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Pennsylvania Team Wins National LTAP Build a Better Mousetrap Contest

Tags: DOTcom
November 15, 2019 12:00 AM
By: Jan Huzvar

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At the 2019 National Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) Conference, the East Brandywine Township, Chester County, team won the nationwide "Build a Better Mousetrap" competition for their Spreader Rack invention.

Spreader rack system design to help load spreads on a vehicle.

It was PennDOT's ninth year of participation in the competition, which recognizes innovative inventions and improvements. The purpose of the competition is to collect and disseminate real-world examples of best practices, tips from the field, and to assist in the transfer of technology. It also allows the exchange of innovative ideas with others and provides recognition to participants for their hard work.

Submissions can be the development of tools, equipment modifications, or changes to processes that reduce cost, improve efficiency, improve the quality of transportation, and increase safety for workers and drivers.

There are four categories in the competition:

  • Inspection and Data Collection (automated/remote means, testing, time, etc.)
  • Asset Management Techniques (GIS, mapping, decision support systems, etc.)
  • Maintenance Tools and Methods (lifters, reachers, modifications, assembly, etc.)
  • Transportation Facilities Improvements (storage, access, operations, services, etc.)

The spreader rack was entered in the category of Transportation Facilities Improvements. The device holds four spreaders that would have normally been stored on the floor. It can be easily moved inside and outside and allows a spreader to be mounted on a truck by one person, as opposed to two. It was built at a cost of just $50.

It is estimated that this solution reduced the manpower needed for the changeout operation by one full person, and also cut the time of the operation from 25 minutes to 10-15 minutes. All while improving the safety of the workforce and protecting the valuable equipment. 

A total of four municipalities submitted entries in this year's Build a Better Mousetrap competition. Submitting alongside East Brandywine Township were the City of Williamsport in Lycoming County, the City of Easton in Northampton County, and Swatara Township in Dauphin County.

On the Spreader Rack and its Crew

Roadmaster Matthew VanLew couldn't say enough about the skillset of his crew. Kyle Mortzfield, a carpenter by trade, and Derrick Claas were hailed as the creators.

One look at the construction, and there is no doubt that Mortzfield's background served as the basis for this idea. Digging through the scrap lumber, there were 4 x 4 wolmanized posts that were cut for the upright posts. These posts were then attached to 2 x 8 scrap pieces that were used as the braces. The top and bottom bracing was notched where each spreader would be placed to prevent them from rolling and moving when they would be moved around. 

The big expense of the idea was the wheels. $50 was spent on a set of four casters that were affixed under the bottom. Aside from nails and some lag bolts, the cost of this project was very low. 

The department all but eliminated the use of its backhoe in the operation as well. 

"We repurposed a portable hoist that allows us to position the rack closer to the truck the spreaders are being installed on making it safer and quicker to install," VanLew said.  "One man can now chain the spreaders to the hoist, raise it up high enough to position the spreader on the tailgate, pin it and we are done."

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