TWO employees of the Visayan Electric Co. (Veco) cobbled together off-the-shelf parts to devise an equipment to test power meters for a fraction of the cost of imported gadgets.
Technician Niceporo Salvaleon, Jr. and meter engineer Alvin Basubas built the power meter tester for about P25,000 to do the job previously done by a machine that costs about P1.9 million.
Salvaleon and Basubas work in Veco’s Power Metering Department. Among their tasks is to check so-called instrument-rated meters, which are typically used by large consumers. The company regularly checks meters to see whether these are still functioning correctly and to guard against pilferage.
To check these meters, they needed power testers that cost about P1.9 million and took up to six months to order.
Lack of equipment limited deployment
Basubas said they only had a few units of these expensive testers and this limited their deployment. He said they had to borrow from sister companies like Davao Light.
The accessories of these units were also expensive and also took a long time to order, he said. When a peripheral like its testing clamps broke down, it took months to replace them.
Basubas said a supervisor suggested using a wooden popsicle and alligator clips with the equipment. He improved on this idea in the last quarter in 2011 by cutting a printed circuit board (PCB) into a popsicle shape, adding some electronics and using it with the equipment. It allowed them to use the equipment even when the testing clamp was broken.
Last November, Salvaleon suggested turning a digital power meter into a tester and using it with the accessory made by Basubas. A co-worker programmed the display to show the results of the tests that they needed.
After they were able to produce a prototype, they compared it with the imported equipment and found that the results were consistent.
Salvaleon said they next worked on producing a casing for the device. They first tried metal casing but found it too heavy. They tried requesting somebody to fabricate the body but got no response when they said that all they wanted were eight pieces.
Another co-worker told Salvaleon to check out a water-tight container sold at CD-R King. They found the container a perfect fit and because it had a foam bottom, it provided additional protection to the device.
A supervisor named the device Niceport, a play on Salvaleon’s name and one of the brands of the equipment.
They produced ten of the devices and deployed it to different teams in February.
Veco awarded the two for their innovation.
“I’m really proud that our team members here in Veco have been able to come up with an innovation that definitely makes us more effective in what we do. It’s very cost-effective yet maintains the operational standards that we were used to with the other equipment that we used to buy from outside,” said Veco chief operation officer Sebastian Lacson.
“The difference between the normal alternative to the homegrown alternative is so huge,” he said.
He said the innovation will be shared with Veco’s sister companies.
Lacson said there have been several internal innovations by Veco employees “but not to this degree where the benefit is so palpable. It’s because we know the budget is like this and now it costs like this. We know it takes five or six months and we are able to turn it around in, I guess, in a few days, if they put their mind to it.”
Among the innovations in the power company is a retractable hot stick that is central to its single-person response unit system.
Lacson said that during emergencies, they are now able to send a motorcycle unit first and if the person is able to deal with the problem, there is no longer need to send a team on a van.
Another internal innovation in the company is the use of a tracker to enable its command center to know in real time where all its emergency crew vehicles are.
“This was done internally by our engineering guys here in Veco. It has allowed us to increase the productivity in Veco and also improve our service to the customer. That’s the reason why our emergency crew response rate is really high compared to other utilities because we know where the crew is at all times. So for us to direct them somewhere it’s very easy,” Lacson said.
Lacson said that during a talent review held by the company yesterday, he suggested setting up an innovation group within the company.
“We have a lot of guys here who are tinkerers with their heads and with their hands. Sometimes they get caught up in what they are doing and they are not given the avenue or the runway to be innovative because they got this day-to-day thing,” he said.
Lacson said Veco will be putting up a group of “creative and innovative people together” to meet regularly and work on innovation.
He said the company wants to gather “creative and innovative guys who have that mentality to do things and to change paradigms and to give them office time to be able to let their ideas loose.”