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What plant managers can learn from the break room – CloseTalk Communications

My feet were tired. Not used to the stiffness of my new steel-toed boots as we walked past what seemed like miles of aggregate plant equipment, I was ready for a break.

But I was here—in the UK’s Midlands, along with another marketing team member and product management colleagues—to get a story. So I kept walking, and taking photos, and asking questions.

It was a great day for a tour—and for photos—warm but not hot, cloudy but not dreary, and a relaxed day at the plant.

Don’t get me wrong, workers were still going about their jobs, driving impossibly huge trucks to and from the limestone quarry, keeping the crushers fed. But nothing catastrophic was happening with either the machinery or the instrumentation.

As we walked into a dusty yet cozy kitchen of sorts, I silently breathed a sigh of relief.

Our host brewed some strong tea in mismatched, well worn mugs and passed them around.

“Bicky, anyone?” asked my British colleague.

Our jaws dropped in astonishment as he reached into the pocket of his baggy coveralls and pulled out a pack of Jaffa Cakes (which he’d apparently been carrying around all morning).

Taking a break and talking shop

Sitting there eating a slightly squished, but otherwise delicious, orange-flavoured cookie, listening to the group chat about operations, about daily tasks, about instrumentation, I realized that my story was right here in front of me.

My story was that reliable process instrumentation and control systems don’t just deliver plant efficiencies, increased safety, and cost savings, but give operators days like these.

Days where they can sit down for a cup of tea and a biscuit knowing that they don’t need to rush off to the primary crusher to adjust a sensor. Or to one of their belt scales to re-calibrate (again!) after a heavy rain.

They get the chance to unwind for a moment, chat with fellow workers, and even come up with solutions for process improvements—precisely because they have the downtime to do so.

Solving problems, one bicky at a time

In fact, as we were tucking into our second cookie, two of the plant operators brought up and then resolved an issue one had been having while setting up permissions on a new controller’s browser software.

And sure, maybe your operators would’ve come up with the same solution during one of your process improvement team meetings, but then again, maybe not.

Maybe they’re too stressed to brainstorm creatively, thinking instead about getting back to the list of temperamental instruments waiting for them once the meeting ends. There’s a reason why deals are made on the golf course.

As we washed out our mugs and I slung my camera back around my neck, I couldn’t wait to get back to the office, check out my photos, and start writing this story.

And take off my now ever-so-slightly more broken in work boots.