The following tip is from the ISA book by Greg McMillan and Hunter Vegas titled 101 Tips for a Successful Automation Career, inspired by the ISA Mentor Program. This is Tip #25, and was written by Hunter.

This may seem like a crazy tip, but there is a lot more truth in this statement than you might realize. It’s directed to management, but a young engineer may have reason and opportunity to encourage management to do this.

Concept: Simple things like strong coffee and a fast brewing pot seem minor, but during start-up or production outages they can impact productivity and morale a lot more than you might realize. Bringing in a couple of pizzas or a few half-gallons of ice cream costs next to nothing, but it can make a world of difference in the attitudes of the people who are working 24-hour coverage to get a plant started up or back on line.

Details: A start-up or production outage is a hectic, chaotic time. People may be working long hours, patience is short, tempers flare, and the pressure mounts as everyone struggles to stay on schedule and resolve the myriad of unexpected problems that invariably crop up. With so much going on, anything management can do to ease the situation and improve morale is a worthwhile thing. Bringing in donuts in the morning or pizzas or subs at lunch is definitely appreciated by the crew. Some companies have “ice cream socials” during the shift change meeting. Do SOMETHING to show that the company appreciates the extra effort.

Watch-Outs: Do not forget the night crew, the off shifts, and even the contractors. Arranging food for these groups can be logistically more challenging, but the negative effect of NOT including them is great – not to mention being unfair to them.

Exceptions: The biggest risk to this idea is setting a precedent where people simply begin to take the food for granted. If possible, arrange the special meals irregularly enough that their arrival is still a surprise.

Insight: As crazy as it might seem, a fast brewing coffee pot and easy to use coffee pouches probably create a measurable improvement in the productivity of an engineering office as well. It would be an interesting study to find out how much time is wasted sitting around the coffee pot waiting for it to brew and talking about last night’s ball game.

Rule of Thumb: Take the time (and spend the money) to show appreciation to the crews on a start-up or during a major production outage. These people are under a great deal of stress and deserve the recognition.

About the Author
Gregory K. McMillan, CAP, is a retired Senior Fellow from Solutia/Monsanto where he worked in engineering technology on process control improvement. Greg was also an affiliate professor for Washington University in Saint Louis. Greg is an ISA Fellow and received the ISA Kermit Fischer Environmental Award for pH control in 1991, the Control magazine Engineer of the Year award for the process industry in 1994, was inducted into the Control magazine Process Automation Hall of Fame in 2001, was honored by InTech magazine in 2003 as one of the most influential innovators in automation, and received the ISA Life Achievement Award in 2010. Greg is the author of numerous books on process control, including Advances in Reactor Measurement and Control and Essentials of Modern Measurements and Final Elements in the Process Industry. Greg has been the monthly "Control Talk" columnist for Control magazine since 2002. Presently, Greg is a part time modeling and control consultant in Technology for Process Simulation for Emerson Automation Solutions specializing in the use of the virtual plant for exploring new opportunities. He spends most of his time writing, teaching and leading the ISA Mentor Program he founded in 2011.

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About the Author
Hunter Vegas, P.E., has worked as an instrument engineer, production engineer, instrumentation group leader, principal automation engineer, and unit production manager. In 2001, he entered the systems integration industry and is currently working for Wunderlich-Malec as an engineering project manager in Kernersville, N.C. Hunter has executed thousands of instrumentation and control projects over his career, with budgets ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. He is proficient in field instrumentation sizing and selection, safety interlock design, electrical design, advanced control strategy, and numerous control system hardware and software platforms. Hunter earned a B.S.E.E. degree from Tulane University and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University.

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