Bob Grisham had a problem.
The San Bernardino County (Calif.) fleet’s welding shop had a press brake designed to bend sheet metal. But the machine was so large that an operator couldn’t do more than two bends because one end of the metal would hit the top of the machine.
Grisham started in the welding shop, and although he later rose through the ranks to become fleet superintendent, he was all too familiar with this press brake.
“I don’t know how many times we had to bend a piece of metal and we couldn’t do it in that machine because the machine was so large,” Grisham explained.
Grisham’s inspiration came from a movie about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. The guillotine used to execute the queen caught his eye.
Grisham shared his guillotine-inspired design with a coworker — Keith Smith — at work the next day. After work, the two got together and built a 2-foot-wide press brake, which was installed in the welding shop and is still in use 15 years later.
Government fleets are full of resourceful people — employees and customers who are willing to roll up their sleeves and find a solution. Here are a few examples of ingenuity from within fleet.
Better Efficiency with Better Equipment
The City of Calgary in Alberta wanted to tackle its fleet efficiency problem. The Canadian city had many vehicles with a single purpose and wanted more versatile units to do more with less. The team designed a multi-purpose chassis that could accommodate a variety of truck bodies.
One of these truck components was a slip-in asphalt carrier, designed to replace traditional hot boxes. The component can be slipped onto a dump body or stand alone on built-in legs, and is capable of holding 8 tons of asphalt. Even when fully loaded, the truck can be driven at highway speeds thanks to the asphalt box’s design, which lowers the center of gravity.
The city received a patent for its asphalt carrier, which is now used by the road department to recycle asphalt. Road department employees drop old asphalt into the carrier, add some emulsion and solvents, and leave the carrier on overnight. In the morning, a new batch of recycled asphalt is ready to use. The carrier can keep asphalt warmed for 20-24 hours, an improvement over the fleet’s old hot boxes.
Designing a Tailored Solution
Mohammed Al-Rawi, chief information officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, wanted to check out a county motor pool vehicle to attend a meeting. He asked his assistant to reserve a vehicle, and she handed him two things: a key and a binder of forms.
“It was really cumbersome — it looked like a mortgage application,” Al-Rawi joked.
Drivers had to record their name, title, location, odometer reading, and other information at least four times before and after each trip. These records were sent to the auditor’s office for monitoring.
Al-Rawi had a background in information technology and knew there must be a way to log this data automatically. Although there are vehicle tracking systems on the market, none were developed specifically for government agency compliance.
He brought this idea to a local college, and engineering students developed a system that records vehicle and driver data automatically using RFID scanners and sends it to the cloud when the vehicle is connected to Wi-Fi (available in most county parks). Installing the system only costs the department $75-$100 per vehicle, with no additional cost to maintain.
So you’ve created a new solution to your problem — now what do you do with it?
For Grisham, the answer was to wait. After installing his new press brake in the fleet shop, he and Smith built a few more machines for friends and family to use at home and set the idea aside to revisit after retirement.
And a little more than a decade later, his son Jesse convinced him to start a business. GrishamWorks holds the patent for the only press brake that can continuously bend metal over the top of the machine, and the Grishams and Smith sell their Brakes’Alot machine to shops all over the country.
For the City of Calgary, starting a new business wasn’t exactly an option. Later this year, the city plans to begin marketing its invention, with the hopes of licensing it out to a company and bringing that revenue back to the city.
Los Angeles County’s tracking system is installed in select vehicles. Al-Rawi said the team is working out bugs, but Microsoft has expressed interest in the product.