Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Lifelong Learner Part One

Summer, a time for muggy weekends at the lake, a litany of backyard cookouts, a seemingly endless cacophonous maelstrom of school-aged children bounding through the house, and a pleasant evening or two on the patio sipping the beverage of your choice reflecting on life if you're lucky.

Ok, maybe that isn't the picture of everyone's summer and it certainly hasn't been the picture of my summer, save for one or two nights on the patio with a beverage. Summer for me has meant a break in the board meeting schedule, no kids to pick up from school, and therefore a chance to focus on work a bit. So I took advantage of a somewhat loose schedule and signed myself up for two long weeks of training with my company's main line manufacturer, Komatsu America Corporation. 

For the last two weeks of June, I found myself walking into the Komatsu Customer Care Center in Cartersville, Georgia each morning. This building houses all of the publication revision and distribution for North America as well as all of the customer and technical training offered by Komatsu. It is an impressive facility with an equally impressive proving grounds and demonstration area. The classes I attended included technicians and trainers from Komatsu distributors all over the United States and Canada. 

Komatsu is the second largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment in the world.

As a technical trainer for a Komatsu distributor, I am charged with educating our technicians about the technologies and systems used in the most recent models of equipment that is hitting the market. I tend to focus on teaching systems with the idea that if a technician understands how hydraulic, electrical, powertrain, engine, and emissions systems work then they can apply that knowledge to any model or manufacturer's equipment and effectively diagnose and repair the fault. 

To keep my training program in the good graces of Komatsu and the other manufacturers we represent, I try to get to Cartersville to take a class on a new model or significant change in technology at least twice a year. This time around I managed two classes; I spent a week on HD465/605-8 Rigid Frame Trucks and D39 Through D61 Intelligent Machine Control Dozers. 

 These trucks are considered "small" when it comes to the full line of the mining haul trucks that Komatsu builds. This one is only about 60 tons compared to the 400 ton model that's available. Moving and braking a 60 or 400 ton truck requires a lot of the systems that your car employs....although the systems are a little larger and more complicated. These trucks include a lot of the conveniences that you're used to: automatic climate control, assisted braking, emissions controls, and others. When any system fails, customers become demanding. If this machine isn't operating they are losing thousands of dollars an hour.

Week 2 was consumed with Intelligent Machine Control dozers. These dozers are capable of utilizing Global Positioning Systems or GPS to determine where they are and where various points of the cutting edge of the blade are within a tenth of a foot or about 1.2 inches. Not only do they know where they are but once a CAD site plan is uploaded into the onboard computers, the machine is capable of automatically controlling blade depth and angle to match grade. The operator basically becomes a passenger, responsible only for direction and speed while the dozer controls the work equipment to match the surveyed grade of the land that's being worked. While the GPS knows where the  receiver is we have to use surveying equipment to tell the computer where various points on the machine are in relation to the receiver. I'm pleased to announce that my partner and I were able to calibrate the machine to within .001 feet of accuracy.

This training came at an expense. My company spent several thousand dollars in travel and registration expenses to get me to the site, put me up in a hotel for two weeks, fed me, and paid for the training. I spent two weeks away from home living in a hotel while work and other obligations piled up. I attended this training and my company footed the bill because we each see the value in continuing education and my own professional development as a benefit to our technicians and customers. When I return to my classroom I can disseminate what I've learned and increase their ability, their value to the company, and the value of our service to the customer. There will be a return on investment.

Not only have I learned about new technology and equipment but every time I attend a Train The Trainer class, I pick up on new exercises and techniques from other trainers that I can implement in my classroom to make the training I do more effective. These classes make me a better trainer. I have to add here that I have taken a lot back to my classroom that I've learned as a board member by observing classrooms, talking to teachers and administrators, and just through pure osmosis from being exposed to the current innovation in education. If you want to know why I believe in things like competency and project based learning it is because I have taken these principals back to an industry where these ideas have never been explored and seen astounding results.

While I was in Georgia for the last two weeks I was having an ongoing conversation via Facebook Messenger with a constituent here in Shelbyville where the subject of teacher professional development effectiveness and expense came up. I believe in professional development and why it is necessary but this conversation led me to request an opportunity to attend some teacher led professional development in Shelby County before school fires up again in August.

I know the value of professional development, I know that we have to invest in ourselves continually if we want to be the best and provide the best for students but I also want to learn. I want to know the nuts and bolts so that I'm better prepared for these conversations. I'm not too proud to say that I want to learn what I can as well.

In part one of this blog I've told you what I know and what I've learned about my industry through PD and in part two I'll tell you what I've learned about PD from our teachers in Shelby County. Stay tuned.

As always, you can reach me at if you would like to know more.

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