Innovation turns trash into exciting ergonomic solution

Mike Heddy and Ricardo Garcia are more than machinists. They are innovators.

For less than a thousand dollars, they turned garbage into a cost-cutting, time-saving, ergonomic solution in their Jacksonville, Florida, facility.

“These two looked at a piece of equipment that was about to go in the trash and saw something else,” said Mark Burford, a manufacturing engineer.

Caterpillar’s Reman, Components and Work Tools Division in Jacksonville manufactures fusion buckets, which provide the flexibility to scoop material, level or backfill. The bucket shell was the issue. The old process required a machinist to cut the part from a large metal plate, then two machinists moved it manually through the forming process, using pry bars and force.

Demand for these pieces increased in recent years, which meant machinists had to repeat the same physically demanding job more frequently.

“It used to be too tough on the body,” Heddy said. “You couldn’t move your arms or neck by the end of the day. We used to hate it. Now we actually enjoy it. We look forward to it.”

About a year ago, Heddy and Garcia set out to create a fixture to move the plate through the forming process. Their first experimentation failed, but they kept at it. After about three weeks, they crafted a successful solution. Now, one operator uses the machine’s motor to guide the plate, while the other controls the plate’s position. The new process reduced 26 manual movements to six, reduced cycle time by 67 percent, reduced cycle time costs by $96,000 a year and dramatically reduced the risk of ergonomic injury.

“We basically had to buy three tires and bearings. Then we put in about 16 hours of designing, welding and assembling,” Heddy said.

Maintenance technician Bobbie Nipper helped the machinists turn their ideas into reality, and their section manager Mike Ziza gave them time to work on the solution, even after their first attempt failed.

“Giving employees time to innovate is important,” Burford said. “These guys used their time wisely when they were given the opportunity, and a lot of good has come from that. I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg for them.”

In March, the team will travel to the Applied Industrial Ergonomics Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, to compete for the Ergo Cup. This external competition recognizes the best team-driven workplace solutions.

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