When you think of manufacturing plants, odds are images of gigantic conveyor belts and equipment come to your mind. These giant machines can’t just run themselves, they need people who can set-up and operate them.
Who are the individuals who run these machines? Machine operators! At the heart of the manufacturing industry, they control nearly every aspect of the manufacturing process through challenging, hands-on work.
Machine operators operate machinery
Machine operators (also known as production operators) operate machines to process and package food or beverage products. They set up, maintain and disassemble their equipment based on the requirements of the product being produced. The machines that they run could involve mixing, packaging, cleaning or cooking.
Machine operators make sure their machines work at full capacity, are stocked with the necessary materials and are well-maintained. This ensures that there is minimal downtime between the machines, as downtime means the plant is not making money!
Operators perform necessary pre-operational activities such as checking if any parts of the machine are broken, the equipment is operating safely and everything is clean before they start. During production, they watch the products as they come off the line to make sure everything is being made correctly.
Finally, machine operators rarely work by themselves and work in small teams on their lines. Don’t forget that they also work with quality control!
Machine operators troubleshoot problems
Any machine operator will tell you that one of the most challenging parts of the job is troubleshooting equipment. For example, a common problem in manufacturing is when the weight of the product is higher than it should be. To correct this problem, a machine operator changes the settings on the machine or checks that the weight sensors are working correctly.
If they find a problem that they are unable to resolve themselves, a machine operator promptly communicates this to their production supervisor.
The plant’s maintenance department then comes to inspect the machine to see if they can fix the problem.
Troubleshooting is an important technical skill related to the machine operator’s job. If a problem occurs during a shift, a machine operator needs to know what needs to be done to fix it, as well as figure out the right procedure to do so in a relatively short amount of time.
Machine operators only require high school education
In general, a production operator must have a minimum of a high school diploma or GED to qualify for the job. However, more specialized training may be necessary if the job demands working with high-tech equipment or machinery. All companies provide on-the-job training, so no formal education is generally required.
Operating machinery is a good role for someone looking for an entry-level position and that will allow them to work their way up in a company.
Machine operators clean their machines
Machine operators may be required to clean their equipment and have it ready for a next production run, depending on the facility that they work at. This is usually the case for places that do not have dedicated sanitation teams.
Food manufacturing plants must be cleaned frequently. For example, if a manufacturing plant deals with various allergens on the same equipment, it must be cleaned between each new allergen. A machine operator disassembles the machine and cleans it to prepare for the allergen switchover. Cleaning involves washing all food contact surfaces and sanitizing the parts.
Finally, operators assist in other daily cleanup production duties such as sweeping the floors and taking out the trash.
Machine operators work in shifts
In order to keep up with customer demands, many manufacturing plants have continuous operations which include days, nights, afternoons and weekends. Because working nights can be hard on employees, many manufacturing plants conduct shift work. Typically, shift work involves switching between different shifts every two weeks. It is usually only after working at a company for a while does an individual stick to a certain set schedule.
Machine operators complete documentation
Although machine operators spend most of their time running machines, another part of their day is spent doing paperwork or inputting information into tablets. Production operators may be required to keep up with certain quality checks such as weight, percent oxygen and moisture content, depending on the product being run.
Machine operators complete documentation to show proof that they did a quality check. Other documentation they might be required to complete includes sanitation checklists and production logs that record how much product is run on a given shift.
Machine operators perform quality checks
Quality assurance isn’t the only one that ensures the quality of a product! Production operators evaluate the quality of a product as it proceeds through the production line by verifying product weight, colour, temperature and appearance in comparison to product standards. If they notice any issues, they raise their concerns with their lead hand, supervisor and quality assurance personnel. They are the first line of defence, so it is important that they keep an eye out for potential defects.
Machine operators work fast, pay attention to details and communicate effectively
Being a machine operator requires a range of skills. However, there are a few which are more essential than others. These skills include:
- Ability to work at a fast pace – Manufacturing plants are fast- paced environments and at times this can feel overwhelming. Machine operators keep up in these environments because they know their machines well.
- Attention to detail – It is necessary for machine operators to have an eye for detail because it ensures that operations run smoothly. If they do not pay attention to the details, products could be made incorrectly, packaged in the wrong packaging or made in an unsafe manner.
- Good communication skills – An effective machine operator must communicate information clearly. Ineffective communication could lead to issues in the department, shortage of supplies, a broken down machine, or even a workplace-related injury.