Forget Miller Felpax. The locomotive parts company has rebranded itself Miller Ingenuity. “We’re so much more than Felpax lubricators,” said CEO Steve Blue as he unveiled the new logo. “We invent things, we engineer things.” The new name better reflects what the company is already doing and where it wants to go, Blue said.
In the 1950s, Miller Felpax got its start making its namesake felt locomotive lubricators. Sixty years later, the felt pads are still popular lubricators, but they make up less than 18 percent of Miller Felpax sales. “Being associated with an older, dying product line is probably not where we want to be,” Blue explained.
The company makes plenty of other parts, but it is creative problem-solving that Miller Ingenuity is claiming as its new identity. The Winona plant has just finished an expansion that includes an “innovation room,” a sort of break room for employees — from engineers to production floor employees alike — to brainstorm.
When Union Pacific Railroad (UP) cancelled two years’ worth of locomotive truck kit orders that were already being manufactured, a creative tweak allowed Miller Ingenuity to make the trucks fit other locomotives, saving Miller Ingenuity from a significant loss of production time.
In another case involving leaky gear cases, Team Leader Nick Demars and his fellow technicians spent hours studying the issue before developing a fix that uses common parts — parts that Miller Ingenuity does not make. “We didn’t make any sales on that, but that customer will come back because they know that we come up with solutions,” explained Vice President for Engineering Randy Skarlupka.
The payback for creating fixes that do not use company parts may not be instant, and paying production workers to sit around and talk through problems may seem counterintuitive in a fast-paced industry; however this is the future of the company, Blue said. “Anybody can copy our products but they can’t copy our culture and our values.”