Alcoa produces aluminum sheet metal in various size and thickness for usages such as beverage cans, automotive frames and anything that can be formed with aluminum sheets. Like any production and manufacturing company, maintenance is required on all machinery and equipment.
This was one of the projects I was assigned while working at Alcoa during a summer internship in 2012. The assignment was to ensure safety and prevent injuries that may occur while maintenance is performed on machinery and equipment during scheduled factory down-time.
At my time as an intern at Alcoa, Tennessee, this location focused on rolled aluminum products (imagine giant rolls of aluminum sheet at various thicknesses.) Imagine the size of machinery required to produced this product starting with smelting of an aluminum ingot that requires a 16-wheeler truck to transport it and cooling and molding the molten aluminum into sheets. Maintenance on the machinery and equipment was very important since production is on-going 24 hours and any interruptions and stops were costly.
During maintenance, employees may have to get down 7-10 feet below the equipment and squeeze between crevices and tight spaces while avoiding falling into giant holes and tripping over things. There were occurrences where workers ignore their safety training and jump over holes or corners where they can fall 10 feet into a pit or machinery just they can save 10 seconds to get to the access point. One of the projects I was assigned to was to discourage and prevent these practices, and ultimately design safety structures to prevent any accidents while workers perform maintenance.
One of the safety structures I designed was a platform to cover an opening. During maintenance, workers would skip or jump over it. The intent of the design is to make a platform big enough to cover the opening. Because there was a bigger opening on one of the sides as seen in the third figure, I added railings in case of any slips or trips walking over the platform; the center of mass was calculated to ensure that the platform will not topple over into the larger opening. "C" cuts were also designed on the platform so it can be craned in during maintenance. (A ceiling crane was often used in the building for other needs.)
The second platform I designed was a platform and ladder to an underground compartment workers need access to during maintenance. Originally, the access point was a narrow walkway to an unstable ladder. I designed a structure with a platform large and robust enough so workers can stand comfortably on, railings to prevent any falls, and a stiff and stable ladder to climb down to the underground compartment.
These safety structures were to be built in-house by their own machine shop. The first platform presented is craned in and utilized when the mill undergoes maintenance. The second safety structure is to be installed in place.
I like to thank Joe Ott for being my mentor. He has many years of experience as an engineer and shared a lot of knowledge with me that I had already used in jobs following this internship. I also like to thank all the other interns, engineers and staff of Alcoa I have interacted with. It was a great experience and I have achieved skills that I am proud of.