The essence of learn­ing

Bob Campbell, Main­te­nance Plan­ner, Ports of Auck­land Ltd, rem­i­nisces on a long ca­reer.

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - MAINTENANCE MATTERS - BOB CAMPBELL

As a child, I played with build­ing blocks of dif­fer­ent colours and sizes. There was no such thing as Lego at that stage but wooden build­ing blocks al­lowed my imag­i­na­tion to cre­ate struc­tures which would even­tu­ally col­lapse only to be re­built in a dif­fer­ent form. Christ­mas was a great time. I re­call be­ing lucky enough to re­ceive a small Scalex­tric elec­tric rac­ing car set. These sets were not very re­li­able but the re­turn on the in­vest­ment was that I grew to un­der­stand how my cars worked and how to fix them. It was at that point when I be­gan to un­der­stand ba­sic prin­ci­ples of elec­tric­ity and mag­netism. I re­paired those cars many times. The small com­mu­tater in­side the cars would some­times smoke but I un­der­stood what was hap­pen­ing and I knew where to find spare parts.

I saved my pen­nies and re­placed com­po­nents where nec­es­sary. From small be­gin­nings I grew to be very in­ter­ested in the abil­i­ties of elec­tri­cal com­po­nents. As a young ap­pren­tice, I soon learned from our elec­tri­cians and our ra­dio tech, at the then Auck­land Har­bour Board, that elec­tron­ics was go­ing to be­come an amaz­ing ex­ten­sion of my in­ter­ests. So I have been for­tu­nate to en­joy the com­pany of many en­gi­neers be they me­chan­i­cal, elec­tri­cal, ra­dio or civil dur­ing my time at the Auck­land Har­bour Board as well as their many dif­fer­ent ma­chines that we used to know in­ti­mately. The word “in­ti­mately” may be a strange way to re­fer to an old fa­mil­iar ma­chine which re­quired con­stant at­ten­tion to look after but peo­ple, both male and fe­male, have al­ways talked to their ma­chines, some­times in­del­i­cately but the peo­ple who man these ma­chines have al­ways had their me­chan­i­cal pref­er­ences be it the cur­rent “G” crane or the fu­ture” L” crane. That was the norm then and it is still the case. The sen­ti­ment is prob­a­bly sim­i­lar to mind­lessly en­cour­ag­ing an old Vaux­hall to re­tain the com­pres­sion to reach the top of the hill. There are many tales within this in­dus­try, there are many char­ac­ters and there are many sto­ries that could come from ev­ery­one.

The in­dus­try is larger than life. Camaraderie flour­ishes. In a cri­sis sit­u­a­tion peo­ple nat­u­rally band to­gether.

If some­one is in trou­ble, we all help out. We for­get small splits and get on with it. It’s the New Zealand way but it prob­a­bly ex­ists in most coun­tries.

While wear­ing the role of main­te­nance plan­ner I can also re­flect on some in­ter­est­ing events which would not be con­doned to­day.

The loss of power to the bulk of down town Auck­land in 1998 was a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult chal­lenge for our elec­tri­cians and also our fit­ters. The prob­lem de­vel­oped over days un­til the last HV ca­ble tripped. The sit­u­a­tion in which we found our­selves turned out to be the best ex­am­ple of all hands on deck that I can re­call.

As elec­tri­cians, we worked enor­mous hours to pre­vent mil­lions of dol­lars of cargo from per­ish­ing. The gen­er­a­tor com­pa­nies were our saviours. Gen­er­a­tors were hur­ried into the var­i­ous sec­tions of the port and we learnt how to care­fully bring them on line to feed our re­frig­er­ated con­tain­ers. We also learnt how to use dummy loads and we learnt how to han­dle peo­ple who didn’t help.

I sup­pose we felt like an army which was ris­ing to a chal­lenge.

Shortly, after man­ag­ing to get all our re­frig­er­ated con­tain­ers on power, I had quite an ar­gu­ment with an of­fi­cial from what was then the AEPB (Auck­land Elec­tric Power Board)

He had ar­rived at the port to com­man­deer one of our gen­er­a­tors so their AEPB cel­e­bra­tion up town could still go ahead. After all we had gone through; I couldn’t be­lieve what he was say­ing. As the Elec­tri­cal su­per­vi­sor for ports of Auck­land at the time, I as­sured him that if he did re­move the gen­er­a­tor it would be on the news while ex­port pro­duce spoiled.

Thank­fully, he even­tu­ally com­pre­hended his im­pru­dence.

Work­ing with big raw and en­er­gised items of ma­chin­ery is some­thing that I will al­ways ap­pre­ci­ate but treat­ing them with re­spect should be the first in­tro­duc­tion.

I vividly re­mem­ber rac­ing from the Fer­gus­son Ter­mi­nal area down to Princes Wharf with the aim of con­nect­ing an­other gen­er­a­tor to a sub­sta­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, this was a sit­u­a­tion of hur­ry­ing but not think­ing.

In my way was a very poorly de­signed steel panel which re­quired re­moval be­fore my col­league Ross and I could gain ac­cess to the switch­board bus bars. This switch­board was U shaped. There was barely enough room for two of us to work nor­mally but once in­side that U sec­tion we started to re­move a panel. While do­ing so the panel slipped down a frac­tion and made con­tact with the three phase bus bars. The hu­man in­tu­ition of fight or flight must have worked well that evening. I suf­fered some singed hair while ex­er­cis­ing what I as­sume was a back­ward roll. Ross was trapped in­side but was rel­a­tively un­scathed. We learned a lot that night. Things could have been very dif­fer­ent.

Since then I have been lucky enough to learn and work with a very com­pe­tent team in the en­gi­neer­ing sec­tion of Ports of Auck­land. We still ex­pe­ri­ence a range of chal­lenges that come with the job ev­ery week and ev­ery day. We also en­joy a very good re­la­tion­ship with our spe­cialised con­trac­tors. Health and safety is­sues are never ab­sent from what­ever we do. That as­pect is the norm these days.

“The loss of power to the bulk of down town Auck­land in 1998 was a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult chal­lenge for our elec­tri­cians and also our fit­ters. The prob­lem de­vel­oped over days un­til the last HV ca­ble tripped. The sit­u­a­tion in which we found our­selves turned out to be the best ex­am­ple of all hands on deck that I can re­call.”

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