15 minutes at the breakers’ yard office

I needed a seat belt part for my car, so made it out to one of the local breaker yards. I spent fifteen minutes in their office. It was intriguing watching them do their work.

There was the Irish guy on the phone. The interface to the rest of the garages. Constant calls. He was always looking up parts on the computer, but also knew off the top of his head what parts they had from hundreds of cars. There were people calling asking if jobs were finished, and he knew if they were.

There was a full crew of Polish lads coming in and out of the office, going back to the yard for requested parts. There were a lot of smiles, joking, and mentions of “kurva” this and “kurva” that. I wonder how much Polish the Irish guy has picked up. He didn’t give anything away, but I’d say he understands quite a bit.

One of the mechanics came in, all smiles. He went to the phone counter guy, where they started prioritising what tasks he might do. They were discussing what parts were arriving when. There were time constraints to when they had to get certain parts ready for certain people. Some tasks were ignored because they weren’t high priority enough yet. They agreed in the end that he should work on taking out a particular engine.

That mechanic, in any case, took over the incoming phone calls. He also was up to date with what jobs were finished. On the phone, they greeted everyone by name, probably talking to lads calling in from garages that are regularly in touch. The domain knowledge these lads seemed massive (although I do often remind myself that what’s obvious to you is magic to others).

Whoever was on the phone was definitely the task master, facilitating the mechanics. They’d come to him to ask what part was next being asked by walk-in customers like myself. This phone task master was definitely a bottleneck in the process. The mechanics were often standing behind him waiting for his phone call to finish before they spoke to him about what to get next.

Those little downtimes for the mechanics might not be a bad thing at all, though. Those 30 seconds waiting for the phone call to end might be their little chance to rest the head before moving onto the next mechanical job. The phone guy was the bottleneck, but if you employed two people to take the separate jobs of phone and taskmaster, they might add extra coordination complexity to the whole process, ultimately slowing it down.

It was a treat to get to see this team work together. They didn’t have the part I needed, in the end, but at least I learned a little about how breaker yards work.