In a perfect world once the paving starts on the job it shouldn't stop until the job is finished. That perfect paving job will have a continuous mat, the most efficient use of haul trucks and paving crew possible, and will be finished on schedule resulting in no overtime, no penalties, and possibly even a scheduling bonus if that's part of the contract.
Admittedly, few jobs are completed "in a perfect world," but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be striving for that goal. Most people think the foreman controls the job, and from a broad company-wide standpoint that is the case. But it's the paver operator who controls the paving operation. He is responsible for keeping the paving operation moving, which is why I call him (or her) "the time clock."
That's not to say the paver operator is in it all alone; he's not. He's in constant communication with the screed operator, communication made easier and easier these days with the help of a variety of technologies. But once the job has started it is the paver operator's responsibility to keep it moving and moving at the right pace.
So, what kind of background does a paver operator need? First of all, he needs to understand the entire paving operation, from what happens when the crew arrives at the site to what happens when they leave. He needs to understand all the demands of each particular job and where his work fits in with those requirements.
He needs to know the paver he's working with inside and out, including how it feels when it's working properly, what each of the components can and can't do, how the components work together, and how the speed of the paver affects what each component does. And he needs to recognize that while his job is maintaining the pace and continuity of the paving job, the screed operator is tasked with managing yield, mat thickness, and overall mat quality. Through his communication with the screed operator the paver operator becomes a partner in making sure a quality job is completed on time and within budget.
Keeping the pace
The pace at which a paver moves has an impact on the mat, in thickness for example, and in compaction from the screed. The speed of the paver affects the head of material (the flow of material coming into the screed) and if the paver speeds up the screed will drop (as the head of material falls); if the paver slows down the screed rises (as the head of material increases). So speed is critical and it needs to be as consistent as possible.
Just as the screed operator keeps the job on track and on budget by controlling the yield, the paver operator keeps the job on track and on budget by controlling the pace of the work. How he does this starts with his pre-job meeting each morning when he meets with the foreman and the screed operator to learn how the job is going to progress. The three walk the job, determining where the job is going to start, where it's going to end, how wide the passes are going to be, and how they are going to handle islands, light poles, manholes, catch basins, and other obstacles.
So for each job the paver operator needs to know how much time the job is scheduled for (Do we have a six-hour window? An eight-hour window? Is this job planned to go over two days?) He needs to know the thickness of the mat, the total tonnage of each pass, the total tonnage to be placed on the job, the tonnage of mix carried by each haul truck, and how far the plant is from the jobsite. All these factors have an impact on how he approaches the actual paving, especially how fast he paves.
When the paver operator learns from the foreman how many tons per hour he will receive from the plant, and how many trucks that will mean, he can figure out how fast he will be able to pave to keep the entire paving operation going so the crew isn't standing around. If he can keep the operation going he can keep the truck fleet moving. And if he can catch the trucks as they come and go he will be utilizing the trucking service as efficiently and cost effectively as possible.