There are many companies which design, test, develop, or improve steel plant processes. Similarly, there are many companies which provide specialized services to the needs of steel plants. One may wonder how the on-site, “permanent” workers’ activities, their methods, etc., maintenance in particular, are improved.
In countries where there is a large consumer market, one sees almost a continuous development of tools, be it for construction industry, for the “back yard mechanic”, for the home hobbyist, etc. Many of those tools are applicable to other industries as well, including the steel plants.
Traditionally many steel companies specify that certain hand tools are to be supplied by the employee while larger sizes, power tools, etc., are supplied by the company. People working by a flat rate, or where they would personally benefit from improved quantity or quality, may be eager to evaluate the economics of buying one or more of those “new, advanced tools”. Working by the hour, as most steel plant workers are, logically would present a totally different basis towards such a consideration, especially if the worker is already in compliance for what is required for personal supply. The manufactured tools, in most cases, are sufficient for maintaining the plant.
It has been stated, “Poverty produces the best inventions”. While one may associate poverty as something in “3rd World Countries”, perhaps, if appropriate moneys are not made available, whether in “1st or 3rd world”, it can produce the same effect to those in need.
If the work environment promotes employee participation without prejudice, one may find two or more employees have pooled their skill sets and formed an informal team. They may come up with a computer assisted equipment that can be used to monitor in plant hydraulic systems better than commercially available as their system maybe specifically designed for the exact speeds, pressures, number of points to be monitored, etc.. Few decades ago already at least at one steel plant, they were using instruments that allowed them to study the smoothness of the oscillation of the mould table movement at a caster; much better and more accurate than just a visual observation.
“Some in- house-made tools”, may be required to be certified by an engineer or by a person of certain defined qualification. But that usually may apply only for cases where there is a potential for causing injury to a person.
In earlier years, one may have been more restricted to being exposed to new ideas. Now-a-days it is much easier. One can use internet, YouTube, and many other platforms to not just read or look at still pictures but actually see videos with sound of what others in steel or other industries are doing. Their problem may not be identical to what they are viewing but there may be sufficient similarity to stimulate the mind and apply it more specifically to their own situation.
Not all employee produced ideas have to be “new developments”; maybe just another application of something from “way past”. For those who have had opportunities to visit plants in countries other their own, may find that, by their life style variations, there could be methods/equipment/tools that would not even occur to anyone within their country. Often it may not be better but at times it can be. If someone was to suggest using bicycles in place of walking or using motorcycles with trailers to transport some parts, even within a mill, that may be perfectly “normal” and acceptable in some countries while in some others they would consider the suggestion as the “joke of the day”.
Occasionally one may borrow/customize methods that are used in other industries. If there is a need to re-machine the flange that supports/seals the revolving charging chute mechanism of a blast furnace, one will quickly discover it is very large in diameter, cannot be removed from the furnace and is located “a way up” close to the top of the furnace. With an open mind, one may associate some similarity for equipment used for space discovery. As most observatory sites are in remote areas and often consist of large diameter tracks that have to be precisely machined after installation. Some service companies may use milling machines that actually ride on the track/surface they are machining, get their feedback information from another source and produce a surface that is sufficiently level and smooth to be able to beam, accurately, light years away, to the far reaching outer space.
For safety, there have been many improvements, be it for eye, face, body, foot, hand, etc. and one could contribute many of them strictly applicable for steel plants but many others applicable for other industries as well.
In steel industry (and many others such as mining, other metal industries, etc.) the companies may rely heavily on service industries. Such service companies, to stay competitive, may have to buy or develop new methods/tools or they are no longer competitive. For example, there are still companies that may send their employees to clean and “gun” the inside of a blast furnace where the furnace is not “completely shut down”; some others have developed a safer way by using “robots”. (One may question as to why anyone would send employees into such an environment when there are other safer and perhaps better ways of accomplishing the task(s).)
Not all industries rely on others to develop tools for the employees. In a car/vehicle assembly plant, (one can find videos on YouTube that provide the next best thing to an actual visit) one has to look hard to find where someone needs to lift more than an average person could hold at the end of one’s stretched out arm. If they need several smaller items to complete one specific task, seems those activities can be completed in a very ergonomic fashion as a result of where the part(s) is (are) in relation to the position the employee is during the required activity. Sure, the workers deal in volumes of repetitive activities, day in day out; while observing, one may realize that they seem to have tools/aids to make their work day so much easier.
In some other cases and away from “big industry”, one cannot wait for a solution to come to them, or till someone dreams of a new way/tool. One needs to consciously develop a new way, a new tool, and a new method. If one observes pit stops at car races, they can rotate the wheels, add fuel, do minor adjustments in a time an average person would need to stop the vehicle, get out of the driver’s seat and go and open the trunk, for accessing the spare wheel.
Mobile, hydraulic hoists that can easily be moved, within close quarters and, expanded to handle jobs where over head, permanent cranes can’t reach have replaced methods where riggers previously had had to laboriously transfer the equipment from one chain fall to another. If the work environment was not conducive to new ideas, regardless of who may initiating them, maybe the riggers would still be transferring equipment from one chain fall to another, after having to find/make something to hang the chain falls from.
Companies such as Wabi Iron & Steel Corp. have the capabilities to re-engineer obsolete industrial plant replacement components, either as a casting, or a fabrication, or as a combination of both.