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Roanoke shop employees ask: How can we do it better?

Spring 2014

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Electrician Jacob Walters attaches his self-designed battery recharger receptacle tool to the front of a locomotive. The tool won first place in the NS Ergo Cup competition for mechanical system shops.


Floor managers at Roanoke Locomotive Shop are quick to brag about the shop’s craft employees.

“The craft people here take the initiative to make the product better and are very mindful of the quality of their work,” said Brian Lucas, a general foreman who has 33 years at NS car and locomotive shops but less than a year at the Roanoke shop. “Since Day One, I have been impressed by the way employees address their work and the thought process that goes into it.”

Their ingenuity is reflected in Norfolk Southern’s Ergo Cup competition, which focuses on work process improvements that make railroad jobs safer, easier, and more efficient to perform. In 2013, shop employees placed first and third in the mechanical systems shop category, while a shop machinist earned honorable mention the previous year. The shop’s 2013 winners developed simple, inexpensive solutions using readily available resources.

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Electricians Corey Orange, left, and Jacob Walters say they look for more efficient ways to do their jobs.


Jump-starting an idea

Shop electrician Jacob Walters, with the assistance of boilermaker Cody Bryant, developed the battery charger receptacle, an Ergo Cup first-place winner. Walters brainstormed a safer, more efficient way to install the terminal pins on locomotive battery jumper cables.

During locomotive overhauls and modifications, the shop’s electricians routinely install or replace the two jumper cables, which are connected to a battery charger or to another locomotive to jump-start a dead battery. An electrician solders a battery terminal pin to the end of each cable, a 45-minute job that typically involves two people: one wears safety gloves and holds the terminal pin in place with pliers while the other solders the pin to the cable with a torch.

One night, while on third shift, Walters needed help soldering the pins, but the other electrician on duty was working another job. Walters decided there had to be a more efficient way to do the task. With a little trial and error, he found a solution.

His innovation combines a metal pipe clamp that shop pipefitters use to install air brake lines and a piece of Schedule 80 pipe. He sawed the pipe to about three inches in length – just wide and long enough to securely hold a terminal pin. Walters then approached Bryant and described the tool he had in mind. Bryant heated the end of the pipe clamp, bent it slightly to form a base, and then welded the Schedule 80 pipe onto the base to serve as pin holder.

That was it. Walters was in business. By clamping the receptacle tool to the front of the locomotive, he doesn’t need a co-worker to hold the terminal pin while he solders it to a jumper cable.

“It definitely makes doing these a lot easier, and it’s safer because you don’t have to worry about somebody else’s hands being near where you’re soldering,” said Walters, whose hard hat sports an InnovatioNS sticker.

As it turned out, Corey Orange, a first-shift electrician, was working separately on the same work challenge. Orange developed a slightly different tool, but it performs the same function as Walters’ receptacle device. While Walters’ creation was entered in the Ergo Cup, the takeaway message for all NS employees, Orange said, is to keep an open mind about ways to improve work processes.

“I would say don’t get stuck in a rut of doing things the same way they’ve always been done,” Orange said. “Be creative.”

Pipefitter Joe Monaghan points out the Monohand pipe holder, which won third place in the Ergo Cup for mechanical system shops.


Monohand at your service

A tool that third-shift pipefitter Joe Monaghan created addresses a work issue that people have wrestled with for more than 40 years – coupling oil and coolant pipes between the engine and front end of GE locomotives. His innovation – the Monohand pipe holder, a play on his name – placed third in the Ergo Cup.

Monaghan, who formerly worked at a Caterpillar dealer, hired on at the Roanoke shop in October 2012. Like Walters and Orange, who each joined the shop within the past five years, Monaghan was looking for an easier, better way to perform a work task.

The GE coupling pipes that link oil and water piping between the engine and a locomotive’s front end can be four feet long and weigh up to 40 pounds. Pipefitters remove and connect them during engine overhauls and repair. One person can perform the task, but it could involve using a shoulder or a hand to support one end of the pipe while using a wrench in the other hand to tighten a gasket on the pipe’s opposite end. Two pipefitters have limited space to work.

Kevin Fletcher, left, boilermaker, and
Dee Myers, electrician working gang
leader, show off the safety bell that
shop employees earned for working
2-million consecutive hours without a
reportable injury. Fletcher is chairman
of the shop’s safety and service
committee, while Myers was assistant

Inspiration struck one night after Monaghan tired of having to repeatedly call on another pipefitter for assistance. Rather than interrupting his co-worker, Monaghan tested a simple idea that came to him on the spot. He took a section of four-inch diameter plastic pipe, known as PVC, and cut off a piece about 10 inches long. He then cut that piece in half lengthwise with a hack saw. It took him about five minutes. Then he strapped one end of the canoe-shaped piece to the coupling pipe on the front of the locomotive. Viola! Problem solved.

“It acts like a cradle and holds one end of the pipe,” Monaghan said. “That frees up both of your hands so you can easily work on the other end. It makes the job real simple.”

Monaghan’s creation will be reviewed by NS’ locomotive standardization team for possible adoption systemwide. In the meantime, the shop has produced a “fancy” prototype made of steel, Monaghan said.

Chuck Sloan, shop manager, said Monaghan’s solution had everybody wondering why no one had come up with the idea sooner.

“Everybody has wrestled with that issue since the 1970s,” Sloan said. “Joe was the first to say, ‘I’ve got an idea’ and then did it and said, ‘Hey boss, what do you think of this?’ It’s so simple, and everybody in the shop loves it.”