Cleaning & Restoration Tools and Gadgets / Restoration

The Industry Innovators

We profiled Kurt Bolden, Jeremy Reets, Keith Studebaker and Cliff Monson for a look at how some of today’s most popular cleaning and restoration products came to fruition.

August 6, 2013
Trans

When we were putting together the ICS 50th anniversary issue last February (www.icsmag.com/50), I remember speaking with Claude Blackburn about his early days in the industry. When he recalled his first water damage restoration job, he said that he cut the sopping wet carpet at the seams, hauled it all back to his plant and blasted it with heat, “hoping for the best,” as he put it.

My, how things have changed. 

Yes, things have changed drastically in the cleaning and restoration industry in part because a select few asked themselves the questions “How can I dry better?” or “How can I clean better?” Then, they took action.

This story will take a look at a handful of these innovators and how they were able to help shape the cleaning and restoration industry into what it is today.

Hydro-X – Kurt Bolden

Back in the 1990s, Kurt Bolden was among the few in the industry who was doing top-down drying. However, he says it would take him up to six hours to extract a 1,000 square foot basement, as he’d have to go over the area eight to 10 times before it was completely dry.

There had to be a better, less laborious way.

That better way was conceived while Bolden was standing in the checkout line at a hardware store, which is where he spotted a suction screen on a nearby display. The perforated roller and his current drying technique came to mind, he says. The idea for the Hydro-X extractor was born. 

“I just started thinking ‘I wonder what would happen if we could squeeze on that and suck on that at the same time,” he recalls. “Truthfully, I drove home – that was a Saturday morning. I got my welder out. I worked all night Saturday night, I worked all day Sunday. I worked all Sunday night and I went in Monday morning and I had the first prototype.”

From there, a second prototype was developed and then a third and a fourth one came to fruition, each one an improvement on the previous. But development of the Hydro-X didn’t come without its challenges.

“Back in the day, insurance companies just didn’t know what to think,” he says. “It took me years of presentations and talking to Xactimate. I said ‘Look, we’re saving the carpet pad, we need more money for this extractor.’ Long story short, I got Xactimate to go from 35 cents to $1.05 per square foot. But what happened is once Xactimate accepted it, then the insurance world accepted it.”

Bolden began manufacturing and selling units independently before selling his four patents to Therma-Stor in 2005. Today, Hydro-X is sold under the Phoenix Restoration Equipment brand and continues to make in-place drying easier.

“In certain regions – I’m not going to say all of them – if you don’t do in place drying, you’re not in existence anymore,” Bolden says. “It’s just a huge savings – it’s that simple. You’re not taking the furniture out of the room, you’re not taking the carpet pad out, you’re drying the walls in place. The whole industry standard has changed because of the Hydro-X.”

AirPath – Keith and Roy Studebaker

“We’re cleaners first,” says Keith Studebaker of he and his father, Roy. “So we try to figure out the best way to clean. One of the next questions is, ‘How long is it going to take to dry?’”

Drying carpet after cleaning is done with airmovers. But in the early 2000s, the majority of the airmovers on the market only blew air in one direction, forcing cleaners to have to continuously move them around for proper drying. That’s when Keith and Roy Studebaker got the idea to develop a 360-degree airmover.

“We made a couple of early prototypes that we’d use when we cleaned,” Keith says. “We thought that it was a pretty good idea, so we started talking to a patent attorney on it.”

From there, the Studebakers got serious with it. They made a lot of different prototypes – some of which were completely scrapped – and did a lot of different testing. They carefully analyzed things like how many inches the airmover blade was from the floor, the pitch of the fan blade, rpm and experimented with other ideal combinations for fast carpet drying.

After they decided on the right combination for this airmover – which they called “AirPath,” – there was the matter of selling it. The Studebakers started by building it and selling it themselves, and it wasn’t easy convincing cleaners to purchase an $800 airmover.

“They thought spending that kind of money on a fan was ridiculous,” Keith recalls. “But they’d buy them, then usually about a week or two later they’d call up and order another one.”

In 2007, the Studebakers sold the AirPath patent rights to Dri-Eaz and the Legend Brands company then began supplying the direct flow carpet dryer.

“It’s changed the way guys market their business, sets them apart a bit from the other guys out there,” Keith said of AirPath. “They have something they can push a little bit, even if (the carpet) is not ‘dry-dry,’ it can take hours off the dry time.”

 The AirPath eventually gave way to future developments from the Studebakers, such as the compact carpet and flood dryer, the Dri-Pod.

“It all comes just from being a cleaner and coming up with a better, faster, easier way of doing a job,” Keith says. “Anybody can have a truck and a wand – it’s the specialty tools that make a difference.”

TES Drying System – Jeremy Reets

“Really, it all started with trying to figure out how to dry faster.”

That’s Jeremy Reets on what prompted the development of the TES (thermal energy system), currently manufactured and distributed by Interlink Supply and Bridgepoint Systems.

“Since we knew that universally our customers wanted faster drying, if anybody else could figure it out, so could we,” he says.

But figuring out how to dry faster was easier said than done. Reets did a lot of research, particularly outside of the cleaning and restoration industry, so he could gauge what others were doing with different philosophies and equipment. This was back in 2002.

“I started doing a lot of research just on evaporation, just because I knew that was the slowest part of what we did,” Reets says. “When I started doing the research, I discovered that vapor pressure differentials were what the rest of the world used to determine how evaporation would occur. So I started doing more research on that, developed some hypotheses.”

He discovered that providing more airflow with greater vapor pressure differentials was the key to drying faster. But he had to find a way to keep the heat down and from rising, so it could get into the materials that were wet. That spawned the direct containment idea and the beginning of directed heat.

The next step for Reets was developing the equipment. “The first prototype was just duct work going to airmovers, then plywood boxes and water heaters,” he says. “It was kind of a stage-by-stage development of it.

“I had to develop the science around it. It was a big deal to come out and say ‘Hey, here is the science behind how evaporation occurs.’”

In September 2005 at the Connections Convention and Trade Show, the first TES model was released. In addition to helping restoration contractors achieve faster dry times and restore contents and materials that otherwise would have been disposed of, TES has also launched an education program at Reets Drying Academy.

“It’s one thing to have equipment,” Reets says. “It’s another thing to have knowledge and I really believe that’s the difference between a professional and an amateur.”

The RX-20 – Cliff Monson

There’s arguably no greater innovation in the carpet cleaning industry than that of the RX-20, developed by Cliff Monson. He conceived the idea in 1976, while in his mid-20s and running a carpet cleaning business on the Hawaiian Islands. What spurred this product was his frustration with the old fashioned manual cleaning wand, which was the best method available at the time.

Monson eventually used a two-step process to clean, which involved pre-scrubbing the carpet with a rotary machine then using the manual wand to rinse and extract. But he envisioned a tool that would spray, scrub and extract with rotary vacuum heads.

Monson sold his carpet cleaning business to fund development on such a “rotary jet extraction” device and had working prototypes and patents within a few years. But the road wasn’t easy.

“Figuring out how to get the spray jets to rotate along with the vacuum heads was the main challenge,” he recalls. “I ran this machine in my head for quite some time before the ‘a-ha’ moment of utilizing a rotary union to run the solution down through the center of the drive shaft and out to the rotating spray jets.”

Monson had patents granted for what would become the RX-20 in 1980, eventually licensing them to HydraMaster. Three years later, the first RX-20s hit the market, making cleaning easier and more efficient. It also gave way to better cleaning products over the years. In fact, in 1989, Monson started his own manufacturing company, Rotovac, and began developing lighter, cheaper versions of the RX-20, like the Rotovac 360i.

“There were many obstacles, detours and roadblocks to overcome on the road from my mind to matter in the development of rotary jet extraction,” Monson says. “I believed in the concept 100% so I bet my life savings and gave it my all to make it happen, but that wasn’t enough.”

He had a little help from the big man upstairs – particularly during the RX-20’s development when doubts began to creep in.

“As it said on the first truckmount brochure that HydraMaster sent me back in 1980 – ‘No man can accomplish anything of lasting value without God,’” he says.

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