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Production Supervisor Interview

Meet Douglas Bruner, a production supervisor at GeoSystems, LLC.

Please share your name, title, and a description of your job duties and responsibilities.
My name is Douglas Bruner, and I am a production supervisor at GeoSystems, LLC. My main goal is to make sure all heat pumps are produced in an orderly fashion to meet the customer's due date. I supervise 22 people to make sure we're on the same page and can satisfy our customers' orders. Without customers, there's no reason to make heat pumps. When we're building 20 heat pumps a day, there's always some issues or problems, large or small, and there are always questions that need to be answered. I'm there to guide and help our workers during the production of these pumps.

What is a typical day like at your job?
On a typical day I get into work about 6:30 a.m., and I supervise from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the production floor. At 7 a.m. we have a short team meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page for the day. I usually work about 50 hours per week. I spend about 7-8 hours on the floor, and only an hour on the computer to check e-mails and orders. Every day we try to schedule the production of 20 heat pumps. Usually three will need additional attention, so we have to work more on those in order to get 20 quality-assured pumps moved out the door by the end of the day.

We also give tours of the plant and do cleaning and basic maintenance. We have optional overtime available to our workers, unless we're really busy and then overtime becomes mandatory.

How did you get started working in this field?
Once I graduated from high school and Alexandria Technical College, I came to Appleton, Minnesota. There were a few places I could have gone to get more education, but I wasn't a big city guy, so I started building houses in the area, and I did that for about five years. I was paid well, but had to drive an hour every day, and after five years I was looking for new work. I looked in the Appleton Press and there was an ad for an assistant plant manager at the GeoSystems, LLC. plant. They were looking for someone with a background in geothermal and I didn't have that requirement, so I put it out of my mind. A few weeks later, it was still in the paper, and my fiancé really encouraged me to apply. I got my suit and tie on, came down for the interview, and they agreed to hire me and taught me about geothermal.

What sort of training or education do you have?
Before I came to GeoSystems, LLC., I had training from Alexandria Technical College in fluid power technology. I also took courses in electrical systems, math, business, and public speaking. I had three diplomas when I finished in: fluid power technology, mechanical engineering technician (MET), and machine assembly specialist (MAS). They taught you to be the boss, instead of the worker on the bottom. When I came to GeoSystems, LLC., I had everything they were looking for except for the geothermal.

What sort of tools, machines, or equipment do you use regularly?
We have hand-held and electric pipe benders, torches, and soldering equipment. We have computers on the floor for tracking labor and production. We have a vacuum charge and test station that was made especially for our plant and product, so we can test our pump in 20 minutes. We also have an engineering lab that has all the simulators and equipment needed to test and design our pumps.

What skills or personal qualities are good for this job?
You really need to be a people person here. When you're supervising 22 people, there are a lot of personalities and you need to be able to accommodate them. Problem solving is also a good skill, because problems show up every day. Some are easy and some are hard. You also need to be able to bring people together to resolve challenges, and be able to work one-on-one with folks to fix the smaller problems. Most of the people that work here stay here. We have low employee turn-over. I think it mostly has to do with people working together as a team and enjoying their work.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy solving the problems that show up every day, like expediting orders, customers' questions about heat pumps, and tight deadlines. When there seems to be a crisis, I love how we can get everyone together and resolve the crisis. It makes everybody happy, and it shows how when everyone works together you can fix things quickly and simply. I also like that most of the people who work here really like working here; it's not just a job for us.

How does your job benefit the environment?
My job benefits the environment by using geothermal energy to get away from the use of oil and natural gas. Geothermal uses the ground's warmth and cold to heat and cool your house and our pumps rely on sustainable resources. The earth's temperature doesn't change much. Down under the surface of the earth, the ground is always between 40 to 50 degrees. So you either heat or cool from that temperature.

There's an efficiency difference as well. The geothermal heat pump will cost more at first than a regular furnace, but it has a payback of within five to seven years.

What changes in this field do you expect to see in the future?
Right now we are seeing a lot more people jumping on the geothermal bandwagon. There are government incentives, so people are getting more interested in this as a way to heat and cool their homes and businesses. People know it's going to be here for a long time without altering the environment. So geothermal is really coming along.

What is your advice to someone interested in this field?
If you have any questions about geothermal, you can go online to learn more. I know our company tries to educate people about geothermal. We can offer part-time jobs for high school students and internships for people that are already in school. Don't be afraid to come in and apply for our jobs, even if you don't have geothermal experience. We can do a walk-through and show you how we do things. We have an assembly line, so you don't have to know how to make the whole pump, just one piece of it.

Any final thoughts you'd like to add?
Geothermal is going to be the way of the future. The ground temperature isn't going away. The more we can move away from our dependence on oil and natural gas, the better off this country will be. We're all going to have to take a step in the right direction and geothermal is one of those steps.