WTD’s ‘Bright Ideas’ employee idea program successful second year

WTD Bright IdeasBest-Run GovernmentThis fall, Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) celebrated the two-year anniversary of its Bright Ideas program which encourages employees to submit their ideas for efficiencies and continuous improvement through an online tool.

Since the program started, almost 700 ideas to create a more efficient, productive workplace were submitted – which indicates a solid level of interest and engagement in the program among employees. Approved ideas have created notable improvements in many areas, such as: streamlined processes for customers; money-saving approaches to maintenance; solutions to equipment issues; and better communication with people from the public.

WTD Division Director Pam Elardo announced employee recognition awards for especially creative or impactful ideas (as voted on by an employee committee) at a series of All Hands meetings in November-December 2014. Individuals with winning ideas (or who have made considerable contributions of time to the program) were awarded Bright Ideas ‘brag swag’ items such as stickers, idea notebooks, and water bottles. WTD’s director’s office will continue to recognize employees for contributing ideas and utilize internal communications tools (posters, emails, articles in newsletters) to maintain employee interest and engagement into the future.

Here’s a recap:

168 ideas this year!

  • We had great participation – every section contributed
  • Over 1/2 of the 168 ideas submitted this year were approved
  • A lot of ideas saved money, saved time, or made the quality of our work better!

Special Award winners!

A team of about 30 employees from across the division called the Strategic Improvement Advisory Team (SIAT) –– reviewed ideas from the past year and gave great awards:

  • MacGyver” Award – most inventive / creative idea overall
    • Idea #461: Many hours were spent hosing the foamy sludge on the digester covers to keep it from bubbling up and out the overflow pipe. Plus, hosing meant putting cold water into each digester, taking up valuable space and lowering the temperature of the digester.     Mark Zappalo came up with the idea of using a mounted air diffuser to break up the foam means that the operator can just put the air to the diffuser and walk away.
  • Ideas  #489, 490, 491: Stanley Caberto comes up with a lot of MacGyver-like ideas – here are just three: 1) Made of lightweight but strong aluminum – and just big enough to fit through the door, the “Carbon Launcher” is a hopper device that funnels the carbon needed for odor control into the vessels – eliminating the need for a crane, as well as the dust that the carbon delivery dumping used to create; 2) An alignment tool that can be used by one mechanic to align a heavy motor and pump within a 1000th of an inch – moving them incrementally in any direction for adjustments; and 3) Plexi-glass gear guards and fins on pump bearings at Lake Ballinger Pump Station use the spinning motion of the shafts themselves to funnel air and cool the equipment like the blades on a fan. This “self-cooling” improvement has resulted in far fewer equipment shutdowns – which means a lot of time saved for operators.
  • I Love My Work” Award – best example of an idea that truly makes WTD the best place to work – Idea #470: If Tom Crawford is willing to go down into a digester, he really loves his job! LOTO and entry procedure were developed to float a person into a digester to inspect it. The procedure was designed and reviewed by West Point Day Ops, Plant and WTD Safety, and Construction management. It avoided building $50-70K worth of scaffolding to access the bottom of the digester.
  • Putting on the Armor” Award – best example of idea that improves safety – Idea #517: Dan Edenshaw had the idea to laminate the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and material safety data sheets (MSDS) for chemicals delivered, as well as using weather proof boxes in places of transfer.
  • It DOES get better than that” Award – best example of an idea that improves what we felt was “un-improvable” – Idea #508: The THS samplers at South plant used to discharge into the french drains. This caused problems over the years with the drains becoming overwelmed or blocked and then the sludge would cover the daft gallery floor and operators had to clean it up. Billy Burton’s idea was to pipe the THS samplers to the THS pump inlets, saving wear and tear on the drain sump pumps and avoiding hours spent cleaning up messes.
  • Damn the Torpedoes” Award – best example of overcoming what at first appeared to be insurmountable – Idea #579: JR Meksavanh had the idea of creating a central records homepage linking all of the various places we have online records.
  • Unsung Heros” Award – best example of employees who generate ideas on a regular basis and work to implement those ideas: James Moors, Jimmy Harmon, Anne Grothe, Stanley Caberto, Greg Vogt, and Andrew Sinclair! They all have embraced the Bright Ideas mentality and applied it to their day to day work.
  • Low Hanging Fruit” Award – best example of idea that should have been thought of a long time ago –
    • Idea #454: James Moors noticed that cleaning the spray bars on the gravity belt thickener (GBT) was hard to do when they were filled up with debris. (GBTs are equipment used to remove water from the solids in the treatment process). James suggested removing the wash box on each machine to better clean the spray bar nozzles. After submitting his idea, James worked with Jimmy Harmon, industrial maintenance mechanic, to create a way to access the spray bars without removing the wash box. The new solution made for a compromise that worked for everyone.
    • Idea #464: Bruce Kessler suggested we put the projector remotes in the KSC conference rooms (instead of being signed out at the front desk).
  • Slashing Red Tape” Award – best example of streamlinging our processes to “just do it” –
    • Idea #462 Vivian Scott suggested changing language on the engineering/ professional contract forms to streamline what was before very time consuming. The new language saves time, money and avoids the cause of audit findings.
    • Idea #475 Bill Wilbert had the idea to create savings and reduce staff time by giving employees access to use P-card to pick up permits as issued rather than taking the traditional longer steps. This LEAN business process saved the unit $28,750 in the year 2013.
  • Super Geek” Award – best example of use of technology – Idea #472 Patricia Magnuson had the idea to create a PDF online fillable cover form to help permittees submit the correct information and make the process faster. Forms have been created and are available online.
  • Bringing Home the Bacon” Award – best example of money saving idea – AND
  • the honorary “Low Tech Solution” Award – Idea #551 The oil samples showed high levels of water in the oil on East/West primary outfall hydraulic units at West Point. Hub Diehl suggested ordering colored ‘desicant breather’ filters to prevent contamination of the oil.
  • Bright Ideas Ambassador” Award – employee showing the most enthusiasm and advocacy for the Bright Ideas program: Curtis Steinke and Monica Van der Vieren! They both consistently submit ideas and encourages enthusiasm around Bright Ideas with their coworkers.
  • Reduce Wattage Award” Award – best example of energy savings – Idea #496 Jeff Lundt came up with the idea of replacing the small style water heaters in remote facilities. The heaters will only turn on when water is being used, rather than heating the water 24/7.
  • Idea Before it’s Time” Award – best example of a great idea that we just can’t implement right now – Idea #439 Ron Kohler suggested recovering energy through the Energy Dissipating structure located within Section 9 of the East Side Interceptor. There is a rapid elevation drop creating huge potential for capturing energy, after long consideration and outreach to contractors the project is not yet achievable.

People who submitted multiple ideas:

Dennis Rathbun (6) James Moors (6) Tom Crawford (5)

 Keep sending us your ideas!

Submit your ideas to the Bright Ideas tracker. The tracker allows us to both document and share our ideas. This is a good business. We want you to submit ideas big and small – even those we’ve recently implemented. Sharing ideas helps others and one good idea often leads to another. It also helps us celebrate our own achievements.

(Article by Rachael Dillman, Communications Specialist III, Wastewater Treatment Division).