Equipment Corporation of America (ECA) has taken its leadership role in drill rig operator training to a new level with the establishment of the ECA Training Centre in Jacksonville, Florida, USA. The facility offers a host of training types and exams related to Bauer and Klemm equipment lines. The company has even adopted the slogan "The Cornerstone of Your Training Foundation" to draw attention to its increased focus on training.
In December 2018, the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) and the International Association for Foundation Drilling (ADSC) announced the introduction of a certification programme for drill rig operators. Prior to this, there was no formal training and so the associations formed a joint task force, which included Joe Kinworthy ECA's Bauer trainer, to take a proactive stance. The outcome was the establishment of written and practical examinations for foundation drill rig and anchor/micropile drill rig users.
However, ECA's expansion into training predated the NCCCO certification, according to its corporate director of parts and service, Dave Schell. When in 2017, ECA was named by Bauer Maschinen as a Bauer Regional Training Centre, "the idea behind our training program kicked off. We saw the need to elevate our technicians to the next level, and on the customer side, there wasn't any specific training readily available in the US. We saw the opportunity to fill that gap," says Schell.
Founding the Centre
In 2018 ECA knew that it wanted to make a more serious commitment to practical training after having success with numerous classroom training sessions. There was a perfect one-acre parcel of land adjacent to ECA Jacksonville in Green Cove Springs, Florida that was being used for storage and after a series of negotiations with the owner, ECA leased the land, invested in site work, fencing, and signage. The ECA Training Centre was now official.
"The goal from day one was to have a dedicated location separate of our current facilities where we could operate a machine, drill a hole, and have live exercises," says Schell. "The training centre has been key to fulfilling our customers' training needs."
The ECA Training Centre is devoted to practical use, NCCCO examinations, and live demonstrations, it also has dedicated classrooms for training. On any given day, trainers can be found assembling and disassembling rigs and executing specific drilling operations for a crowd of trainees.
Jacksonville was the obvious choice even though ECA has eight other locations in the US and Canada because its moderate climate allows customers to receive year-round training, according to ECA's Bauer certified trainer, Joe Kinworthy. "And who doesn't want to come to Florida?" he quips.
Despite the substantial investment in the training centre, ECA continues to take its training to the offices and job sites of its customers from Florida to the most remote corners of Canada, too. The location is usually determined by the type of training required. For example, the job site is the perfect setting when an operator is being trained on a new drilling application or a new rig is being commissioned.
ECA is focused on three categories of training at this point, all of which focus on Bauer and Klemm equipment. The first is Technical Training, which provides a basic knowledge of the principles of electrical and hydraulic systems for equipment technicians. This certified programme includes both classroom-based theoretical and hands-on practical instruction.
"A lot of our customers have their own technicians," says Burt Kerns ECA's Klemm specialist and trainer. "The smarter they are about how the rigs operate and function, the more efficient they are. And the end result is more uptime and productivity on the job site."
The second, Operator Training is a certified programme that focuses on safety and efficiency. Training programmes include Bauer BG drill rigs, RG piling rigs, MC duty-cycle cranes, and Klemm drill rigs. Each programme includes 4-1/2 days of theoretical training with in-depth discussions on how to execute different drilling methods with the proper tools and equipment. Trainees that successfully complete the programme and pass the exam receive a Bauer Training Centre certificate.
Finally, the NCCCO exam is intended to improve safety for all foundation drill rig and anchor/micropile rig operators. This certification programme, designed by experts from all aspects of the industry, is not specific to one drill rig manufacturer. Operators, owners, users, trainers, safety supervisors, and manufacturers collectively representing thousands of hours of experience developed the programme with the primary goal of improving the safety of all whose work brings them into contact with foundation and anchor/micropile drill rigs. It is the official certification for those who successfully complete the NCCCO official practical exam. ECA provides training to prepare for the written exam and is also recognised by NCCCO as both a training facility and exam site.
While several trade associations and private companies have begun to offer foundation drilling-related training, Kerns insists that ECA's programme is different because it is built around the company's foundation equipment. "The training that those organisations are putting out is a general overview," he says. "What we're doing is very specific to Klemm and Bauer and the way those machines function, the technology, and the ability to troubleshoot and understand their electrical and hydraulic circuits."
ECA has observed a larger than usual amount of safety-related technical advances in Bauer and Klemm equipment in the last five years and its goal is to continue working with the manufacturers to develop a comprehensive curriculum, keeping its customers up to date with the latest technology and safety advancements.
Because ECA does a substantial amount of business in Canada, it was critical for its programmes to comply with Canadian regulations. Its Bauer OT-B and OT-R theoretical drill rig operator's training conforms to the requirements of the Ontario Ministry of Training's Standard for Foundation Drill Rig Operator Licensing.
ECA has even taken its training to the next generation of operators at Fleming College in Ontario, Canada. In fact, some of the graduates of the Resources Drilling Technician course may one day be running Bauer and Klemm rigs in Canada or the US. The programme qualifies students under NAFTA to work in the US once they graduate with ECA having conducted two Bauer drill rig operator training sessions there to date.
ECA has been bringing trainers from Bauer and Klemm's German headquarters to conduct courses for many years. After selling out most of those sessions and receiving continued requests from customers, ECA was compelled to make training more readily available.
"We have expanded the availability of the training tenfold by doing it ourselves," says Schell. "This is now a revolving experience rather than once or twice a year when Bauer or Klemm had a trainer in the US."
Much of the impetus behind ECA bringing training in-house traces back to Kinworthy and Kerns. Kinworthy, who specialises in the hydraulic and electrical systems of the Bauer BG, RG, MC, and MAT product lines, is a certified Bauer trainer is recognised by NCCCO as a foundation drill rig and anchor/micropile examiner. His perspective has provided a unique ability to recognise ways to improve operator efficiency and safety.
"Safety is always the one topic that is discussed the most in the class," says Kinworthy, noting that today's owners are putting safety before low bid when evaluating contractors. "I see this training as a partnership with our customers to share knowledge."
But safety is not the only objective of ECA's training. It also focuses on operational efficiency, maintenance, and technical principles. ECA understands that customer satisfaction is driven by the productivity of its operators and technicians. The company wants its customers to be safe, productive, and knowledgeable of its equipment. Schell has a simple philosophy: "A knowledgeable customer generally is a happy customer. We want to give them the feeling that they're in control of their machine."
Bauer and Klemm are constantly innovating, which results in never-ending equipment technology updates. ECA's training programme is designed to prevent equipment damage and improve safety for operators and technicians of all ages and skill levels.
"Drilling a hole is no longer just drilling a hole," Kerns says, noting that assistance systems, safety protocols, remote control, and new applications have made running the equipment more challenging. "Our training ultimately helps them to figure it out, and ultimately makes them better, safer, and more productive drillers."
Kinworthy and Kerns pride themselves on staying current. That means keeping certifications up to date, partnering with Bauer and Klemm, studying manuals, and even operating the equipment to understand the customers' perspective.
All of which means ECA is experiencing strong demand. "Some of the bigger companies understand that they need to keep their people on top of the changing machine technology," notes Kinworthy. "They also realize that it's their responsibility to keep employees properly trained."
It is not just contractors sending their employees for training, ECA is seeing individuals taking operator training as a resume builder. "It shows that individuals are realizing the importance of this training and what it means for them to have that on their resume going forward," explains Kerns. "The idea is to keep this training programme growing," Schell adds. "We're simply going to keep one foot in front of the other and focus on what our customers need. After all, we need to stay true to our slogan: ‘More than Machines. Solutions'."
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