Doin' what you do - can it be done better?

Hot ovenIs there an element of your job that you are you still doing the same way it’s been done for years? Part of the challenge for each of us to make the Iowa DOT smarter, simpler, and customer driven is to look at what we do, why we do it, and how we can do it better.  

For the folks in the District 4 materials lab in Atlantic, looking at updating the lab layout to improve safety and efficiency has been in the works for the last couple of years. The materials crew knew that testing procedures had changed. Their challenge was to reconfigure the lab in a way that made sense for the work they were doing.

Mike Magers

Mike Magers, who was the lab chief at the time the reconfiguration started, said, “The way our lab is set up, we have basically three rooms side-by-side. We had an old ignition oven in one room that heated asphalt samples to about 275 degrees. When we needed to burn off the binder, we would have to carry the aggregate sample through all three rooms and past several work stations to a garage where we kept the burn off oven. When the lab was set up that way, this testing wasn’t done much, so it wasn’t a big issue. Now we run this test all the time, so we had to come up with a better, safer layout.”




Joel Schueter

For the lab crew, the change just made sense. “During the process we worked with management to get an equipment layout that worked for us. It wasn’t as simple as just moving a few pieces, we had to reconfigure some of the mechanical systems, but the change has been worth it. Since we are typically conducting several tests at once on a sample, we were able to move equipment around and make it easier to do the testing we need to do,” said Joel Schueter, who is the current lab chief.

 The change included updating the electrical system in the building and redoing the oven venting to allow moving the high-temperature ignition oven closer to all other hot-mix asphalt test equipment to reduce any possibility of accidents. District 4 Materials Engineer Dan Redmond said, “This has resulted in time savings in laboratory operations as well as greatly reduced the potential exposure of many employees to hot materials.”


As they began to use the burn off oven (left) more, it made sense for the crew in Atlantic to move it closer to the ignition oven (right)

To better understand the work they do, the technicians in Atlantic say you should just think about cooking a Thanksgiving dinner. You’re in the kitchen and the turkey is in the oven, the potatoes are on the stove and you’re getting the green bean casserole ready on the counter. It just makes sense that you would be doing all the work in one kitchen. “Just like that Thanksgiving dinner, the work we do takes planning,” said Magers. “We need to keep looking at what we do and how we do it and see where we can do it better.”

Schlueter added that changes in the lab are not just to test equipment. He said, “We’re in the process of reducing the number of computers we have in the lab and going paperless. It has been good to be able to offer feedback to Information Technology and others on those so we can get processes that work for everyone. We’re looking forward to what changes are coming next.”

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Have a comment?


©  Iowa Department of Transportation.  All rights reserved.