A new group was put to the test at this year's World of Concrete, as compact equipment operators competed in the first ever Operators' Precision Challenge. Almost 200 contenders tested their skill and dexterity with Mustang skidsteers, track loaders, and excavators combined with various attachments from CEAttachments.

Operators mastered seven separate tests of skill in tight quarters to simulate the very real challenges they face on jobsites every day. Among other things, they maneuvered giant soccer balls, balanced on inclined slopes, and manipulated small objects with attachments such as V-blades, buckets, and pallet forks.

Representatives from Mustang and CEAttachments were on hand to answer questions about the equipment and the challenges, and to tally scores. Contestants' final scores were based on their combined time to complete all seven challenges, but “the times also reflected their precision,” says Doug Snorek, marketing manager of Mustang Mfg. Co. “Time was added onto the final score if the movements weren't done precisely.”

Finishing times ranged from three minutes to 15 minutes, and contestants ranged from serious competitors to curious testers. Many operators were interested in trying out new types of equipment and attachments they hadn't ever used on the job. “I use compact equipment,” said Douglas Buchanan, owner of DB Construction in Wichita, Kan., “but I've never used the lobster claw attachment [a grabbing tool] before. It was worth trying.”

In the end, operators not only had the chance to show their skill, but they in turn gained a better appreciation for the versatility of the equipment they used. As contestants navigated their way through the course, they were able to accomplish things that were much more difficult in the past. “It used to be harder when the controls were all levers, but now it's a lot easier with the electronic controls,” said John Grom from St. Louis Concrete in Lena, Wis. “I was surprised at how well I did on the unfamiliar equipment.”

After three days of quick maneuvering and watching the clock, a winner was announced: Josh Mertens from Steve Moore General Engineering in Napa, Calif. Mertens was presented with the $1500 grand prize and congratulated by the event sponsors. Like many participants, he was a first-time attendee of World of Concrete. With this year's contestants coming from 33 states, and as far away as New Zealand, chances are good that operators like Mertens will have plenty of strong competition at future Operators' Precision Challenges.

Read more about the Operator's Precision Challenge, Mertens and see the course diagram by clicking on the links below.

2007 Operator's Precision Challenge