Wednesday, 31 July 2013


One would think that being one of the few females in the overwhelmingly male dominated world of maintenance would be one of the biggest challenges I've faced at work. Not so.

It took a few months to prove myself to the team (as one needs to do) but I can honestly say that the team I work with haven't ever treated me differently just because I'm a lady. I work closely with the guys from the ICE (instrumentation, control and electrical) team and I have to say that these guys have always treated me impeccably, I regard them as brother/uncle figures and have the utmost respect for all of them.

So, if being a female in my department is not my biggest challenge, then what is it? It's a thing that's not quite tangible. It belongs to no one in particular, yet it affects my whole team. It's the group mindset.

My department is currently in the process of trying to step change our performance using a variety of tools and theories. One of these tools is the implementation and effective use of check-lists in order to perform maintenance more efficiently. We started getting check-lists going about 6 months ago and we've had an uphill battle trying to convince our guys of the value of this. Finally, we've got to a stage where we have got check-lists for almost all of our lines and we have got our artisans filling them in on a daily basis.

During this time I have come to understand that breaking through the group mindset is something that needs to be done when you are trying to implement something new. There have been huge learnings that I have come away with, here are some of the most important ones:

  • Upper management support is essential in order to implement new processes and procedures - we've recently had a new manager take over our department and since he has joined us we've been receiving support and guidance from him that we were lacking earlier on.
  • You need to follow up on a daily basis and actually do it - we now check the check-lists every morning after our 7 am meeting as this is the time that the whole team is together.
  • You need to keep repeating yourself. Again and again. And AGAIN. Repeat the same message until you start to feel like a stuck record. And then repeat that same message until you're blue in the face. Eventually, people will get the idea that this thing is here to stay.
  • Explain the reason for this new idea or thing you want to implement. People are logical and if you can show them how this will give an improvement they're much more likely to buy into the idea. Keep on repeating this logic to them.
  • Show the results. After a few weeks, you should start seeing results. Communicate this to the team so that they can see the benefit of the new procedure/activity that is being implemented.
  • Sometimes, you need to shout at people. You need to (and excuse my french, I'm quoting team members here) "kak them out". Show your frustration. But afterwards, if you see an improvement, give recognition where recognition is due. 
In the last month I, along with other leaders of my department, have done all of the above. And we're seeing results. The best thing about it is that other departments are also starting to see the results of our efforts and, for the first time since I've started working here, people are commenting on the good work that the team are doing (instead of complaining about having too many breakdowns on the line).

We've still got quite a road to travel, but I think we've turned a corner and even though different challenges will be popping up, this is one challenge that has taught me a huge amount and in the future hopefully I can use this to be more effective at changing mindsets when faced with another new idea that needs to be implemented.

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Saturday, 27 July 2013


I love my cameras. And I love photography. So here's a peek at some of my favourite pics that I've taken this year.

Clean Shoes
My neighbours left their kids shoes out
to dry on the ledge

Lavender bushes
Flowers at a friends house in Cape Town

Solar Consol Glass Jar
Same house. Consol Glass
Two Oceans Aquarium Clown Fish
2 Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town
Finding Nemo

Two Oceans Aquarium Fish
2 Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town
Not sure what fish - but I just love this pic

Tulbach - Walking through a field
Labourers walking in a desolate field
Victoria West South Africa full dam
Victoria West
Unremarkable, you might think. But this was
taken in the middle of a DESERT after the largest
amount of rain they had had for years!
Cullinan Diamond Mine Miner chair
Cullinan Diamond Mine
Tommy's Chair

White railings with curl motief
Cullinan Diamond Mine
Hard hats on the Cullinan Diamond Mine tour
Cullinan Diamond Mine
Frosty and I
Rhinos at Mabula Game Reserve
Mabula Game Reserve

Iggy the Igauna from Mabula Game Reserve
Mabula Game Reserve
Igauna (Iggy)
Elephant at Mabula Game Reserve
Mabula Game Reserve

Warthog at Mabula Game Reserve
Mabula Game Reserve
Baby warthog at Mabula Game Reserve
Mabula Game Reserve
Baby Warthog

Lion cub at Zebula Game Reserve
Zebula Game Reserve
Lion Cub after being fed by it's handler

Giraffe eating at Mabula Game Reserve
Mabula Game Reserve
Giraffe enjoying a bite to eat

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Margarine 101

So, as I briefly mentioned in my About Me page, I work at a factory. On my site there are a number of different factories producing a number of different products, but at my factory we produce margarine. Of all the exciting factories I could have been allocated to, I was allocated to the margarine factory.

As you can imagine, I (a dedicated butter eater) had been allocated to work at a margarine factory. In the maintenance department. No other females in my office. It was TOUGH. I mean, really tough. For the first 6 months I was not a happy person. I missed Frosty. After spending almost 3 years together seeing each other every day I had to go months weeks without seeing him. I had no clue what I was meant to be doing. I was just dropped in the deep end and left to figure out where I fit in to the department.

After about 6 months, I finally started to get into my groove. I started helping the guys in the ICE (instrumentation, control and electrical) team troubleshoot and solve maintenance issues with the software that controls the processes in our plant. I've now been driving software and ICE in the maintenance department and we are slowly seeing improvements. Yesterday there was an issue similar to one we encountered a few months ago. A few months ago it took us a WHOLE WEEKEND to solve this problem. Yesterday, once we identified the problem, it took us about 2 hours. Middle of the night call outs (for me at any rate) are decreasing. We're starting to see the light!

Now, I'm sure you're all wondering how marge gets made. More importantly, I'm sure you're all sitting there thinking 

          "Finally, someone who can answer me this age old question! Is
           margarine black at any stage of the process?"

You'll be surprised to discover that NO at no stage in our process is margarine BLACK!
Let me explain to you the basic process of margarine making (without giving away any secrets), and then you can decide for yourself if you believe me or not.

Recipe for Marge


Oil (mainly sunflower, can add other types of oil too)
Milk Whey
Minor ingredients

  1. Refine the oil, add a few secret ingredients and store it in a big tank (Oil Tank).
  2. Mix together the water, brine, milk whey and minor ingredients and store in another big tank (Aqeous Phase Tank).
  3. Mix oil and aqueous phase together in desired fat percentage (lets say 50-50, to make life easy) and store in another big tank.
  4. Pass the oil through a series of heating units (heat exchangers) and chilling units (Margarine Processing Units). The temperatures are essential for the correct formation and breakage of crystals and need to be controlled to varying degrees of precision - ask your nearest marge processing engineer what these temperatures are.
  5. Once the marge has got the correct consistency, pack it either into tubs (for the lower fat % marge) or bricks (for the higher fat % marge).
  6. After packing the marge, store it in a cool place to allow final crystal formation for a few days.

And there you have it, folks. Marge 101. And I'm sure you'll agree with me, it's impossible for oil and water mixed together to turn black. 

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From Cooking To Coding

Cookie can be used to refer to a few different things:

  • Small, sweet baked treat that are often served up as snacks at tea parties (or just eaten when you get sudden hunger pangs)
  • A term of endearment, similar to "dear"
  • As slang, someone can be a "tough cookie" or a "smart cookie"
  • Used in computing to send small pieces of information about a user to the server.
These definitions are all relevant to me and my life in one way or another: 

  • I love to be creative and find cooking, baking, painting and photography are my favourite creative outlets. 
  • My grandfather often calls my Koeks, which is an Afrikaans term of endearment, similar to "Cookie" in English. 
  • I am a qualified electrical engineer and lean more towards the light current engineering (aka coding and device communication) which is where the computing form of cookie comes in. 
  • And since I work in the maintenance department at a factory, I often have to be a "smart" and "tough cookie" in order to deal with the day to day challenges that I encounter.

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