Plant & Works Engineering
BFPA defines minimum educational requirements in fluid power, for a safer, multi-skilled workforce
Published:  02 August, 2018

Modern industry is far safer than it has ever been, with advances in smart automation and legislation playing key roles in providing both the carrot and stick for the uptake of contemporary safety solutions. This industry-wide change in attitude has created an incredibly positive landscape, with the adoption of safe, secure technology now being the norm.

Maintenance has a huge role to play in the safe operation of heavy equipment and machinery. Badly maintained systems can completely negate the positive impact of even the most advanced safety solution. The same is true for productivity and throughput. Badly maintained or incorrectly installed systems can bring about elevated levels of downtime, the metric by which just about every plant operations manager on the planet is measured.

As a result, a wider spotlight is being placed on training, in order to ensure that tasks undertaken by all operators and staff, from the engineer down to the technician on the shop floor – especially where maintenance is concerned – do not have a detrimental effect on the overall safety rating of a device, vehicle or plant.

Leading the way in the fluid power industry is the British Fluid Power Association (BFPA). By leveraging the resources of its Education and Training (E&T) Committee, it has developed a publication entitled ‘BFPA Minimum Educational Recommendations – Hydraulics’ as part of a three part suite of Educational Recommendations which also cover Pneumatics and Electronic Control of Fluid Power. This new document presents the consolidated view of leading representatives and experts in fluid power – including academia, representatives from other BFPA member organisations, OEMs and the wider UK engineering industry – managed by a specially convened BFPA E&T Task-force.

Ian McKenna, plant technical support supervisor at Bachy Soletanche in Lancashire explains the need for adequate training: “We deal with big hydraulic drilling rigs – often with pressures up to 350 Bar – and because people don’t see what is going on inside, they often don’t appreciate the dangers. This is especially true of new, young engineers who already have a digitally-based background, but very little appreciation of heavy ‘analogue’ equipment.

“A prescribed minimum level training is a big step forward,” he continues, “as it will show from an early stage that you are working with equipment and media that could kill you. Technicians, operators, designers and maintenance engineers all need to understand how severe it could be – even by simply undoing a fitting. They all need minimum level of training in fluid power from the word go.

“We find that new staff who have been to college as part of an apprenticeship have not gone into enough depth in hydraulics and, since the downturn in manufacturing a few years back, there are no longer the staff to perform shadowing and traditional on-the-job training. As a result, we have created our own internal training course, which covers 90% of the BFPA’s minimum recommendations, and is in the process of being tailored to match them 100%.

“We have a policy here that is remarkably straightforward,” McKenna concludes, “if you don’t have experience, you don’t do it, then you can’t do it wrong. This makes it easier to identify issues and, if there’s a problem or incident, the paper trail goes down to personnel training levels. This gives us the opportunity to upskill and create the more rounded multi-skilled engineers that modern industry is demanding.”