While Silicon Valley is considered the epicenter of innovation in the United States today, at the turn of the 20th century Pittsburgh was one of only a handful of North American cities that could justifiably claim that lofty position. At the time, the “Steel City’s” growing prominence on the American stage was due in large part to the contributions of industrialist George Westinghouse and his inspired creation, the Westinghouse Electric Company.
Westinghouse, an accomplished engineer and acclaimed inventor, was responsible for the development and commercialization of AC-current, joining forces with Nikola Tesla to light the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and win a contract for construction of the first hydro-electric plant in Niagara Falls that would eventually lead to the electrification of the world.
It is in the shadow of this impressive legacy that three former Westinghouse engineers — like the famed industrialist himself — pursued their entrepreneurial dreams two decades ago with the formation of Forefront Engineering & Design, renting office space in a repurposed industrial park on the grounds of George Westinghouse’s original factory in hardscrabble East Pittsburgh, Pa. (see sidebar).
ENTREPRENEURIAL ROOTS. “Our background was in nuclear engineering working on propulsion systems for nuclear subs and aircraft carriers,” observed CEO Mark Verosky, a native of the “City of Bridges” who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in mechanical engineering.
However, after working in private industry for nearly a decade, Verosky joined forces with Chief Technology Officer Phil Schrum and Vice President of Products David Krygowski to form Forefront Engineering & Design in 1996, which would later spawn Forefront Product Design 10 years later.
“As engineers we like to tinker, and after working for someone else for so many years we wanted to create a business that would allow our own product ideas to come to fruition,” he said. “We wanted to create our own unique technology, commercialize it and bring it to market,” a long-term vision that won early support from the State of Pennsylvania with the award of a Ben Franklin Technology Partner Grant that helped fund the company’s early development.
WHY PEST CONTROL? But how do three university-trained engineers with deep roots in the nuclear propulsion field and more than 70 years of combined industry experience end up developing a piece of pesticide application equipment — the Green Gorilla ProLine sprayer —for the professional pest control market? Like many entrepreneurial ventures, it was equal parts market opportunity and good timing, combined with a bit of kismet.
The genesis of the Green Gorilla professional spray system came about one day when Phil Schrum’s wife, a devoted gardener, expressed frustration about having to constantly pump up her compressed air sprayer to apply liquid fertilizer to plants. “I had been tinkering with the idea of creating a battery-powered mower, but when my wife mentioned she was frustrated with her sprayer, I thought why not attach a battery to the tank to pressurize the air automatically instead of pumping it up?” Schrum said.
“Phil came into the office the next morning with this black box (the Power Pack X lithium-ion battery) and nothing else, because as an engineering geek that’s what he does,” Verosky says with a laugh. “At first I was dubious, but after Phil explained what he was thinking, I thought, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ We did a quick patent search and realized there was nothing like it on the market. At that point, everyone knew in their heart of hearts that we were on to something and an automated sprayer could be a real winner.”
Coming up with a product concept is one thing; commercializing it is something very different, however. “Once you create the product, you always have to ask yourself, ‘Will the market accept it?’” Krygowski said.
“That’s where the rubber meets the road,” Verosky added, “separating the successful companies from the unsuccessful ones.”
IF AT FIRST... While challenges are to be expected when launching any new product, what Forefront Product Design didn’t anticipate was the technical sophistication and entrenched product expectations of its target audience, the pest management professional.
The initial prototype introduced early last year featured a white tank body and hoses, which made the unit look like an over-the-counter product, not a professional sprayer designed to withstand the daily rigors of structural pest control. “The feedback we got is it didn’t look like an industrialized system, so we went back to the drawing board,” Verosky said.
“PMPs wanted it to look more like a professional unit and not something they could buy at a Big Box store,” Krygowski added, a message that was sent loud and clear by Ron Schwalb, technical director of U.S. Pest Protection, Nashville, Tenn., a 30-year industry veteran.
Joe Malinowski, senior vice president of business development for Green Gorilla, gave Schwalb an early prototype of the sprayer to run through its paces in the field. Schwalb, appropriately enough, gave the sprayer what he likes to call his “Samsonite Gorilla Test,” referencing the 1970s TV commercial where a gorilla unsuccessfully attempts to open a piece of American Tourister luggage, thereby illustrating the durability of the product.
“Whenever I get a piece of new equipment I like to put it out in the field with our pest pros and see how well it will perform,” Schwalb said. “This unit impressed us.”
What was a concern to Schwalb — and his technicians — was mainly the appearance of the prototype unit. “It looked like something you could purchase at Home Depot,” Schwalb said, so he offered Green Gorilla some sage advice, make the system look more appropriate for the professional pest control market. “I think our technicians gave good feedback on it and, to their credit, the company listened to their feedback. The unit has a very professional look about it now.”
KEY FEATURES. The sprayer, in its latest iteration, features several key elements that make the Green Gorilla the industry’s “first intelligent compressed air sprayer,” according to Verosky. Core to the system is the Power Pack X with Smart Pressure Technology (SPT), a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with an advanced microprocessor that automatically maintains tank pressure and eliminates manual pumping.
“Our patented Smart Pressure Technology ensures the pressure in the tank is matched by the pressure at the tip of the sprayer,” Verosky said, providing some “real-world industry benefits. The pest control industry is very labor intensive,” Verosky observed, “so not worrying about stopping to pump means you can concentrate on delivering the treatment, saving both time and money, while providing your customer with a higher-quality service.”
The Power Pack X also features a patented “Easy-Twist Quick-Connect” system for detaching and recharging the battery, which typically last six to eight hours on a single charge. “It’s click and push,” he said.
In addition, the housing is constructed of a “space age polycarbonate material that is chemical resistant,” Verosky observed. “It has been drop tested from six feet on concrete at four different orientations. We’re confident it will hold up well under field use.”
“We know what abuse goes on out there,” Schrum added, “so we created a sprayer that will be able to take that abuse.” And should a particular component become damaged or a specific part fail, it can be replaced quickly and easily, according to the company. “Everything on our unit is completely replaceable,” Verosky said. “The base isn’t glued on but attached by tabs; the wand holder slides on and off; and the pump is fully replaceable. If necessary, you can rebuild the unit from the ground up.”
The sprayer is available in 1.5- and 2.5-gallon sizes and in varying configurations to meet the specific equipment needs of PMPs. Other features include:
- Automatic safety shut-off
- Multiple wand options
- Built-in drip cup
- Strain relief springs
- Chemical-resistant hose
- Anti-tip base
- Fully-adjustable backpack harness
“A lot of sophisticated engineering went on behind the scenes in the creation of this product,” Verosky observed. “It’s not based on some back-of-the-envelope sketch. Everything about the product is engineered,” which isn’t too surprising given the background of the principals.
The true test of any piece of equipment, however, comes with field use. Don English, owner of Engineered Pest Solutions, Macon, Ga., says the Green Gorilla sprayer has been a dependable addition to his equipment arsenal. “Time is truly money in the pest control business and it frees you up to do more IPM and inspections,” he said.
A former commercial account manager for Orkin before launching his own pest control business, English said the high-tech nature of the sprayer also was appealing. “Anytime I can purchase an innovative product that sets us apart, it’s an advantage for us.”
John Faulkner, owner of Faulkner Pest Service, Amarillo, Texas, agrees. “I’m always interested in new ideas,” he said. “I bought a unit and tested it myself. You have to spend a little money on the thing, but it worked well. We realized some time savings.”
“We don’t do a lot of general spraying, especially indoors, but the technicians like the fact they didn’t have to worry about constantly recharging the sprayer,” Schwalb added. “My biggest concern was how long that pressure was going to last, but our technicians charged the system in the morning and didn’t have to worry about pumping it up at all throughout the day. This new type of technology has a lot of potential.”
“I used it both outdoors and indoors for some of my larger industrial accounts where you can use a coarser spray,” said Tim Regal, president of Regal Pest Control, Plymouth, Mich. “It gives you a consistent rate of application. It tends to save you chemical and time by being able to provide a uniform application rate around a facility.”
He also liked the fact the Power Pack can be recharged inside a service truck. “That makes it real convenient should the technician forget to charge the unit the night before.”
CONCLUSION. While it remains to be seen if the pest management industry will fully embrace this latest equipment innovation, Verosky and his colleagues at Forefront Engineering & Design are confident they’ve been true to George Westinghouse’s legacy, as expressed by the great industrialist himself: “If someday they say of me that in my work I have contributed something to the welfare and happiness of my fellow man, I shall be satisfied.”“You can’t simply innovate to innovate,” Verosky observed. “You have to innovate to provide real value for the end user. If we’ve done that with our sprayer, then as engineers we’ll be satisfied that we accomplished our goal to enhance the quality of the work life of PMPs.” For more about the Green Gorilla compressed air sprayer, call 800/866-2122 or visit www.green-gorilla.com.