The maintenance team at POET has the responsibility of keeping each POET Biorefinery in working order. It’s not an easy task, but they excel at it.
Vital has weaved through the teams at POET Biorefineries for over a year now. As we’ve introduced grain buyers, scientists and operators, you’ve met many plant team members and hopefully learned a little about the POET ethanol process along the way.
An ethanol plant encompasses hundreds of thousands of moving parts and pieces, some stretching the height of the three-story buildings you see on-site. Its massive machinery runs 24/7 a day, close to 365 days per year. So who takes care of it all? Each POET biorefinery has a team of highly-trained and highly-skilled maintenance personnel. They are responsible for preventing breakdowns and maintaining this critical equipment. With thousands of gears, pumps, levers and tanks all working together, malfunctions are inevitable from time to time. These “Jacks of all trades” are always ready to respond at a moment’s notice to anything that may come up while keeping their daily preventive to-do list intact.
“We may be working on a project when one of the engineering or research groups will request us to drop what we’re doing and work on their request,” says John Finck, Maintenance Manager at POET Research Center in Scotland, SD. “I don’t know if there is such a thing as a typical day for us.”
He would know. Finck has been doing whatever is necessary to meet the needs of POET Research Center for over 20 years now. Meeting needs is a big part of this position – whatever those needs may be.
“I do a lot of troubleshooting, problem solving and researching solutions, but that’s what I really enjoy,” says Jon Heintzman, Lead Mechanic for POET Biorefining – Hanlontown, IA. “I get a lot of self-satisfaction when completing a project from problem solving and knowing it is done correctly.”
The maintenance team consists of maintenance managers, technicians, coordinators and fabricators as well as mechanics, electricians and custodians; all working towards one common goal with the rest of the plant team.
“The main responsibility is shared by all,” says David Wolfe, Plant Electrician at POET Biorefining – Macon, Mo. “And that is to keep the plant running.”
Many team members at a POET Biorefinery need to possess a working knowledge of all the moving parts and pieces of the ethanol plant – this is especially true for the maintenance team. Though they must always be ready for the reactive portion of their jobs – repairs and requests– much of their day is actually spent on preventive maintenance. Their goal is to head off complications before they need to be fixed.
“I work on preventive maintenance just about every day,” says Shane Sudlow, Shift Maintenance for POET Biorefining – Leipsic, OH. “I spend a good bit of time completing preventive maintenance on the dryers, conveyers, blowers, etc.”
Wolfe’s day begins at shift exchange when information is transferred to a fresh team to learn what the plant demands for the day. Then it’s on to preventive maintenance, repairs and projects. Throughout the day he responds to requests requiring him to adjust his day accordingly.
“For an electrician, this can mean many things,” Wolfe explains. “When a system fails I have to respond to make adjustments and repairs to keep downtime minimal.”
When they’re called to work on a request, there’s never a complaint from the maintenance team. After all, this is what they are driven to do and where a sense of success can be found.
“Meeting and overcoming new challenges is the best part of my job,” says Sudlow. “Every day is different, which keeps the job interesting.”
Wolfe’s favorite part of his job “is that feeling of accomplishment, whether from a successful repair or the implementation of new ideas that resolve repetitive problems.”
Bill Dixon, Custodian at POET Biorefining – Hudson, SD, has much to get done before the start of the day. Between cleaning, landscaping and snow removal, Mother Nature can make an impact on his day-to-day. But the sun he gets to enjoy in the summer makes it all worth it.
“My favorite part of my job?” Dixon asks. “Being able to work outside in the summertime.”
So, what brought these unique individuals to POET? The tasks they complete daily? Hardly. After two decades at POET, Finck’s motivation remains the same as it was in the beginning.
“In 1989, my oldest son enlisted in the Army and ended up in the first Iraq war,” he says. “My motivation has always been to help produce as much ethanol as possible to try to eliminate sending our sons and daughters overseas to fight for oil.”
He’s not the only one who has a love of country and family.
Heintzman comes from an agriculture background and that’s important to him. “I work for a company that helps support my family farm, not foreign oil.”
“I feel like we are doing something positive not only for the community, but also for our country,” says Wolfe.
With motivation like this, they do what they can to support the industry they believe in.
“I have and will continue to use ethanol in every gas-operated engine I own,” Finck adds.