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Young Inventor, SureFire Ag Sign Agreement to Distribute Chem-Blade
As a young inventor, Ethan Eck knew from the beginning he would be fighting tough odds when trying to get an innovation to market. In fact, commonly quoted statistics will tell you that only one in 10 ideas will actually make it to market.
One thing Ralph Lagergren tries to impress upon any inventor is that simply creating a product takes you nowhere. “You have to truly be solving a problem that has a clear benefit to the user and the cost makes sense to them,” says Lagergren, who is Eck’s business partner.
That’s exactly what Eck kept in mind when he created the Chem-Blade product line. His initial innovation, the Chem-Blade Original, is a manual way to open, empty, and rinse jugs faster.
“I was the guy loading chemicals into my brother's sprayer, and I thought there has to be a better way,” says Eck, who is the founder of Eck Fabrication LLC in Kingman, Kansas. “It was slow to pour jugs, and with wind blowing, I constantly was soaked in chemicals even though I wore the protective gloves and eyewear.”
He also noticed that for every jug poured, he was probably wasting about 2 ounces of chemical rinsing them out back at the shop.
“At today's prices, that is a significant amount of money rinsed down the drain,” Eck says.
The pair began manufacturing and set up a dealer network for the Chem-Blade Original in 2015, and sales grew every year. While they thought they were getting the word out about the product, lack of awareness by many at trade shows showed there was room for more growth in the industry.
“We realized thousands of people still didn’t know about this time-saving device that opens, empties, and rinses the chemical out in the field allowing all the chemical to go on the intended field instead of being wasted,” Lagergren says.
That didn’t slow Eck’s creativity down. He forged ahead and created an enclosed chemical-handling system that allows operators to handle chemicals efficiently, safely, and extremely fast, the Chem-Blade ES.
“Today, a sprayer with a 120-foot boom can’t go any faster than 12 mph across a field and still maintain efficiency and accuracy,” Eck says. "Think about if that sprayer is sitting still. The greatest opportunity to make up the most time is with efficient loading.”
The Chem-Blade ES can save you up to 60 minutes a day in loading time. "With a sprayer worth up to $20 per MINUTE in the field, the ROI is fast,” he says.
Akin to how a dishwasher operates, you set the chemical container in the chamber, close the lid, and punch a button to start the process. The system opens the jug and empties the chemical in a half second. The container is then automatically rinsed clean and ready to be recycled. It also empties 50-pound bags in a couple seconds.
Because the container is in the ES's enclosed chamber, it also protects operators from backsplash and exposure to fumes.
“Ethan understood from the beginning that making a cool product wasn’t going to cut it if it didn't dramatically help spray operators go to the next level of efficiency,” Lagergren says. “We are achieving that while totally isolating operators from chemical exposure.”
Because some mixtures only use partial jugs, Eck also came up with the Chem-Blade Caddy, which is an efficient way to add partial jug contents in a closed system.
Attracting a Larger Audience
Eck’s Chem-Blade ES was chosen as one of two winners in Successful Farming magazine’s 2014 Innovation Showcase contest. In 2016, Eck entered into an agreement with Hagie Manufacturing in which the Clarion, Iowa, company would exclusively manufacture and distribute the Chem-Blade ES.
"After we licensed the Chem-Blade ES to Hagie, John Deere bought the sprayer company and the merger of the two lines took precedence," Lagergren says. “At that point, through a mutual agreement with Deere, we thought it was best to bring Ethan's invention back in-house and produce it ourselves.”
Nearly two years later, with the final design and testing completed, Eck and Lagergren were preparing to release the product to 80 dealers across North America.
The duo had just begun marketing Eck’s latest innovation regionally but realized it would take additional marketing and training in order for operators to understand the full breadth of what this technology could do.
The next step was to take the entire Chem-Blade line national. Discussions with an Atwood, Kansas, company would help them achieve that goal much faster.
“SureFire Ag was using our Chem-Blade Original with its QuickDraw system. We talked about pairing the Chem-Blade ES and Chem-Blade Caddy with this bulk loading system,” Lagergren says. “We did some testing together and considered what might be possible.”
Developed six years ago, the QuickDraw spray tender system makes manually calculating product amounts a thing of the past. The technology measures and loads bulk chemicals in a closed system while digitally storing the data. Simply enter acres or total gallons, sprayer application rate, and chemical rate per acre into the system. QuickDraw then calculates the amount of each chemical in the batch, including manually added chemicals.
“Neither of us intended to merge our two company’s technology, but the more we talked, we realized it made sense to put all the technologies under one roof,” Lagergren says.
SureFire Ag has licensed all three of the Chem-Blade products as well as any ancillary products for spray application that Eck and Lagergren have developed and will create later. Eck Fabrication LLC will manufacture portions of the units. SureFire Ag will assemble the products.
“It's so exciting because this will allow Ethan and I to do what we do best and what we love to do – develop new products that help operators be more efficient and safer,” Lagergren says.
Licensing to the right company is key. This agreement will allow SureFire Ag to use its expertise in marketing and distribution through its national sales force to take the Chem-Blade line along with its QuickDraw to a larger audience. In addition, Chem-Blade products will be in SureFire Ag’s booth at farm shows this fall.
“We are extremely excited to merge the solutions for tendering and mixing sprayer batches from Eck Fabrication and SureFire Ag,” says Matt Wolters, SureFire Ag Systems. “With the acquisition of the Chem-Blade system, we can now integrate this solution with QuickDraw’s automation of bulk chemicals to truly optimize the efficiency of any spraying operation.”
“It was a long road with many twists and turns, but we stayed the course and expect to see all our Chem-Blade products across the country under the steady hand of SureFire Ag. We have seen our dream become a complete reality,” Eck says.