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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 8 (January 15, 1927)

Suggestions And Inventions — The Committee at Work in the Railway Nursery for Bright Ideas

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Suggestions And Inventions
The Committee at Work in the Railway Nursery for Bright Ideas.

Fourteen months in operation and 1,511 proposals dealt with, is the record of the Committee specially appointed last year to deal with suggestions and inventions received from the staff and public. For suggestions accepted, £205 was disbursed as awards (not counting final awards), and 88 commendations were made. This summarises the results of the Committee's decisions to date whilst there are over 200 proposals still under trial or investigation.

Every one of these fifteen hundred odd suggestions had for its object improvement in the working of the Railways. With such a wealth of opinion, of inventive faculty, and of practical knowledge in regard to technical details, made available through this barrier-levelling device for letting the best brains available serve the public good, the question naturally arises, what kind of consideration do suggestions and inventions receive? With the object of finding the answer to this question we had the privilege of attending a recent meeting of the Suggestions Committee and watching them at work.

Promptly at 9.30 Mr. G. W. Wyles took the chair in the well appointed room specially provided for the Committee's use, attached to Head Office. Around the Committee table were, Mr. S. E. Fay, Operation and Equipment Assistant, Mr. L. W. Robertson, Locomotive Engineer, Chief Mechanical Engineer's Office, Mr. H. L. P. Smith, Assistant Engineer (Maintenance Branch) and Mr. A. Sutherland, Secretary to the Committee. Mr. D. Rodie, Commercial Manager, is also a member of the Committee, but was absent owing to a serious illness from which, fortunately, he has since made good recovery.

It will thus be seen that each branch of the service is represented on the Committee by an expert officer, whose special knowledge in relation to the practicability of suggestions or inventions is made immediately available.

Placed before each member was a large folio containing typewritten copies of all suggestions submitted. When the Chairman called on the orders of the day a number was named by the Secretary, folios were opened, and members settled down to the business in hand. All suggestions are known to the Committee by numbers only, this arrangement being necessary to preserve the anonymity of the suggester. The Committee's method of dealing with the surprising variety of subjects presented is orderly and expeditious. Proposals are taken in numerical sequence, and a brief discussion follows in reference to each. If the combined knowledge of the Committee is sufficient to enable a decision to be arrived at, the Chairman, after taking the feeling of the meeting, gives directions as to the terms of the reply to be sent, or dictates to the Secretary a report to be forwarded to the Board of Management. If, however, there is divided opinion, decision is held in abeyance pending either the examination of witnesses specially conversant with the subject, or the receipt of reports from Departmental officers or outside experts to whom it may be considered desirable to refer the matter.

Besides the great range of subjects dealt with, one is impressed by the fascination which certain subjects have for suggesters. Level crossing devices, for instance, are as popular as was in old times the search for the philosopher's stone. One of these happened to be the first invention dealt with. The device, with plans and models cleverly designed, was brought forward, and the proposal thoroughly discussed. On this subject the Engineers were quite at home. Then the model was set in motion. Immediately there was a whizzing and buzzing. Bells rang, flags waved, lights flashed, and booms fell. Mr. Wyles, the Chairman, led a most interesting discussion on the pros and cons of Level Crossing protection. After a decision was arrived at another number was called and the Committee went on to examine the possibilities of crossword puzzles as a means of advertising the Railways. Next came a proposal to tinker up the bolts in the bogie centres of “Ww” locomotives. Mr. Robertson was au fait with the position and, after talking briefly of spigots, cheeseheaded bolts and spherical joints, the drawings were examined, and a decision made. Many technical propositions followed, and then a proposal dealing with the “tolerance or limits of error of weighbridges” was brought up. Mr. Smith had made a special study of this question and his clear exposition enabled the matter to be quickly finalised.

The next suggestion related to transportation questions, and here Mr. Fay opened up with a general exposition of modern methods of operations as applied to transportation. Comparisons were drawn between the methods of New Zealand and those of Britain, Canada, America, and other places. Mr. Wyles held forth on English, Scottish, Indian and Australian practices. Other members joined in, and thus in ten brief minutes page 11 was discussed train practice all over the globe. But even then the final answer was not brought back, so it was decided to call for further information departmentally, and the matter was held in abeyance. The Committee went on to consider insulation “pots.” Models and diagrams made their appearance. The Electrical Branch representative conducted measurements, discussed “leakage path,” “insulation” and “resistance,” unfolding a quite romantic tale in regard to insulators and their use.

Metal season tickets was the next subject for discussion. The Chairman gave a very interesting description of the manufacture and use of metal season tickets in Australia, telling how the ladies daintily carried these tickets attached to bangles on their wrists, and describing the ingenious design and methods of check. After this remit was disposed of, witnesses previously summoned were examined in connection with particular points on which the Committee desired information.
On the Manawatu Line.

On the Manawatu Line.

The Committee is quite democratic in its selection of witnesses. That witness is chosen (irrespective of rank) who is most likely to know by practical experience what is best. The General Superintendent of Transportation may follow a porter, whilst a ganger, a shunter, a fitter, the Superintendent of Workshops, or the Chief Accountant may be called on for advice. All display a keenness to give every assistance and place their knowledge at the disposal of the Committee. The Committee, at 12.30 p.m., adjourned for lunch. After luncheon its deliberations were resumed.

The next idea, with a tang of novelty about it, was a proposal to use long leather laces for tickling purposes. This was a practical proposal, however, the idea being already adopted on certain railroads in America and elsewhere.

Some reference to fashion in the nomenclature of engine parts was indicated in the next remit, a proposal in connection with boiler clothing. This was a device designed to prevent the shifting of the crinoline bands over boiler lagging. Ideas submitted from all parts of New Zealand were carefully discussed and decisions pertaining to them arrived at. Many and varied are the proposals which follow one another. “1065” and “1066” calls the Secretary as each succeeding suggestion comes up for discussion and decision, and in this way the Committee goes on steadily and efficiently until 5 p.m. when it is decided to call it “a day.” “The Board stands adjourned until 9.30 a.m. this day week,” states the Chairman, and the business of the day is over.

In conversation after the meeting the chairman (Mr. G. W. Wyles) stated that the establishment of a Suggestions Board had resulted in the staff taking a very keen interest in the welfare of the Department. “If the Rail-ways prosper I prosper” was the sound belief which explained the large number of suggestions put forward. Of course many of the proposals could not be adopted for various reasons, but the Suggestions Board is desirous of encouraging and suitably rewarding any who display initiative. Although a proposal may not be adopted, the Committee has the power to recommend special commendations and awards to those who have shown special interest in their idea and who have expended a large amount of work and thought in formulating their problems. “If we get something good which will save a large amount of money recommendation for a suitable bonus will follow,” stated the Chairman. “We have a basis on which we work in assessing the awards, and we take into consideration the saving resulting from the adoption of proposals put forward. We are out for ideas, improvements to existing conditions, and savings, and we will exhaust all possibilities in our endeavour to see that every proposal is thoroughly investigated and, where warranted, due reward is given.

The Secretary (Mr. A. Sutherland) states that suggestions emanating from all ranks of the service, and from the public, are coming in steadily day by day. All suggestions are numbered in order of receipt and are considered in numerical sequence. The Committee is not aware of the identity of the suggesters and consequently there can be no question that a proposal is adopted or a reward granted merely on account of their position in the service. “These considerations are eliminated under our system,” continued Mr. Sutherland. “Very often suggestions put forward cannot be adopted in themselves, but as a result of investigations put in train, some alteration or improvement is effected in another direction.” Particulars of every suggestion submitted are noted on the personal file of each member concerned.

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Suggestions embodying proposals for the alteration of existing machinery or processes, etc., have been submitted from time to time and although these suggestions present advantages over existing machinery or methods, the adoption of such proposals in many cases has not been considered advisable owing to the fact that the workshops re-organisation will, when put into effect, alter in many respects the present arrangements. In such cases the member is suitably rewarded for the interest he has displayed or the time and thought he has expended in formulating his proposal. Many proposals are received which show excellent promise, and these suggestions and inventions are promptly tried out and, if adopted, preliminary awards based on the estimated saving which will accrue during the first year are granted. After the expiration of a year from the date of the adoption of the idea a substantial percentage of the actual saving accruing during that time is granted as a final bonus. In cases where the saving cannot be definitely assessed the Committee grants a first-and-final bonus.

Many suggestions draw comparisons with procedure or systems adopted elsewhere either inside or outside the service, and although many such suggestions have not been adopted, they have set inquiries in motion along certain lines which have resulted in standardising methods or machinery or modernising certain appliances which have outlived their economic usefulness.