Industry Innovation

Industry Innovation

By Diane Calabrese / Published April 2024

Priority gets murky in the world of invention. Who got there first? When does a minor modification indicate a new product? How can an innovator protect a concept? Those are a few of the questions that swirl.

But the questions we consider stay clear of trademark and patent issues. Attention getting innovations, wish lists, and opportunities are where we will go.

On January 9, 2024, Kärcher announced CleanWave, a battery powered, commercial-strength cold-water washer. The company, which is based in Aurora, CO, describes the machine as one that makes partners of “power” and “environmental responsibility.”

Much contemporary innovation is driven by environmental concerns. In one way or another, though, advances are rooted in the quest to combine the possible with the wants of end users.

For example, the new machine from the company based in the Centennial State is cordless. Cord free is a certain way to strike a harmonious chord with equipment users— not just in our industry but everywhere.

Safety deserves the utmost attention. And intuitively we know that in any setting, cords and/or hoses coursing around a worksite constitute trip and fall hazards. So, retractable hoses are as welcome as cordless machines.

In May 2023 Giraffe Tools in Azusa, CA, launched a new model of its wall mounted Grandfalls Pressure Washers. The series is notable because it combines a pressure washer with a retractable hose.

Entanglement-free, compact machines are welcome features on any jobsite. But changes for the better far exceed what operators see on the outside. Operators know well that machines have been—and are being—streamlined. An unwavering eye toward fewer parts, block design where possible, and use of metals and alloys that enhance longevity are just part of the day for design engineers.

Of course, innovation extends beyond equipment to chemicals. The focus on green chemistry—sustainable technologies—takes those doing brainstorming beyond thinking only about biodegradable cleaning agents.

Environmental focus has broadened to endeavors that achieve an exacting tradeoff between atoms in and atoms out process measures. It’s a high threshold to meet, but establishing a high goal ignites creative processes.

Not every innovation moves beyond a prototype. And some innovations move to market and fail to be embraced because they falter. Someone overlooked something. The history of the aviation industry offers one of the best illustrations of how big and small changes led to advances.

In the 1930s the dirigible looked like a significant transport vehicle for the future. Today airships of its class are novelties.

Innovators never hesitate to pause on a concept and declare that it’s just not good enough. Goals being met and receptiveness to a new configuration will indicate how good a change is.

What engenders receptiveness?

Efficiency gains or doing the most with the least effort, energy, time, personnel, equipment, and ancillaries.

Everyone in the industry has had their attention captured by one or more innovations. Yet usually it’s necessary to stop and reflect a bit because of the many improvements that are easy to take for granted.

“The emergence of the use of foam in cleaning has brought renewed attention to its benefits, both in its visual effect and efficiency in cleaning,” says Jim Sheperd, general manager at Suttner America Company in Dubuque, IA.

The practicability of foam—one can see where it’s been applied—is a nice complement to its utility in cleaning. Foam sees wide use in Europe in the livestock sector, and U.S. livestock producers are using it more and more.

What can be cleaned with foam? Outbuildings, floors, and milking equipment, and they can be cleaned while meeting regulations from the USDA, EPA, OSHA, and FDA.

Foam reduces the use of chemicals because it achieves such good coverage. Suttner’s company estimates that it may reduce chemical use by as much a 50 percent.


Everyone has a wish list when equipment or ancillaries are in the picture.

(Many have a “wish” for a computer operating system that takes “no” for an answer and suppresses an unwanted assist.)

Wish lists are items end users dream about and manufacturers account for when they know about them and understand them. Six-question surveys will not get to all that end users want. Talking to end users and getting feedback from them person-to-person via distributors will.

A member of our industry has a wish list and is willing to share it on the condition of anonymity. The individual does not want to be perceived as critical of offerings that keep coming from manufacturers, but instead wants to get the point across—similar to the one made by this more-than-I-need computer user. That is that too many features, even if they are good inventions (for others), can be too much.

Where does the necessary end and the “flash” begin? That’s on the mind of our anonymous source.

For example, not every equipment operator wants LED lights in water tanks, Maserati-like beauty, and remote control. Perhaps there could be more attention—innovation of sorts—given to customization of equipment, allowing purchasers to choose what they want if it fits the “flash” category. (Back to the computers—yes, some pay extra to ensure they do not get a touch screen.)

Our source would like to see more choices. Buyers who want proportioner systems or more complex plumbing could choose those features. Others could get just the basics they want in a solid system.

The optimal roster of equipment for this individual is redundancy. That equates to solid machines and backup systems to ensure there will be no lost hours.

The source has used proportioner systems in the past. Team members, however, got sidetracked by the nuances involved. Especially problematic was a clear way to assess when the system was not working. Yes, hygrometers were used, but the complications of using them had a way of making what was a simple task more complicated.

On the remote-control issue, the times when remote control does not work make it frustrating. (Computer users who work in a high-density setting can commiserate, given that Bluetooth is lovely when it operates but sensitive to interference.)

Keep it simple and as simple as possible. That’s the recommendation from our source to innovators.

Is the anonymous source suggesting that innovators may get carried away with enthusiasm for what’s possible but not always practical? Maybe.

Balance must always be part of the equation in design changes. (No carpool driver wants to use a Maserati to take children to school.)

And balance is particularly important in weighing cost and benefit. A contractor must be able to afford equipment, ancillaries, vehicles, and personnel and make a profit too. Titanium might be nice and tough, but will aluminum endure for the same number of years and keep the machine within the realistic budget of a contractor?


The federal government is pumping a great deal of money into manufacturing. It aims to catalyze innovation or support innovative equipment processes already in the queue. Members of our industry should be aware of the funding sources.

On January 29, for example, the Innovation Engines Awards program was announced by the White House. Ten regional innovation centers, which are called “engines,” were announced. They are being funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The amount of money that will flow into each center (engine) could reach $2 billion across 10 years. Manufacturers ought to be aware of the possibilities to tie to some of the research and development funds in their region. Some examples follow.

The Great Lakes Water Innovation Engine focuses on smart water recovery systems. The Louisiana Energy Transition Engine focuses on development of sustainable manufacturing processes. And the Southwest Sustainability Innovation Engine aims to find new solutions to regional dryness and heat. (See the complete list at https://new. nsf.gov/funding/initiatives/regional innovation-engines/portfolio.)

The announcement cited in the preceding paragraph also lists the many government agencies working with the engines and offering separate funding sources for everything from workforce development (Department of Labor) to rural community engagement (U.S. Department of Agriculture). The many federal entities on the list merit review because a potential funding source for a project in development may be discovered.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is, of course, on the list. Even outside the engines’ thrust, the SBA’s Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs are important resources for innovators.

SBIR programs function in tandem with a variety of federal entities. In November 2023 the EPA announced Phase II award recipients who will receive up to $400,000 to develop and commercialize their technologies. (In Phase I companies received up to $100,000 for six months to demonstrate proof of concept.)

Among the EPA Phase II recipients was LeapFrog Design in Bend, OR. The company is developing a “nature-based treatment technology” for on-site use of non-potable gray water. (See all awards at https://www.epa.gov/sbir.)

Perhaps in the next round of Phase I or Phase II awards through EPA’s SBIR program there will be a member of our industry.

Meet a need. Respond to a wish. Make something better. That’s what innovators do

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