Certainly the most exacting – “finicky” is another way to put it – person on the paving crew is the screed operator. And that’s a good thing because among his responsibilities is making sure the crew lays the correct amount of hot mix asphalt.
Sound easy? No way.
Planning out the job, walking and marking the plan with the foreman or paver operator (or both), measuring out the passes, determining the yield of a truckload of material, keeping on top of the trucking schedule, communicating with the paver operator to keep the pace of the job steady, and monitoring the mat, edges, joints, and other aspects of job quality – all this and more fall under the screed operator’s responsibilities.
Not an easy job, by any means, but a rewarding one that gives the screed operator (often called the screw man or back end operator) an opportunity to direct a quality job while earning one of the highest salaries on a paving crew.
But the abilities needed to be a successful screed operator aren’t skills that are come by easily or over the short term. In fact, it takes at least two years to gain the knowledge and experience needed to operate the back end of a paver. By the time a crew member is ready to become the lead screed operator he or she has probably worked with the lute, shovel, and rake. He’s certainly become adept at running the broom, knows his way around a roller, and can even hop on a skid steer to keep things moving on the job when needed. Then, once he’s become adept at virtually all other aspects of the laydown operation, he is ready, maybe, to learn how to run the screed. And if that is the next step he takes he’ll be assigned to one side of the screed where the lead screed operator can talk to him, guide him, teach him, and monitor him as he learns the ins and outs of the extensions, how to monitor and control yield, how to communicate with the paver operator, and how to keep the crew engaged on the job – basically the intricacies of the pace of the paving operation.
That’s why the screed operator is the “go guy,” and nothing happens on the job without his say-so. The trucks don’t dump, the paver doesn’t move, there’s no handwork or rolling, and everyone is standing around waiting until the screed operator gives the word.
Plan the job
The screed operator starts each day talking with the foreman. He learns about the job, the paving depth, the tonnage, how many trucks are in the plan, how much does each hold, how far is the plant, any deadlines (to be off the property or road, for example), and any other peculiarities.
Then he conveys that information to the paver operator as they walk the jobsite. He’s looking for potential problems, determining how he’s going to approach it, and where he’s going to start and finish. He’s looking for grade changes that might affect yield, he’s thinking about the tonnage for the job and where’s it going to go. He’s considering the drainage: Does the water go left, right, or down the middle? Does the drainage change on the site? He’s thinking about the aesthetics of the job, thinking about what he can do to make it look good.
A screed operator will often have a measuring wheel so he can walk off how far a truck load of material will go. In addition to the measuring wheel (which often is operated by the screed operator in training), the screed operator needs a 30-foot tape measure so he can measure out and mark the width of his paving passes as he walks the job.
Here’s why: A truck delivering 20 tons of mix that will be placed 2 inches thick and 10 feet wide should end “here,” and he sprays a mark with the can of paint he’s carrying. And with the measuring wheel he can walk through the job, rolling and measuring and marking so that when he’s on the screed and the paving operation is in full force he knows where each pass is supposed to end.
Control the yield