians are few and far between. However, the vast majority of field service technicians might have excellent engine and transmission skills, but when it comes to hydraulics, the majority of them know very little - they are "imposters" - untrained people posing as trained hydraulic technicians and they generate billions of dollars in profits for their respective companies!

The term “doctor” is reserved for people whom are actually qualified in their respective fields. Unlike the medical profession, the title “field-service technician” can be bestowed upon anyone regardless of their training, background work, or, skill-level.

A field-service technician can be thought of as a doctor who makes house calls. However, there are no checks or balances, or "rules of law' to which the fluid power industry is accountable.

How the “devious scheme” works! -
Let's say the owner of a large front-end loader is experiencing a problem associated with “slow hydraulics.” Not knowing what is causing the problem, and not having mechanics with the proper skills to solve the problem, he calls the expert – the dealer.

The dealer dispatches the untrained “technician” (imposter), with orders to find and repair the problem. The “cash-clock” starts ticking the second the “technician” climbs behind the wheel of the giant service truck.

The “imposter” arrives on the scene and begins the usual routine of trial-and-error to find the problem. The fact that he/she does not have (or knows how to use) the proper diagnostic instrumentation does not help the matter.

After a few very expensive hours of “touch-and-feel” the imposter finally decides – although not certain – that the front-end loader’s lift-cylinders have internal leakage and are thus the root-cause of the problem.

After a few more hours, the “defective” cylinders are removed and placed in the service truck for transportation to the company’s repair facility.

The “defective” cylinders undergo an extensive overhaul at a cost of, let’s say, $6,000.00. However, bear in mind that upon disassembly it was found that the “imposter” misdiagnosed the problem – and the bank-roll begins to swell!

Three days later the “imposter” returns to the machine and installs the “new” cylinders. Based on discussions with fellow “imposters” and his service manager about the symptoms, while the cylinders were in the "operating theater," he is advised to remove the front-end loader’s huge – and very expensive - directional control valve.

The “imposter” convinces the customer that the cylinders were indeed defective and thus contributed to, but unfortunately were not the main cause of the problem.

And so the "devious scheme" continues to build as the “imposter” attempts to find the problem by the way of “diagnosis by exclusion” – replace parts until the problem finally goes away!

Another trip to the company’s repair facility with the machine’s directional control valve. The “cash-clock” now sounding like a casino’s one-arm bandit with the sevens lined up in a neat row.

Back in the “operating theater” the dealer’s “surgeons” find nothing wrong with the valve. They simply give it a very "expensive" paint-job – to the tune of let’s say $2,500.00 - and the “imposter” once again heads out into the field.

Again, the eager machine owner is told that the directional control valve contributed to, but was not the root-cause of the problem.

Further discussion at the repair shop yielded a more intelligent approach to finding the problem. The “imposter” was advised to check the machine’s engine speed. Upon returning to the machine, and with the owner well out of sight, the “imposter” checked the machine’s engine speed – they were correct! A minor adjustment to the accelerator cable and the hydraulic system returned to normal operation.

The satisfied customer, relieved to finally have his front-end loader back on the job, is handed a bill for $13,500.00 plus tax – and the dealer’s executives play another round of golf!

Even “certified fluid power technicians” are unqualified! -
In the early 60’s the Fluid Power Society introduced a “certification” program, which the industry sorely needed. However, its founders lacked experience and vision and turned it into an impotent organization that turns out so-called, “certified fluid power professionals” whom are given the right to have meaningless acronyms posted alongside their names, e.g. CFPMHT - “certified fluid power mobile hydraulic mechanic.”

These so-called professionals do not have the skills to work safely with hydraulics, troubleshoot hydraulic components and systems, and/or implement a world-class proactive maintenance schedule for hydraulic systems.

Certification is issued on the basis of passing a test - absolutely no previous experience needed! In this hypothetical scenario, two people from the same company apply for certification - a millwright with 30 years of “hands-on” hydraulic experience, and a bookkeeper with a degree in finance.

At the end of the day, the bookkeeper acquires fluid power certification, and the millwright, with 30 years of hands-on experience, fails – go figure!

Companies that hire technicians based on the fact that they are “certified fluid power professionals” can, in my opinion, be grossly misled because the person’s experience with hydraulics can range from passing a written test to decades of experience – the question is, how can a person be a “certified” fluid power master technician without ever having worked a day on a hydraulic system?

The most profoundly disappointing component of the Fluid Power Society’s “certification” program, is that it completely overlooks safety, which should be the cornerstone of all certification regardless of discipline.

Certified students attest to the “certification” façade! -
On a recent flight from Orlando, Florida to Denver, Colorado, I happened to sit next to an electrician who coincidentally was a graduate of the Fluid Power Society’s fluid power technician certification program. He obtained certification while in the employ of a Houston-based, deep-water diving company.

He applied for, and was given, a job as a maintenance technician on a ship, which conducted seismic work in the Gulf of Mexico. According to him, “the ship was inundated with hydraulic systems.”

He had strong reason to believe that amongst his other credentials, his certification in fluid power was the primary reason why he was chosen for the job.

He laughed as he explained to me that he literally prayed every day that the hydraulic system(s) on the ship would not fail because he was well aware of the fact that he had no diagnostic skills whatsoever.

Inevitably, a system malfunctioned and his expertise was put to the test. He confessed that he “failed dismally” at finding the problem. He did not have a clue where to begin, or how to use a flow meter – in fact, he had never used hydraulic diagnostic tools in his life!

However, all was not lost, he did know how to bend steel tubing – apparently much of the certification test is devoted to this skill!

I have had numerous graduates of the Fluid Power Society’s “certification” program in my safety and diagnostics workshops whom, at the conclusion of the respective workshops, declared that they “had no right to hold hydraulic certification” because they knew so little about hydraulics – especially safety!

Ironically, I lost the opportunity to teach a hydraulic system/component diagnostics class at a plant in El Paso, Texas, because I declined to accept their maintenance personnel's qualifications as "Certified Fluid Power Technicians" as a pre-qualification to attend my diagnostics workshop.

I had good reason to! In the course of fifteen years, not a single student with Fluid Power Society’s certification has managed to complete my troubleshooting workshop without great difficulty along with a great deal of frustration!

Electricity Rules when it comes to Safety! -
Only properly trained and duly certified electricians are permitted to work on electrical systems, and they, unlike their hydraulic technician counterparts, enjoy the protection of the law for their safety – a person cannot be “forced” to work on an electrical system at the threat of losing his/her job.

On the contrary, maintenance personnel, not only work on hydraulic systems operating in excess of 2,000 Horsepower by trial-and-error, but they can loose their jobs if they refuse to work on the basis of little or no knowledge – and they have absolutely no protection under the law!

Conclusion -
It is obvious that the “fuel” of America’s vibrant economy is the almighty dollar. However, when profit reigns over safety and training, which it obviously does, there is a problem.

Purposely putting untrained workers in the “eye-of-the-storm” for the purpose of extracting profit is downright fallacious.

Corporate America has, by design, nurtured a shortage of skilled maintenance technicians, which is at a “critical” stage and growing exponentially.

To those of you who work for company’s with “reckless” management, I urge you to stop and smell the roses. If you do not receive at least 40-hours of training a year, and you are forced to work on hydraulic equipment by trial-and-error at the threat of losing your job, your company clearly doesn’t care about you or your family – regardless of how much money you make!

The best advice I can offer you is “better you at home without a job than your family at home without you.”

When it comes to training America’s skilled workforce there is no shortage of excuses:

1. “We are too busy!”
2. “We are too slow!”
3. “If I train them they will leave!”
4. “We can’t afford it, it’s too expensive!”
5. “If we train them we will have to increase their wages!”
6. “The training course is too long!”
7. We can’t afford to have them out of the field for that long!”
8. “We don’t have back-up staff!”

And the list goes on!

From its inception every facet of the fluid power industry embraced an “open-door” policy with regard to who can maintain, design, operate, sell, teach, etc., fluid power components and systems.

The net result - untrained maintenance personnel risk their lives daily by working on hydraulic systems on the basis of trial-and-error; engineers design systems, which are unsafe; operators are unable to identify potential hazards associated with the hydraulic systems on their machines; sales personnel offer bad advice to their clients; and, unqualified instructors “teach” hydraulics – it’s a no win situation! Ironically, neither OSHA or MSHA have the power to stop this runaway train!

Conversely, the electrical industry approached the situation from a completely different point of view – SAFETY!

It is easy to figure out why equipment manufacturers and their dealers put untrained people to work on hydraulic systems:

1. They save hundreds of millions of dollars that would otherwise be “wasted” on the cost of the training (and associated costs – accommodations, travel, etc).
2. They save hundreds of millions of dollars because their employees are working “productively” and not wasting their labor dollars sitting in a classroom.
3. Approximately 68% of the parts removed from a hydraulic system either failed because an untrained person contributed to, or caused, the failure, or there was nothing wrong with the component to begin with.

The multi-billion dollar a year fluid power industry, along with corporate America, is satisfied with the status quo, while maintenance personnel across the country risk their lives daily in a feeble attempt to keep hydraulic systems running!

If you want to learn how to work safely with hydraulics and how to be a very effective diagnostics technician, attend a workshop presented by the Fluid Power Training Institute™.

“Fluid power safety doesn’t just happen, it has to be pursued."

Rory S. McLaren
Fluid Power Safety Institute

The Fluid Power Safety Institute welcomes constructive dialogue regarding our safety bulletins. Your comments are welcome.


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