The torque wrench seems mightier than the pen

Crown invited me to its flagship service center outside Chicago for a demonstration of their operator and technician training programs. Prepared for plenty of PowerPoints and goofy videos, I instead experienced two full days of hands-on, grease-covered, eye-opening and tremendously exciting education.

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The Crown C5 was brand new – I had just logged her third hour of use – but that didn’t stop me from stripping it down to inspect for signs of wear common in equipment thousands of times older. I had tightened the chains, adjusted the mast, removed drive tires and steering tires to examine brakes and alignment, lubricated three dozen moving parts, changed the oil and clumsily dropped the plug in the pan, of course. But I had recovered the plug and was dragging the back of my oil-soaked hand across a dress shirt I had long ago forgotten and which my wife could never see again. With a prideful smile and wipe of the hands, I secretly suspected my handiwork would later provide great amusement for a master technician.

It was the Friday after ProMat and I had until the end of the day to complete the full planned maintenance workup before I left Crown‘s Joliet facility, one of Crown’s six regional training facilities, and headed to O’Hare. Ron Brewer, manager of operator training for Crown Equipment, had guided me through operator training the day before. Between Brewer and Justin Moore, regional training manager and a former field technician himself, I felt I was in good hands as I circled the forklift reciting the 14-step PM process.

But something was still wrong. I had already hunted down and remedied a handful of fault codes when I ran through the onboard diagnostics earlier in a day that was moving too fast. My trainers observed from a distance, roaming among me and my fellow trainees issuing timely reinforcement of safety principles and helpful advice. Their counsel was useful because of their extensive experience, but also because during lunch they had sneaked off to introduce several problems to my otherwise pristine lift truck.

I was determined to find out why Sheryl Crown was still refusing to raise her mast beyond eight feet when Gene Hoffman, regional service trainer, Crown Equipment, asked if I had checked the tilt controls. As he silently looked on, I located the linkages and troubleshot them by memory. At least I hope I did. Sealed, tight, lubricated, aligned with sensor – wait, what is this washer stuck to the sensor magnet?

“How’d that get there?” Gene asked with a sly grin.

I plucked out the washer and the mast’s full range was restored. I wondered how many panicked service calls over the years could have been so easily repaired. Even if Gene hadn’t come along, I could have simply looked at the interactive training and reference manual on my nearby laptop and it would have quickly guided me to the fix. No one could expect every operator to know this handy washer trick, but I’m beginning to see why Crown has put so many resources into developing complementary training programs for operators as well as technicians and facility supervisors. By uniting a workforce on the same interactive page, Crown’s system leaves little room for that washer to lead to downtime, dispatch and disappointment.

At the same time, Crown’s MoveSafe operator training, TrainSafe train-the-trainer and LeadSafe warehouse supervisor training programs are anything but prescriptive or restrictive. They instead support self-directed education, hands-on learning and a culture of positivity that fairly hummed throughout the building and each person I met. The sentiment is baked into training completely devoid of red marks on homework and quizzes or other familiar conventions of “normative assessment” as opposed to demonstrated performance.

“For instance, if you miss one of the 10 steps required to make coffee, a normative result would be 90%,” Moore says. “That’s a passing grade, right? But if there are no grinds in the machine you don’t have 90% of coffee. You have no coffee.”

Although technically a pass or fail system, in practice it feels more like pass or try again until you pass. Slow or fast learners can move through the program at their own pace, pursue extra credit and have all their progress logged in a personal profile. As he monitored the group of trainees, Moore could have easily accessed my file from his phone, but he seemed to have long ago developed a nose for opportune moments to offer wisdom.

“Can I make a suggestion?” he often asked, as he produced the right tool like he had it in his pocket the whole time. “You’re doing a great job.”

I was able to complete only a small part of the five-week technician training, but my profile will stay in Crown’s database for the foreseeable future, informing analysis of the program’s effectiveness as Brewer, Moore and the team seek continuous improvement. The story contained in each person’s online profile is the story of costs, production, people and services coming together to become as effective as possible. Analyzing data about each person’s response to a rogue washer, for instance, enables operations to continuously improve as well.

Using real-time, actionable data to manage costs is great, but at no point does Brewer lose focus on the ultimate goal: sending every employee home safe at the end of the day, every day.

“All of these warning signs are here for very good reasons,” Brewer says, indicating about two dozen orange and white stickers at various places on the lift truck. “Making sure they are all present and accounted for before using a piece of equipment is one way to keep safety top of mind at all times.”

The combined efforts of the programs’ users and designers will allow Crown to quantify their impact on customers’ safety. But the metadata from all users – whether operators, technicians, supervisors or random soft-handed journalists – will also paint a bigger picture. Continuous improvement can only help elevate safety practices, but it is not single product or a central spreadsheet. The cycle will encourage the broader industry to try and try again until it passes, sending every associate home healthy.

You’re doing a great job, industry. Can I make a suggestion?

About the Author

Josh Bond, Senior Editor
Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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