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Ensuring better personnel performance

World Cement,

Some plants are blessed with extremely consistent raw materials, others have the latest pyroprocessing technology and others have access to abundant alternative fuels. But one common factor that all cement plants have is people, and it is the interaction of the people in a cement plant that can lead to the success or failure of a plant.

Potential plant conflict
One of the most common people issues in a cement plant is which department is ‘top dog’, and generally there are two particular departments who slug it out in this battle: production (the red corner) and maintenance (the blue corner). In the red corner the view is “Why won’t this equipment ever run?” whilst the view from the blue corner is “Why do those production people keep breaking our equipment?” As we all know neither of these views should exist and both departments should work together but there will be few people in the cement industry who have not come across such attitudes at some stage of their career. In many cases, such a divide can find its routes in the background of the plant manager himself, dependent upon whether his route to the top has come from the red or blue corner of the ring, thereby being biased to one view or the other. This then makes the situation worse with the department that is not favoured feeling unfairly treated.

Another casualty of the inter-departmental battleground is the quarry; often remote to the plant, it is easy for any of the departments to come out with the age old saying “It’s the quarry’s fault” – most of the time without the quarry aware that they are being blamed for the woes of the plant. A further conflict occurs between the laboratory and production where often the chemist is perceived by the production department as trying to limit their success. For example, the production department wants to increase output so they raise the free lime target – until the chemist comes and complains about strengths. The production department wants to increase tyre addition rates – until the chemist complains about colour change.

Solving the problems
So how are these issues resolved? One way is to try and gain a better understanding of eachother’s roles – the production department visiting the quarry to understand how difficult it is to mine the stone and make an on-specification batch of stone every time; the quarry personnel visiting the plant to see how difficult it is to unblock a stone hopper when oversize stone has been sent to the plant. Another way is to involve all the relevant parties in root cause analysis investigations to have a broader view and perspective from each department. There are many more ways to achieve better performance of the personnel with the main element being improved communication and understanding of eachother's roles.

Author: Mark Mutter, Cement Performance International

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