Business Innovation – Truck Trailer Snow Removal Prototype Engineering Advice Case Study

Solving problems and innovation go together, and no one knows that more than Tom Dravis, the inventor of a concept to remove snow from the top of a truck trailer while it is still in the truck yard so when it goes down the road that snow won’t come off the top and kill someone or cause an automobile accident or death. Specifically, this has occurred and there have been wicked accidents and deaths in the state of Ohio during the winter time.

That’s pretty unfortunate considering the truck speed in Ohio is only 55-mph and the enforcement for truck drivers is so intensive, many simple avoid the state all together as they haul freight coast to coast. Now, then when I talked with Tom Dravis, and he told me of his idea, neither of us knew there was already a patent for such a device. Still, after we re-configured his innovation and then found that patent, we noted that the previous inventor’s concept wasn’t nearly as robust or capable as the one we engineered.

When Tom Dravis first mentioned the idea, and asked me what I thought being as I was previously in the fleet truck washing business, and knew a thing or two about business innovation, I said sure; “it’s a good idea Tom, great thinking there.” Then, I explained how I would engineer such an invention. I would engineer it and design it as a fixed unit would work where the truck drove under it, let’s say at 1-2 mph, and the snow would be pushed off the top. The system scraper could be hinged so that different truck heights could be accommodated since most all over the road standard trailers are very similar in height [speaking of USA] and within really a foot in difference is all.

The issue I see is with ice, it can really freeze on there rather hard and truck trailers are not so sturdy between the frame pieces up there often enough. Not all of them are built like brick outhouses, as the piggy back logistical cargo containers are. I would think in the UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia, cars are smaller so an ice sheet could destroy a car and kill the passengers, whereas in the US the car could take the hit, but it would sustain mild to extreme cosmetic damage [thinking of insurance companies, as Tom did].

Tom stated that; “I am with you on the scraper and different heights of equipment,” and then he explained his design to me. Then I said; “Okay, but perhaps, you’d need a few rollers in advance to crush and break up the ice a little, then it would come off, because when the ice is on there so hard sometimes it is as hard as the shell itself, it’s amazing really. Vibrating rollers in advance could do this, then your concept follows?” You see, it would be my contention that this entire system should be in a cradle, where the cradle was held by 6 to 8 dual bars, and the cradle held the implements, which would include;

A rubber coated scraper,
Ice scraper,
Counter rotating brushes.
The dowels holding the cradle would be large 2 inch in diameter similar to the giant pins used for farm implements in tow. The rubber coated scraper would come first in the series and the robber would prevent it from damaging the fiberglass air dam on the front of the trailers or the refrigeration unit housing and assembly for reefer trailers. The rollers would move along and roll on their own bouncing and vibrating breaking up the eyes and as they move they would be connected to the brushes with tears that would turn them in a counter rotating fashion, therefore you would need no motors, hydraulics or anything that could break and cause Murphyism.

Since snow buildup can be quite heavy the assembly would have to weigh quite a bit, and its weight would help in the process of removing the snow and ice. This means the system holding it up would have to be built with a heavy steel structure in mind. Therefore the concept of bolting it on to an existing truck wash tunnel assembly may not always be possible depending upon the brand.

Therefore it might need to be a standalone unit but to save space it would be put at the front of a truck wash. If you wanted to wash the truck when you are done removing the ice and snow off the top of the trailer you could, or the truck wash assembly could be idle and you merely drive a truck through after you remove the snow.

The first blade would have to be an angle otherwise you would put all the snow on top of the trailer behind the trailer itself and therefore it would block the entrance for the next trailer that came through. The last blade should be slightly angled the opposite way so that you do not have too much snow built up on any one side.

We must remember that this snow may not melt for several weeks during the harsh winter season and there would be snow all over the parking lot. it might make sense to have motes on each side of the unit, although it could not handle all the ice and snow, if it were heated it could melted quickly and heights from these motes could be funneled into the reclaim system of the truck wash.this would mean it would comply with the NPDES permits for the area.

If you’ve ever gotten on top of a US truck trailer you’d see they are not all created equally, so your system would have to be robust, but somewhat careful not to damage, thus, your hydraulic system would need to be properly set up. Too much force, you bend and damage the trailer, too little force, you scrape the lose stuff, but the ice sheet is still there solid until it drives and vibrates loose after 20-50 miles and air gets underneath and take it off all at once in big chunks, and with more cars drafting behind trucks these days to save fuel, they are exactly in the wrong place, with no time to react.

So, if you had these rollers in front of Tom’s system are vibrating, breaking up the ice, you could be simulating the road bouncing of the first 20-50 miles of driving to help it come free. If you use hot steam spray, with a scraper blade of a non-damaging but extremely firm material, this could work. If you use alcohol like de-icing a plane, then that could hurt the decals and logos, unless you rinsed the truck too, which is why it might make sense to use an automatic truck washing type system.

Tom Dravis, noted that he wouldn’t be adverse to working in conjunction with truck washes or other services where it made sense. Thus, Tom could attach his system to the front of a cross member on the entry to a truck washing system already in the yards, mount it on that sort of frame. Or, make a box frame where the truck drove through? 7 1/2 foot wide, 15-foot high, 15 foot long? Mount it prior to the truck wash, even if you didn’t wash the truck, the facility is already there, and if you did wash the truck you’d already have the ice off?

Mr. Dravis, said he liked, “the idea of it being an accessory,” and this would be one way to proceed with such a concept. Indeed, however realize that the truck washing equipment industry has its own set of distributors and vendors, and they have the client list that will be needed. Plus they’ve had a really rough go of it over the last couple years due to the fallout in the transportation sector after the economic crisis. They are looking right now for work, this would hit the spot for them.

They would also have contacts for financing and leasing companies for smaller trucking companies. And they would also be able to install these units without any problem, after all was a lot simpler than a truck wash tunnel. A price of $5-8 USD makes sense for carriers to pay at a truck stop? And there are lots of trucking companies that would want to have such a system in their truck yards or would pay for such a snow removal service at truck stops. Companies such as; JB Hunt, Swift, Covenant, Fed Ex, Yellow-Roadway, UPS, Schiender, Werner, Conway, etc, all good potential clients, although right now it might be difficult trying to sell them much of anything unless, they could get a wink from their insurance carriers to lower premiums 1% if they installed these systems at their truck yards?

And what about Budweiser, Coke, Pepsi, Frito Lays, etc. Distributors. And all the companies that haul their own products and distribution; Wal-Mart, Grocery Store Chains, Specialty retailers, food franchises, etc? Heck even the United States post office does not want their vendors throwing ice? And like you mentioned before Toll Highways, perhaps some of the truck inspection stations in Northern Climates? WY, ND, SD, NE, MI, MO, IO, ID, MT, OH, IN, NY, IL, PA, VT, NH, ME, MA, NJ.

What about toll-ways and their safety focus? You see, I believe if you got one major toll way in the United States to go for this such as the Pennsylvania toll-way system you would have a major coup d’├ętat, because no Department of Transportation or government agency wants to be responsible in the media for the killing of motorists, on they are maintained and controlled road.

The per-unit cost for a carrier at a large terminal and truck yard of $4-5 makes sense. And it could be attached to the in-yard truck washing system. Amortized over the life of the equipment and installation costs, maintenance (should be relatively limited if you keep it simple) and chemicals if used.

Also, consider buses too, I recall one of our transportation service cleaning companies dealt with the snow issues on buses. That is a huge issue too; in the USA we have Greyhound, Tour Buses, large cities with buses, liability is a serious issue, of course you’d need a rounded scraper blade that contours to the surface, since it would not be a totally flat surface, but they still have the same problem with ice chunks, even school buses. And with Global Cooling coming and the impending Ice Age, you could have a hell of a future business world-wide?

Now then, when you have a good concept or invention like Tom Dravis, what is the next step after you’ve identified the need, customer, and market? Well, here is what I have to say about that. The next step should be:

First, we should probably discuss this some more in greater detail and get a pretty good idea of what the first prototypes should look like. Then compile a few sketches, and discuss those, we can do this online. Then, I might suggest that we make a 3 to 5 page mini business plan – which would include the cost to build a prototype, marketing, target customers, finished products liability insurance costs, and the seasonality of when to launch the company, for instance it might be too late this year because by the time you got done it would no longer be an issue, thus, making it harder to sell to the end-users.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this weeks Business Innovation Case Study. If you are interested in investing in Tom Dravis’ concept, contact him in Ohio, because I think this concept is a winner. Please think on it.

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