APR 04, 2024

Clearing the Air

Upgrading the ventilation hood at the Prince George Wheel Shop made a huge difference

EcoChampions - Andrew Rice

When EcoChampion Andrew Rice took over as manager for the Mechanical Wheel Shop in Prince George, British Columbia in 2022, the vent hood at the qualifying station – where CN employees clean, inspect and repair wheels and axles – lacked sufficient suction power to remove dust particles and contaminants from the air.

“Employees would grind axle bodies and all we had was a nine-inch pipe coming out of the wall down over top of it. It only had 2,500 CFM (cubic feet per minute) of airflow, which barely pulled any contaminants out of the shop,” says Andrew, a former CN carman.

Needing a larger exhaust fan to cover the entire length of the wheel instead of a small circle in the middle of the axle, Andrew brought in an engineer from CC Industries, a locally-owned custom fabrication shop, to brainstorm ideas. Consulting shop employees to fine-tune the position of the grinders, Andrew finally found the perfect design.

“The biggest aspect was making sure the hood wrapped over the wheels so it could get right down to the axle and pull those contaminants out rather than sitting above the wheelset like the old machine,” he explains.

The new vent, which pulls 7,500 CFM of airflow, was installed in January 2023. It immediately improved the entire shop, notes Andrew. “It's night and day, and the employees really appreciate it,” he says. “They’ve always had to wear dust mask respirators and face shields in the wheel shop but with this new system, respirators are no longer required.”

Customizing the new ventilation system also enabled Andrew and his team to eliminate another safety issue: tripping hazards. “Before, there were wall outlets on either side of the workstation to plug in the grinders. Often, two to four cables per side were strung across the floor,” he explains.

Adding outlets to the exhaust hood itself allows cables to be hung from above. Built-in lighting improves employees’ ability to inspect wheels and axles rolling into the shop. Encasing the fan in a box has made it virtually silent, and best of all, the work areas are clean and free of debris.

“We put tar on the axle as a rust preventative, and when the wheel comes back to the shop, we have to clean that tar off to repair the axle, so the floor in the workstation was often covered in black tar particles because the fan didn't have enough suction power to pull it out of the shop,” says Andrew.

Now, the shop stays cleaner longer as particles are pulled up to the vent rather than dropping to the floor or landing on the machines. “Cleaning the shop used to take a lot of time, and it removes an employee off the production line, so this investment has been well worth it,” says Andrew. “The morale boost from this machine has just been insane, and the quality of life for the employees working around that station has changed immensely as well.”

Andrew at the Mechanical Wheel Shop in Prince George
Andrew at the Mechanical Wheel Shop in Prince George
Before - Mechanical Wheel Shop in Prince George
Andrew Rice - After - Mechanical Wheel Shop in Prince George

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