OPERATOR CORNER: Who are the best operators – men or women?Spirit hosts a light-hearted challenge
Text and photographs by Brian O’Sullivan
emale machine operators were once regarded as a novelty, but with increasing numbers of women choosing to jump into the cab the debate has shifted from: ‘Should women operate machines?’ to ‘Are women better operators than men?’
At Spirit we decided this was a question that should be answered. And so we went to Volvo CE’s state-of-the-art Customer Center in Eskilstuna, Sweden, armed with notebook, stopwatch, three devilishly difficult challenges, and two of the best operators we could find – one male, one female.
Competing against each other are Fredrik Sjödin, 35, an instructor at the Customer Center with more than 10 years experience operating haulers, excavators and wheel loaders, and Hanna Jansson, 24, an EW140 wheeled excavator operator for Swedish highways and earthmoving contractor Br Engström for the past six years. Both are experienced operators, and each claims to be ‘in the middle’ when it comes to their talent using machines. They also agree on the skills needed to be good at the job – an interest in the work, calmness and the ability to get on with people rated highly. Both too have machinery in their blood – Hanna grew up on a farm and Fredrik ‘drove’ his first backhoe sitting on his father’s knee in 1983 at two years old.
Fredrik says his favorite machine is the Volvo EC220 excavator: “It’s smooth, strong, fast and can handle both heavy earthmoving jobs and delicate work, such as fine grading.” He maintains that being “good at planning jobs in the right sequence” is part of the secret of being a good operator, while Hanna – who prefers wheeled excavators over other machines – says she thinks the key is “calmness and good awareness”.
CHALLENGE 2: HAULER SLALOM
VOLVO A25G ARTICULATED HAULER
As if maneuvering a 23-tonne capacity articulated hauler along a 60m course and negotiating four slalom posts were not difficult enough, this challenge demands the operator does it both forwards and in reverse, in the quickest possible time. Despite the newly launched A25G hauler being Volvo CE’s smallest hauler, with the slalom posts spaced barely further apart than the length of the machine, this challenge tests the operator’s spatial awareness, precision and – with 10 second time penalties given for hitting the posts – the contestants need to balance the need for speed with accuracy.
As Hanna doesn’t operate a hauler in her job, Fredrik is the strong favorite in this challenge, and it’s Hanna’s turn to go first. With neither operator incurring penalty points, Fredrik is the winner.
Hanna: 01:45.72 minutes
Fredrik: 0:57.24 minutes
Result: Hanna 1: Fredrik 1
CHALLENGE 3: TYING THE KNOT VOLVO EWR150E WHEELED EXCAVATOR
This challenge entails picking up a length of rope, draping it over the top of a timber frame, tying a knot with the rope and then lifting the top beam of the frame off its supporting posts. To help them, the contestants are using Volvo’s recently launched EW150E, fitted with a Steelwrist X18 hydraulic grapple. This combination turns an already maneuverable machine into an amazingly dexterous tool, one that is capable of the finest, most delicate movements.
Involving six different actions (tilting, operating the grapple, boom, arm, rotator and moving the machine) all in concert, this challenge tests the mastery each operator has over the machine – all under the pressure of timed conditions.
This is a machine type that Hanna uses every day – but Fredrik is unperturbed by the perceived disadvantage. “The secret is not to overthink it,” he says. “All those functions sound complicated when you describe it, but actually if you relax it all just sort of flows together naturally.”
Fredrik: 1:41.51 minutes
Hanna: 1:45.46 minutes
Result: Hanna 1: Fredrik 2
Fredrik is the overall winner – but it was close – with only four seconds difference in the last challenge.
“Tying the knot was tricky, but actually I found closing the matchbox the hardest,” says Fredrik. “The distance from the box made it difficult to get the right perspective, making it hard to get the distance just right.”
Hanna agrees: “The EC750E is such a big machine – and the matchbox so tiny!”
The two noble competitors shake hands – but are they still friends?
“No!” they both laugh.