A day in the life of a … millwright

Posted on May 16, 2017 by Construction

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work in construction? Wonder no more! We will be running a blog series that provides an introspective look at the careers of the individuals who work on our job sites day-after-day.

To kick things off, we spoke with Corey Pennenberg, carpenter millwright for Miron. He’s been with Miron for the past 11 years and provided some incredible insight into the world of a millwright. This is what he had to say…

How long have you been a millwright?

I’ve been a millwright for eleven years. I actually started out by going to automotive school. After talking with a friend, I realized that industrial construction is strangely similar to mechanic work— the latter just works with bigger equipment.

What did your training entail?

First you have to take a test to get into the program. After passing that test, Miron Construction indentured me— which basically means they took me on as an apprentice.  During this time, the company provides training, and the apprentice commits to four years of training with/working for the company. For me, this included learning about various topics, including rigging, welding, pumps, motors, OSHA rules, and CPR. Upon successful completion of school, training, and work, you become a journeyman. It’s then that you receive your papers and certificate.

What time does a normal workday start for you? What time does a normal workday end?

I usually work an eight-hour day, which typically means starting at 6 a.m. and ending at 2:30 p.m. However, this could shift slightly based on the part of the state in which the project is located (for instance, projects further west will often begin and end an hour later.) If we are trying to complete a project during a manufacturer’s shut-down, which is typically an abbreviated period of time, we’ll run twelve-hour shifts around the clock to get the job done. Out-of-state work usually equates to overtime work—six 10-hour days are pretty typical. I typically use my day off to get laundry done and get caught up on personal things.

The longest shift I’ve ever worked lasted 28 hours. We had responded to a client emergency and didn’t leave until the equipment was fixed. Obviously every minute a machine isn’t running, the manufacturer is losing money, so time is of the essence.

The most consecutive days I’ve ever worked were 33—all 12-hour shifts, on a turbine outage. It was a total rebuild. We’re not afraid to do what we need to do to get the job done.

What are the constants of your workday (what are things that always happen)?

Every morning begins with sign-in and pre-task review. This review includes going over the job to discuss the items that will need to be completed that day, and the staff members assigned to each of those projects/tasks. It’s a chance for all of us to communicate with one another so that we know what each person is doing—largely for safety purposes. After that, we stretch before splitting up and getting to work.

What are the variables of your workday (what are things that change from day-to-day or project-to-project?)

Then environment in which you are working is always changing. This means not only the facility itself, but also the involvement of the client. For instance, smaller companies may have more executive-level engagement in which they review progress and interact with our crew more than the executives of a larger corporation. Some companies have many layers of staff through which communication flows, others are much more direct from top-to-bottom.

Each project moves at a different speed, requiring different equipment and presenting different obstacles.

How would you describe your job to a five-year-old? What are your responsibilities?

A millwright is a person that installs, repairs, upgrades or relocates machinery that is used to make things, like paper, plastic, tissue, cardboard, or food. As a foreman, my major responsibility is to oversee a crew of apprentices and journeyman, ensuring they have the right tools and equipment to get the job done safely and efficiently.

What kind of equipment do you use every day?

Standard equipment for a millwright includes fork-trucks (fork-lifts), man-lifts (scissors-lifts), rigging, come-a-longs (devices made up of a chain, hooks, and a gear that allows workers to pull or adjust things), drills, saws and porta-powers (hydraulic rams that lift equipment weighing in the tons).

What was the most challenging thing you learned for your job?

Learning to balance everything going on in order to follow the job scope to ensure the project is executed safely and on time is the biggest challenge. That includes talking with the right people, having the right amount of man power on site, and the right mix of talent and expertise to get the job done.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Optic and laser alignment work is my specialty, which involves taking on a lot of responsibility. This specialized alignment process allows Miron to install or repair machinery so that it’s level and square to the center line of the machine. When machinery isn’t properly aligned, it creates major issues in the manufacturing process. By profiling the machinery, we can locate kinks quickly. This involves calibrating the machinery to the nearest thousandth of an inch. Miron is just one of two contractors in our area that utilize FAROs. This piece of equipment uses lasers, contains its own internal processing system, is much more mobile, and captures much more information than its predecessor—optic alignment counterparts. Within Miron, I am one of three field workers who can single-handedly run a FARO. It’s challenging, but I really enjoy it.

FARO & Corey Pennenberg

What is the best part of your job?

I’m always doing different things, so my job is anything but mundane. I am constantly being sent somewhere new, having to think on my feet while facing new challenges. Ultimately, my job entails fixing people’s problems and providing a successful outcome, which means making people happy. I’m always meeting new people, whether on the Miron crew or within our clients’ organizations. The latter always like to share the    history or nuances of their facilities. I’m always learning.

It’s also really rewarding to hear you’ve left complete client satisfaction in your wake. For instance, one of our clients didn’t believe in the capabilities of the FARO, as another company said that what needed to be done on the new install simply couldn’t be done.  But I ran the FARO and completed the job, and the outcome was a machine that was perfectly aligned and created a perfect product—not one wrinkle to be found. It was incredibly rewarding to get a note of appreciation from a supervisor, sharing how satisfied the client was with our work. So often, you’re transitioning so quickly from one job to the next, that you don’t necessary hear about the impact you’ve made on a project.

What do you wish you’d known before you started in the construction industry?

I’ve learned you have to be incredibly dedicated to your craft in order to succeed. Your mind is constantly engaged, and you are always learning. There are quite a few sacrifices to be made, including time and travel, to get the job done well and on time.

What is something about your job that would surprise someone outside of your industry?

I think people would be surprised by the scope and variety of machinery on which we work. These machines typically cost anywhere from $10 million to $300 million, and create the products that we use every day.

How has being a millwright changed over the years?

The technology has definitely improved. This includes everything from better rigging and tools, to computers and smart phones allowing us the ability to access information so much easier than in the past. A lot of the equipment can be controlled remotely. Safety has also improved. Miron and client policies are stronger and better enforced, and there is so much more communication about it than ever before.

Corey Pennenberg in the field

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