Saturday, January 21, 2006

Rives GR13 an easy day

Day 4 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift midday till 8:00 pm
Tiles made: Rives GR13 Droite Littoral - 5300
Dry Tiles unstacked: Rives GR13 Droite Xahara

A cold has gotten hold of me very quickly. Blocked nose, cough, fuzzy head headache.
Luckily today the press ran itself and Ludo let me take it easy. I only had to cover for Francis and the Marseillais when they took their breaks, and shovel the offcuts out from under the press about four times.

We cranked up the cadence of the press since it was running so well, and ran straight through the casse-croute so at the end of the shift we were half an hour up on time. Stopped the press and 7:20, cleaned up a bit and then stood around and chatted for half and hour.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Rives GR13 swept like mad

Day 3 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift midday till 8:00pm
Tiles made: Rives GR13 Droite Xahara - 5200
Dry Tiles unstacked: Rives GR13 Gauche Rouge

The press runs like a dream on Rives GR13. So there wasn't a whole bunch for me to do.

I supervised the press while Ludo filled the hoppers and other shit, but for the most part I swept.

I swept for France man. I started at one side of our station and swept every nook and cranny and ended up filling a wheelbarrow with dust. DUST!

That station looked FINE at the end of the shift. It'll look like shit tomorrow again because the war on dust never ends.

Starting a cold

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Rives GR13 - can't remember

Day 2 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 4:00am till midday
Tiles made: Rives GR13 Gauche ??
Dry Tiles unstacked: ??

Because I didn't blog this day I already can't remember what happened.

Amazing. 2 days in the past and its gone forever. Bloody alzheimers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Rives GR13 - hard work

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Day 1 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 4:00am till midday
Tiles made: Rives GR13 Gauche Littoral - 4600
Dry Tiles unstacked: Double Tuiles Valmagne Cuivre

The press ran OK - it was the tile stacking that was hard. First we had to stack about 1000 Rives Standard Droit Rouge bypassing the grappins. This involves me and Francis -I take the tiles off the chassis and put them on the belt (which is what the Grappins normally do, but they can't be adequately adjusted for these tiles so its all manual) and the Francis takes them off the belt and onto the chain.
Later in the shift I was stacking the Double Tuiles and for some reason they had to go on the chain upside down. So I had to flip these big bastards, 2 at a time. Not so bad for the first few, but after and hour it starts to hurt.

Also - for some unknown reason I was dead tired by 8:00 am, even tho I got to bed by 10 and had a good sleep. Although I got no break in the second part of the shift at least I didn't do any Tremie cleaning!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Shitty Jobs #1 - Les Tremies

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The clay for making the tiles is fed to the presses via conveyor belts.
The conveyor belts are fed from two big hoppers or "doseurs" or "tremies" in French.
There are two of them because they feed different belts going to different presses, and the belts can be swapped over giving a level of redundancy in case of one breaking down.
The tremies are reloaded with clay from the quarries via tipper trucks.
The drivers of the tipper trucks often spill clay on the ground around the tremies.
The tremies vibrate as the shake their doses of clay onto the belts which start below ground and lift the clay up to the presses. As they vibrate bits of clay escape onto the ground.
The net result is clay all over the ground around the tremies.
And in rainy weather this becomes mud. And in winter it becomes frozen mud.
And near the end of each shift some poor schlep has to shovel it all up into a wheel barrow and cart it across the (wet, slippery, frozen) yard to the waste tips.
Its always a good idea to be busy at the end of a shift so you don't have to clean the tremies. So even if I've been stuck on the press or the balancelles for 7 hours solid, there are times when I'm glad I'm too busy to be picked on.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Double Tuiles -tranquille

Day 6 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 8:00pm till 4:00am
Tiles made: Double Tuiles Rouge about 4000
Dry Tiles unstacked: Double Tuiles Silvarcane Xahara

A nice easy night for the last in the cycle.
We had a small breakdown on one of the ochre spray guns. A little threaded arm that connects the gun to a motor to make it move across the tile had snapped.

Apart from that, no worries. Tatis was in a mood. Sometimes the tiles woud derail under the ongobeuses and cause a pile up, but if he was more vigilant he'd spot the problem immediately and catch it before a pile up.

An I did those bastard Tremies again.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Double Tuiles - a night of breakdowns

Day 5 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 8:00pm till 4:00am
Tiles made: Double Tuiles Rouge (no idea the amount maybe 2000)
Dry Tiles unstacked: Rives Cartreuse Gauche Terron

Man - what a cockup - quelle bordel!

It the start of the shift I said to Ludo that it was going to be an easy night. The press on Double Tiles pracically runs itself. And we were making them in Rouge - ie: no added paint or colour so it should have been even easier.

This is a Double Tile.

The first thing that went wrong was that the Double Tiles coming out of the Sechoires (dring rooms) weren't dry. Either a problem with the sechoire or the guy hadn't turned on the heat. whatever. They weren't dry. So we stop the press and have a confab. Ludo reckons that with the sechoire turned on and working the tiles won't be ready to come out for another 3 hours.
OK, the chef d'equipe says - put the press to bed, and change the filliere and coupeur (play-dough shape attachement and wire cutter) to make Faiteaux, and make them until the Double Tuiles are dry.
So Francis and I get started on that. Meanwhile the tiles coming out of the sechoire are now Douilles (Tiles with chimney holes) and they have to be spraypainted a colour called Valmagne Cuivre - a coating of white and then a spray of black and a spray of straw. But the spray gun for the straw is now not working.
Ludo gets to stripping the spray gun while I fire up the Faiteaux.
But the Faiteaux wire-cutter is going bezerk and cutting the clay into little bits, not nice 50cm long tiles. Well I scratch and I try but I can't get it right. Ludo can't help because he's got his hands full with the spray gun problem.
We call the mechanic. He finds that the clutch mechanism on the wire cutter is seized and the whole thing has to go to the workshop for repair. The chef d'equipe is tearing his hair out. How about, he suggests, while waiting for the Double Tiles to dry (another hour away) we just spray and stack the Douilles?
No can do, says Ludo, coz the spray gun is dead.
Right, take a break and then prepare for Double Tiles. So we have to rince and clean the 3 spray machines that won't be used for Valmagne Cuivre any more, but pirate a spray gun to replace the duff one that WILL be needed to spray the Rives that we will be stacking when we make the Dioubles.
Got that? The big stumbling block is that the wooden chassis that the wet tiles sit on are not one size fits all. There are 2 basic types for our press and they can't be mixed.
While Ludo cleans the ongobeuses (spray caninets) I change the play-dough attachment and cutter. Again.
Finally, about halfway through the shift we get started, and ran OK for the final 4 hours.

and I got to clean the tremies again

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Faiteaux - hard graft

Day 4 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 12:00 midday till 8:00pm
Tiles made: Faiteaux Rouge about 5500
Dry Tiles unstacked: Rives Chartreuse Terron (2 charges), Faitiers Demi-Rond 33 in Silvarcane Xahara (6 charges) Faiteaux Rouge - the rest.

It was hard work today - the Faiteaux are always hard work, and on the chain stacking side I had to stack from both conveyor belts.

This was because we are a bit short handed at the factory. Jonathan was over at the kiln so Cedric was driving the transbordeur. This left Guillaum's team short-handed. So the fat and useless Marseillais was drilling the holes in the douilles which left me stacking for both presses. Even though it's winter I worked up a sweat.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Day 3 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 12:00 midday till 8:00pm
Tiles made: Faiteaux Rouge about 5500
Dry Tiles unstacked: Rives Chartreuse Terron about same

This is a Faiteau:

They're not made in a press, instead, the clay is squeezed out of the mill like toothpaste or play-dough. It is already in the right profile and wires cut it to the right length. The tedious part is that if they tiles are dried in the position you see in the picture, then they will deform later when they are fired in the kiln. So, as they come out the mill they have to be turned over and placed on the little wooden platforms that run on the conveyor belt.
Then, after they have dried for 16 hours or so, the have to be turned over again, so that they can get sprayed with any colour that is required.
So each tile is turned, by hand, twice. Then stacked in eights (by hand) onto a chain that takes them to the other side of the factory where the kiln is. Then they are taken off the chain (again by hand) and put into the fireproof wagons that will take them through the kiln.
That's a lot of human intervention.
So my job is to stand at the end of the play-dough conveyor and pick up and turn the tiles. The speed they arrive is controlled by the amount of clay fed into the play-dough mill. I have a pedal that I press to advance the little wooden chassis each time I pick up and turn a tile. I split the shift with Francis (a.k.a. Tatis a.k.a. Super Mario. he'll be covered in on of the character descriptions soon) So I've picked and turned about two and half to three thousand times today.
And I have to be careful placing them onto the chassis because the tiles are still wet (or "green") and will mark or deform if I plonk them down too hard.
The other half of the shift I spend at the chain stacking the already dry Rives (edge tiles). These are the tiles we made yesterday. They are now dry and will go to the kiln. Coming out of the drying rooms, they are machine distributed onto a conveyor which takes them under the spray pistols for the required colour. These Rives get stacked in twelves, interlocking back to back.
Francis and I switch jobs every two hours because lifting and turning the Faiteaux is quite hard work, two hours at a stretch.
I also ended up with the shitty job of cleaning the Tremies (clay hoppers) at the end of the shift. While I was out there the fat Marseillais asks me:
"Quelle heure il- est?"
but he says it fast with his Marseilles accent and I haven't a clue what he's saying. It sounds like "Kellurillay?"
So the conversation continues-
"Je suis desolé - mais je ne comprends pas"
"Eelar Kellur?"
"Wat tayme eez eet?"
"Merde! c'est moins le quart"

Exchanges like that make me feel a complete idiot

Characters #1 Armando

Armando is Portuguese. There were a lot of Portuguese immigrants to France in the 50's and 60's. If they speak French with a heavy Portuguese accent they're obviously the original article, but there are many 2nd and 3rd generation Portuguese that have no accent, but, due to their names, the French still refer to them as foreign. There's a chap at the factory called Jose Costa who is second generation, and when I was describing him to someone else the said "Oh, yes, the Portuguese guy".
Anyway, Armando is first generation, full-on Portuguese. Nice guy. but everyone refers to him as "the queer" or "le pédé". At the start of the shift when we're sitting around having a coffee, new arrivals will stroke his beard as they walk past or tickle him. The "Marseillais" always asks him if he's had his blowjob today or will he get one in the showers afterwards.
It's all good humoured and for the life of me I can't figure out if he really is gay, and they take the piss, or if he's straight and its all just a game.
I've only been with this team for 2 months (although a year at the factory), and it's still too soon for me to ask him "So, Armando, are you gay or what?" Because if it is all a joke, he could get pissed off that I'm the only idiot that took it seriously.

Today's shift - midday to 8:00pm and we're making Faiteaux. They're a traditional semi round, long roof tile that requires a lot of hands-on. Pain in the arse in fact.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Mission Statement

OK - just about every office I've worked in has had its eccentrics, bores, weirdos and arseholes, but the factory is special.
Perhaps its because I've never worked in a factory before.
Perhaps its because I'm English (kind of) and I'm working in France.

I need to use this blog to outline some of the weird people, the weird factory processes, and some of the day to day incidents. If anyone is remotely interested I'll run through the tiles we make, because they all involve big dangerous dirty machines that can (and have) squash hands flat. Cool.

It may give an insight on Anglo/French cultural differences. or not.