Historical challenge to maintain production at 200-year-old arsenal
November 19, 2013
- Team of 27 have awesome responsibility to maintain more than 600 machines.
- More than 600 machines range from state of the art to pre-computer.
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (Nov. 19, 2013) -- Located in a rarely visited World War I era building at the Watervliet Arsenal is a small team of 27 electrical mechanics who have the awesome responsibility to provide maintenance support to more than 600 industrial machines that are spread out over one million square feet of manufacturing space.
The shear scope of responsibility to maintain an Army owned and operated manufacturing center is unbelievably stressful and so, why would anyone want to face such a high workload every day? But some do and the arsenal is fortunate to have such folks whose sense of duty to the arsenal and to Soldiers drives their daily work ethic.
To help define and to better understand the extent of their workload, one must delve deep into the bowels of the arsenal's manufacturing center.
Within this fleet of machines, which range from 40 foot lathes that work in tens of thousandths of inch tolerances to machines that place up to 1,000 tons of pressure on howitzer and tank tubes, are other significant challenges. About two-thirds of the machines are state-of-the-art computer controlled, while one-third is from the machining days prior to computers. In fact, on some of the production floors one might find a recently delivered machine next to one that was manufactured 50, 60, or even 70 years ago.
Despite whether or not the machinery touts the latest in technology, they all serve a purpose. And because they do, they all need to be properly maintained and operational.
But according to Robert Jensen, the arsenal's industrial electronics supervisor, maintenance and repair of the electronics of machines is only a part of the overall responsibilities required of his team.
"My mechanics not only perform electrical diagnosis and repair, they also work on machine hydraulics, computers, and new machine emplacements," Jensen said. "And when we discover through our diagnosis that a machine is down due to a non-electrical part, we often work with tool makers to make a new part or we work with logisticians to order a new part."
In the latest year, there were more than 3,000 work orders that faced the 27 person team, Jensen said. Some of the work orders may be something as simple as replacing a fuse to doing periodic maintenance to something as big as installing a new lathe.
Because of the various skill sets and the amount of years of experience these electricians have, the amount of experience just at the arsenal ranges from 1 year to more than 38 years, there is not a challenge that cannot be met.
At a metal lathe in one of the production bays this week, was such an example of blending various talents into one team to tackle a very challenging repair. 36-year employee, Electrical Technician James Best, was working with 5-year electrician, Industrial Control Electronic Mechanic Joseph DeCrescenzo.
"Just because I have been here more than 36 years doesn't mean that I have seen all the challenges that these machines can throw at you," Best said. "That is why it is important that we work as a team so that we can leverage our accumulation of knowledge to respond to any challenge."
Someone who is not familiar with this team might believe the stress levels would be unbelievably high given the scope of their responsibility, but it isn't.
"The entire team thrives on a challenge," said Clark Wetzel, one of the newest additions to the team who joined the arsenal after serving 6 years in the Navy as an electrical specialist. "When you stop learning that is when its gets boring. I can tell you that it never gets boring here."
This team does not focus on their self-importance to the mission or do what they do for a pat on the back. After all, there is no time for that when there are more than 600 industrial machines to maintain.
The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army owned and operated manufacturing facility and is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States having begun operations during the War of 1812. It celebrated its 200th year of continuous service to the nation on July 14, 2013.
Today's Arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and foreign militaries to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark has an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $90 million.