March 2017 Vol. 25, No. 1

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Build a Better Mousetrap: 2016 national winners

The Build a Better Mousetrap National Competition highlights innovative solutions to everyday problems. Highlights of the top three projects from 2016 are below.

Image of pipe

First Place: Pipe Bottom Feeder
Agency: Ada County, Idaho, Highway District

When cleaning storm drain pipes greater than 36 inches in diameter, traditional vacuum truck systems leave a large amount of debris in the last 6 to 10 feet of the pipe due to the angle at which that the cleaning head and hose are pulled back through the pipe. This angle also contributes to inefficiencies while cleaning, since much of the water stream is aimed at the top and upper sides of the pipe. The leftover debris would normally be cleaned by manual labor using shovels and water hoses. This process often required individuals to crawl inside the pipe and was very time consuming.

Ada County Highway District (ACDH) employees devised a system to keep the cleaning head on the bottom of the pipe: the Bottom Feeder. They attach this implement to the bottom one-third of the pipe and adjust the roller guide as necessary. The cleaning head now rides along the bottom of the pipe, cleaning the pipe with better efficiency and effectiveness. This device also helps remove the debris remaining at the end of the pipe, virtually eliminating labor work and dramatically increasing the overall safety of the operation.

After comparing two pipes of equal size with similar amounts of debris, ACHD determined that a process that once took eight hours with two vacuum trucks, one water truck, and two laborers could now be completed in only one and a half hours and with no water truck and no laborers. This new process provides 81% time savings.

Image of truck being sprayed

Second Place: High-Pressure Sprayer
Agency: Swatara Township, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania

The township was experiencing an ongoing issue with salt and salt residue on the underside of trucks and equipment corroding the metal, brake lines, fittings, and truck parts. Without a dedicated truck wash bay with undercarriage cleaning to completely wash off the salt and residue, the township spent thousands of dollars over the years to replace rusted parts. The rusted parts were also a problem because they were difficult to remove.

A Swatara Township employee fabricated a highpressure sprayer with four 45-degree sprayer nozzles to blast off the salt and residue. The township now successfully uses the high-pressure washer, beginning by pre-rinsing the undercarriages of trucks and equipment before treating them with a salt rinse product and then rinsing them off again.

Image of sign

Third Place: Sign Stabilizer
Agency: Cecil County Government, Maryland

When hanging dual street name signs, the county noticed the signs were folding and working free from the mounting hardware when exposed to high winds. By fixing the two signs together with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe, signs are more difficult to move without moving the post. Since implementing the sign stabilizer, the county has not lost a single sign. An expense of only $13 can save ten signs from damage or loss.