Foreign correspondent, cultural explorer, machine fitter

By Birgit Bernhard
Service Technician, Wheelabrator Plus

NASA cleanroom or very clean foundry operation?

NASA cleanroom or very clean foundry operation?
Image: NASA Goddard/Chris Gunn

I work in a lot of foundries in my job. As a global service engineer, I oversee the deployment of heavy-duty shotblast equipment in all four corners of the world.

The first thing you notice in a job like mine is how different foundries can be. Operations that pretty much produce the same parts, in the same country, can look like a NASA cleanroom at one end of the spectrum or like something reminiscent of the industrial revolution at the other end. I like them all. It shows that there are different ways of doing things and it keeps my life interesting.

More interesting, though, are the cultural differences, the new things you get to see and the friends you make.

A couple of things happen when you’re in a niche job with a global scope. Here’s a selection that some of you may recognise, either because you’re working in a foundry or because you’re a travelling engineer like me.

The show must go on

A universal feature across all the forges and foundries I’ve been to is the pressure upon production managers and maintenance personnel to keep meeting outputs. That’s why I make sure that everything needed for the installation on site is organised well in advance – people, parts, cranes, equipment – to keep interruptions to production to an absolute minimum.

Even then, a production manager keen to keep his three-shift production going can’t help thinking of you in terms of 24-hour, around-the-clock availability. And while you can’t be available at all times, you can still offer a solution for their problem. I never say: “I don’t know”.

In some plants, pressures on production are so great, that machine operators and maintenance staff have learnt to use even the shortest breaks to the max. I’ve seen people take power naps in the most bizarre places and with an efficiency that I’d never seen before. One moment they’re operating the machine, the next moment it’s time for a scheduled break and they’re asleep within seconds!

This is Birgit Bernhard, reporting from…

Because I get to know people all over the world, I sometimes become a global foreign correspondent, knowing the inside scoop of historical events when TV stations are still trying to find a reporter to link to.

Sometimes, of course, this will be out of concern for my friends on the ground. For example, I called my contacts in Turkey during the Gezi Park protests on Taksim Square in Istanbul last year to make sure everyone’s okay.

In the majority of cases, though, it just makes me feel connected. And this goes both ways. When I was out on a job at a customer in Brazil, one of their engineers and his wife looked after me during my stay. Months later, back in Switzerland, I got an e-mail from the same engineer, who was just stopping over in Italy and was looking for a hotel recommendation in Zürich. He stayed over at ours, of course, and got a tour of Zürich to boot.

A job suitable for a lady

The fact that I’m a woman in a job that can be very physically demanding and is still predominantly done by men hardly ever comes up.

The one time it did come up, it was out of very polite concern (and maybe a hint of embarrassment) about how dirty and dusty the foundry was and that that might not be suitable for a lady. I was able to swiftly reassure the customer that I’ve seen it all and have worked in heavy-duty industries for most of my working life!

That was the quick tour of my world. If you’ve got any similar stories, anecdotes or experiences, please share them in the comments!

Birgit BernhardThis post was written by
Birgit Bernhard
Service Technician, Wheelabrator Plus
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7 Responses to Foreign correspondent, cultural explorer, machine fitter

  1. Peter Longstaff says:

    An excellent review, very well written and an example of true professionalism.
    My Daughter is an engineer in a mans world so I know how difficult it can be.
    Well done Bridgit.

    • Birgit Bernhard says:

      Hello Peter,
      I always like to hear about other woman who are also in my job! :-)
      Thanks for your reply
      Birgit

  2. Hi Birgit, Thanks for sharing your working life story with us all. Great to see a woman in this job.
    I have worked the same job for 12 years, and recognize many of the things you write about.
    You will probably agree that in this job, what you say is just as important as what you do.
    Best regards
    Jens, DISA Copenhagen

  3. Neil Bennett says:

    Great to see women in Engineering! My wife is also an engineer and has been for nearly 30 years and in more recent years a ‘travelling engineer’.
    Best wishes!
    Neil.

    • Birgit Bernhatd says:

      Hi Neil, wow that’s long a long time … I am only 23 years working altogether ..
      Thanks for your Reply!

  4. Great post but I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this subject?
    I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more.
    Appreciate it!

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