When Derrick Butler joined the team at EMR's Oldbury facility in 2013, shortly before it opened, he was one of just three maintenance technicians tasked with keeping one of the world’s most advanced recycling separation plants in good working order.
Nine years later – and now one of two maintenance supervisors – Derrick oversees a team of 16 technicians who keep over 1,000 pieces of equipment running 24 hours a day, four days of the week.
“Maintenance is important everywhere at EMR but I think it’s particularly important here,” says Derrick. With around 120 conveyor belts transferring material around the site, the technology EMR has developed at this site is extremely sophisticated.
“It’s all, or nearly all, a single-stream process so if anything breaks down it basically stops the whole facility,” Derrick says. “Other than a few places where we can bypass the issue, production is down until we can solve it.”
Derrick’s team therefore spends most of its time dealing with wear and tear before it becomes a more significant issue, handling the occasional power outage and ordering spare parts.
Yet one of his biggest challenges is finding the right people to join his team of technicians and engineers, he says.
“One of the most important parts of the job is getting the right people in and then training them up to the standard we need to look after our state-of-the-art equipment. We look at their skills, strengths and weaknesses and then put together a training programme and get them to team up with one of the maintenance engineers – somebody who is experienced on the plant,”
“The most difficult challenge for any new recruit at the start is simply finding their way around the sprawling, complex facility,”
And training isn’t only a priority for the newest team members. As EMR invests in state-of-the-art technology to improve the efficiency and quality of the final product, Derrick and his maintenance team are learning on the job how to maintain these new technologies including, how to replace and fix the electronic sensors and sophisticated invertors which control the plant’s motors.
Another recent update is the plan to update the existing computerised maintenance system with a more advanced computerised maintenance system.
“The new system will be up and running next year. It is basically going to quantify everything; from spares we’ve ordered to every job we do and which technician has completed which job, to the introduction of tablets running on inhouse developed software removing paperwork and hopefully dramatically improving efficiency.”
Derrick has been a trained electrician since he was 17 and after living in Australia for much of his 20s – and finding love there – he and his wife returned to the UK in 2012.
Having worked in the clinical environment of an automotive factory, moving into the operational world of recycled materials was initially a bit of a shock, Derrick says.
Nonetheless, the opportunity to develop skills and advance his career is one of the reasons he has now spent nine years with EMR.
“The key thing is I always take any opportunities or promotions which come up,” he says. “I was offered maintenance supervisor in 2016, took it, and have never looked back.”
In 2019 Derrick began a degree apprenticeship in electrical and electronic engineering, proof he says, that “if you have the right attitude, EMR is definitely a great place to work”.
“We wanted to bring more engineering experience to the depot and, liaising with HR, my site manager and I came across this degree course. It’s a vocational college course mixed with working on things on-site. I’m assessed on a 10-week basis and it’s a five-year process. By 2024, I will be an Incorporated Engineer (IEng) in Electronic Engineering.
“This is the next step in my progress. I have a massive list of things that I want to do over the next few years.”
And, as EMR invests further in the technology that underpins its world-leading separation plant, Derrick says he’s in the perfect place to make that exciting future happen.