DEC. 12, 2015 / JORDAN VINSON
A country boy from Mississippi with a low, southern drawl, Raymond Stigler is a mechanic at the Roi Power Plant. He’s spent the last eight years of his career operating the litany of machines buzzing loudly at the plant, performing preventative maintenance, building pumps and more. You know, the expected stuff that keeps the plant pumping out the juice needed to operate everything on the islet, from the KREMS sensors to the Christmas lights at the Gabby Shack.
But Stigler is much more than a mechanic. An experienced metal worker with a knack for problem solving, his real skills lie in making his and his peers’ work lows at the plant easier, safer and more streamlined and efficient. Pairing decades of experience in metal work with his unique ability to recognize and cut out the unnecessary, wasteful and riskier fat embedded within work routines at the plant, Stigler has transformed the way many of the jobs at the Roi Power Plant are done.
“The guys come up to me and say, ‘Hey, make our job easier, safer. What can we do?’” Stigler says. “I say, ‘OK.’ They tell me what they want. I think about it and, first of all, [find out] what kind of material we have on and, you know.” Using the parts he can get his hands on, from new stock at the metal shop, to old, scrap equipment lying around the plant that he can cannibalize, Stigler has transformed chunks of metal into an array of money- and time-saving tools that he and his peers now depend on.
Take a tour of the plant with Stigler, and you’ll see why his coworkers think of him sort of as a self-styled metalworking MacGuyver. The place is filled with projects he’s pieced together throughout the years. There are fleets of custom fabricated metal carts and buggies, each with a specific function that streamlines each job associated with it. Employees use them to transport and work on extremely heavy parts like piston heads for the plant’s goliath engines. They use them to house and transport all the tools and parts needed to work on specific machines, cutting out the time they used to waste walking back and forth from parts storage areas or using forklifts to move parts that were once kept on pallets. There’s one notable cart called the Super Sucker that Stigler built specifically to help operators pump out fluids from the plant’s engines. The job used to be messy, time consuming and risky; now it’s a piece of cake that helps keep operators out of harm’s way.
Stigler’s ability to see and implement safer, easier methods for performing routine tasks has been an apparent breath of fresh air for his co-workers.
“Oh yeah, he makes the job a lot more easier,” Danny Nabu, a mechanic at the plant, says. “He always says, ‘It’s better to work smart than harder.’”
Jobs that used to take a toll on Nabu’s knees and back are easier than ever. A good example is the small, crane-like boom extension Stigler built from old, decommissioned saltwater pump parts that operators use to swap out bad clutches on motors.
“In order to change the clutches out, the electric motors got to be pulled off and clutches put on and then slipped back in,” Stigler explains. “Right there where the motors are … there’s pipes and all right there, and it’s really hard for a man to get into and then be down like this, pretty much on his knees on pipes in order to pull the motor out.”
Now Stigler’s improvised little crane support the motors from above, removing the load from the operators’ backs and knees and making the job instrumentally more efficient and safe. Seeing it in action, it’s hard to see why this device was never part of the process from the start. One gets that impression from most all of the devices the man makes for the plant. Seeing solutions like these before anyone else even realizes they need them is part of his talent—like a southern, blue collared Steve Jobs.
Another example: a large, bright red piston repair rack that allows operators to work on the engines’ pistons while standing, eliminating a hunched over posture that used to come with the job. He’s even built ingenious tools fashioned from golf clubs that keep workers from having to get on their hands and knees and bending over repeatedly to retrieve fallen debris from under grating surrounding the plant’s engines. And custom-built sunshades and light swivel fixtures aid the men when they work in their outdoors workshop.
Stigler’s efforts result in more than just less strain on workers’ bodies, though. His creative solutions have netted the Roi Power Plant serious savings in time and cash. Before he got on the job, for instance, the plant’s operators would have to throw out pricey reusable fuel filters when the inner brackets holding the filters to the engines would start to give out. The units’ ability to filter the diesel fuel entering the engines was, of course, unharmed—each $200 unit, being reusable, can be cleaned and used over and over—but because the brackets went bad, the units were regularly scrapped and replaced with brand-new filters. Not anymore.
“Scott [Maddox, the Roi Power Plant supervisor] wanted me to come up with something,” Stigler says, thumbing a ring-like chunk of metal in his hand. “So I built these washers.” In his hand are two doughnut shaped slices of metal welded together to serve as a replacement—and much more durable—bracket fixture to pair a filter to a motor. These fixtures slip down into the filters, it the filters to the engines and greatly expand the lifespans of the units. He’s built 20 of the fixtures, and they’re in use in each engine now.
Stigler’s solution to the once-cumbersome and pricey job of replacing the exhaust systems on the plant’s engines is also eye opening. Each large, macaroni-shaped component pipe in an engine’s exhaust once had to be disassembled, even if operators wanted to replace a simple gasket. It was time consuming and pricey, Stigler says.
“Each one of those pieces get gaskets and bolts, and it’s pretty expensive,” he says. “Like 98 dag-gone bolts to put the whole thing together.” But a long metal rack system Stigler made now allows workers to remove the entire exhaust pipe in one fell swoop. “We can pick up that whole exhaust and move it away from the engine without busting those other seals, see? And that saves money. That saves time. … Now we can take it off as one piece. You’re saving time and money on parts.”
Perhaps Stigler’s most significant contribution was the solution he helped devise and implement when the plant’s new exhaust stacks were installed more than two years ago. When crews installed the stacks, they discovered that a handful of the plant’s concrete structural support beams blocked the path of a series of vents needed to funnel the exhaust from the engines to the stacks.
Stigler again stepped up to apply his ingenuity, the result being a series of custom built offset connectors that allow the exhaust system to sidestep those structural beams and connect the stacks with the engines.
“That saved a lot of time,” Maddox, Stigler’s boss, says. “That saved weeks.”
One could easily say that all the time and effort Stigler has put into improving the Roi Power Plant’s operations goes above and beyond what is required of him. But say that to Stigler, and he’ll quickly shoot you down. He’s not in it for a fancy award he can frame and pin to the wall. He simply gets satisfaction from making everyone’s jobs easier, more efficient and safer, he says.
“It ain’t what the power plant can do for you, but what you can do for the power plant,” he says laughing.
Sure, there’s a degree of sarcasm there, but when you spend as much time at the Roi Power Plant as Stigler—think six days a week, every week for the past two years—you want to make your work life as smooth, safe and efficient as possible. Plus, he seems to really enjoy the place.
“It’s a good job,” he says, stepping outside into the sunshine where he keeps an outdoors workshop. “It’s kind of like a home away from home. Can’t complain.”