Idea helps international student share $25,000 prize

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A Kettering international student is sharing a $25,000 prize from General Motors after his energy-saving idea was judged tops in GM's Suggestion Program.

Erick Rodriguez took top honors for an improvement at GM's Arlington, Texas, body shop facility. A junior and Industrial Engineering major, Rodriguez co-ops at the site.

"I was really excited when I heard," Rodriguez said. "I never thought they would take me seriously, but I've gotten very good treatment at General Motors."

Rodriguez said the opportunity arose when staff members at the Arlington, Texas, facility were asked to be creative in saving energy at the site. Al Robinson, the champion for cost reduction at Arlington, shared GM's current energy audit to educate everyone on the plant's energy consumption, Rodriguez said. He asked us to look for ways to help General Motors save on energy consumption.

So Rodriguez, who was assigned to the body shop as a production supervisor, looked to see where energy was being consumed in his area to see if he could make a helpful suggestion. "I observed that the robots continued to draw a significant amount of electricity during downtime periods in the body shop. More than 600 robots often sat idle consuming energy for two or three hours at the Arlington facility alone.

"The robots would stop," he explained, "but their motors continue to run to guarantee that they were ready to restart whenever production starts again. I talked to an electrician and he showed me how to change a robot's operation parameter. I suggested a way to trigger the robot into low-energy consumption, without the risk of it shutting down and losing its program."

Rodriguez suggested that the robots be changed to an "infinite" number of seconds until shut down. Using that process, the robots are available when needed but GM isn't paying production-level electric prices for idle equipment.

Walt Fleming, manager of Competitive Operations Engineering in Pontiac, is Rodriguez's mentor and boss. "Erick asked several very insightful questions and determined that the robots were still burning the same amount of energy whether they were working or not. He investigated going to a low-energy consumption use mode that could be readily triggered into full use when the line restarted."

Rodriguez's success pleases Fleming. "When Erick joined us, we looked at his interests and provided a balanced exposure plan for his co-op work sessions. I wanted a challenging experience for him," he said. "The co-op experience is a time to learn about the many facets of the business world outside the academic major," Fleming added.

Rodriguez is originally from Monterrey, Mexico. His co-op is through the GM's Central Office in Pontiac and has included time in Flint, Pontiac and Arlington, Texas.