May 10, 2018

Tow motors keep supplies moving at VUMC. This tool keeps the tow motors moving.

Joey Johnson, an instrument maker in VUMC’s Apparatus Shop, says the programmer-controller for tow motors is a vital tool for his job.

Joey Johnson, instrument maker, Apparatus Shop

Joey Johnson, an instrument maker in VUMC’s Apparatus Shop, holds the programmer-controller for tow motors. Photo by Susan Urmy

Third in a series. Every line of work has tools that make the work possible. For this continuing series of stories in “VUMC Voice,” we ask some Medical Center employees about what their favorite tool is, and why. 

“It’s a cool tool, we like using it,” says Joey Johnson, referring to the Apparatus Shop’s tow motor programmer-controller. Tow motors are used to haul things of all sorts through lower levels of Vanderbilt University Medical Center — meal carts, laundry carts, other things. Johnson, an instrument maker in the shop, also is responsible for keeping the VUMC fleet of 20 or so tow motors running.

He recalls finding out about the programmer-controller for tow motors about a dozen years ago when the machines first acquired on-board computers.

“We ran into a problem with a tow motor, number 49, and we read every manual and couldn’t figure out what to do. So we called the guy out here to fix it. He brought this tool along and plugged it into the brain on the tow motor.

“I’ll never forget it. We were looking at him, and he was, ‘Oh, you got a diode that ain’t working.’ And then he unplugged it.”

That was it. Diagnosis made.

The Apparatus Shop soon acquired a tow motor programmer-controller of its own, which Johnson uses to diagnose any problems and to set operating features of the tow motor fleet. All VUMC tow motors are painted yellow for high visibility, and, despite an ability to travel at up to 35 miles per hour, all the VUMC vehicles are set to have a maximum speed of 5 mph.

And that little repetitive jingle they play to let tunnel-walkers know a tow motor is coming? Johnson says he picked that out, too.

Have a tool of your trade that you’d like us to consider for a future story? Email “VUMC Voice” editor Wayne Wood at wayne.wood@vumc.org.

To see other stories in the series, click here.