Engineering student Lionel Davis spent a summer as a Global Services and Solutions intern at GE. During his internship, he designed the “Commutator Brush Clamp Release Tool,” which won him the internship-wide competition.

This was a project for the all 42 of the interns for Global Services and Solutions. The selection criteria was: “Projects should focus on improving quality, enhancing operations, driving out cost, or simplifying current processes. The more your project drives improvements in any of these key areas, the more favorable it will be judged. Projects should take into consideration current business conditions, and provide a realistic, implementable solutions.”

Q: Can you describe your tool, the “Commutator Brush Clamp Release Tool”?

A: Locomotives operate using traction motors. These traction motors provide propulsion, which enables them to move along the rail and around the world as we see every so often. My tool was created for a more commonly seen GE locomotive that used Direct Current Traction Motors.

Inside of the traction motor there is a commutator; on this commutator you have sets of commutator brush holders that essentially house/clamp 3 carbon brushes to the commutator and these are changed every 184 days.

This may not seem like much but when you consider thousands of locomotives across the different customer accounts, it actually is a daily operation taking place in a shop. So basically, the tool I created assisted the craft in successfully and safely changing out those brushes inside of the commutator brush holder. Instead of using their hands, they could use the tool that would properly release the brush holder clamps.

Q: How did you come up with the idea?

A: I came up with the idea after receiving a call about replacing a brush holder. One of the clamps on the brush holder was jammed and was not cooperating. These brush holders are usually changed out from beneath the locomotive. It is a relatively small working area and the amount of space inside a traction motor is much smaller. The craftsmen mainly use their hands to release the clamps, so I gave it a try and was unsuccessful in my attempt also. From this experience I was persuaded to find a reliable solution that would assist craft in the brush change-out process.

Q: What do you think set you apart?

A: Definitely the scalability and how quickly it could be implemented. The tool needed to only be properly dimensioned and approved by GE Engineering. It also wasn’t going to present any major budget changes or modifications.

I think what also helped me was my understanding that GE is a company determined to transform the company around the culture of simplification. I simplified a current process that would directly affect productivity and ensures our customer that their safety is our top priority. It was well received and it was chosen as the winning Intern Project for the Class of 2015 Summer Interns.

Q: Were you surprised to win?

A: Yes, I was incredibly surprised. One of my buddies who worked for a different customer but was still with GE actually called me the morning of and I literally did not believe him until I got to the office and checked. Once I found out, it really boosted my confidence. It will forever serve as proof that I have the ability to create an immediate effect on any company or organization. It is a fun fact to share and looks great on my resume.

Q: Any class or professor who helped specifically prepare you for this project?

A: I would give some credit to professor [David] Albers and his Introduction to Machine Analysis course. His class provided a project structure that allowed me to complete the project in such a limited time. Although I never got the opportunity to properly design the tool, I knew what the design process would have been very similar to what we practiced in class. He also introduced us to some machinery that happened to be used in the shop, and as well as safety tips.

Q: You are participating in a program called the Engineering Career Awareness Program (ECAP). Can you describe your ECAP experience and the benefits it’s provided for you?

A: ECAP inevitably made all of this possible through funding my education. Through lasting connections and being mentored by some ECAP graduates of the different generations, ECAP ultimately made it possible for me because they helped me grow into the person I am today.

It was a fellow ECAP student that encouraged me to join the National Society of Black Engineers, which has brought me some of my fondest collegiate memories as well as opportunities. I actually was afforded this opportunity through attending the National NSBE Convention in Anaheim California last march!

Q: Tell a little about your internship at GE, what your role was and what you learned?

A: My internship experience was great!

My role was to serve as and assist the Technical Assistants who provided the 24/7 customer service. I learned how to learn and adapt in a field that I literally knew nothing about. I have not had mechanical nor automotive experience but was able to assimilate and add value to the customer.

I learned a ton of things that will not only benefit my working career but life as well. I met a ton of new people and some of whom I remain in contact with. Overall it was a great experience and am extremely grateful to have worked for General Electric Transportation.