Kansas inventor expands chemical handling product lineup

A one-gallon jug of the popular herbicide “Sharpen” costs roughly $750, or nearly $5.86 per ounce. In the hustle and bustle of modern field sprayer tendering, it’s not uncommon to waste a few ounces of high dollar crop protection products. Before long, wasted chemicals can wreak havoc to an operation’s profitability.

One south central Kansas inventor, however, is changing that.

Ethan Eck, founder of the original Chem-Blade, said the company’s new Chem-Blade Caddy allows users to accurately measure ingredients to the single ounce, taking the guesswork out of using oversized measuring cups.

The stainless steel Chem-Blade Caddy incorporates the easyFlow System from Greenleaf Technologies, which uses a special cap that attaches to the top of the jug and a matching component for the top to the Caddy. A simple twist and push, and the foil seal is punctured, allowing product to flow. A sight gauge with individual ounce lines allows for very precise dosage, Eck said. The sight gauge also has adjustable O-rings, which help the operator hit repeat measurements for similar application recipes. A twist of a lever, and the product is sucked into the venturi and enters the sprayer tank, Eck said. Meanwhile, the jug—either empty or partially full—can be set aside for re-use.

Although the Caddy works quickly, Eck said the real benefit to users is precision. “With these smaller volumes, it’s not necessarily speed that matters, but accuracy.”

There are multiple venturi/bypass options, for several different types of users.

The Chem-Blade Caddy was released in November and depending on options, retails for $1,950 per unit.

Making a difference

Eck’s name may sound familiar. That’s because in 2012, he launched the original Chem-Blade, a retrofit knife system with which users can open chemical containers quickly, emptying and rinsing a jug in seconds. Thousands of Chem-Blades have been sold since then, saving sprayer operators hundreds of hours of time lost to tendering their machines.

Allen Shive, agronomy department manager of the Adams Corner, Kansas location of Central Plains Co-op, is a believer in the Chem-Blade.

“I thought this was a great idea. We all hate using 2.5-gallon jugs anyway, and try to use as much bulk as we can. With jugs it’s a constant struggle to hold them, triple rinse, and cut with a knife and dispose of them. It really took a lot of time,” Shive said. The speed of adding product, rinsing capability and ease of installation was appealing, he added. And they’re durable. “We’ve still got our first one. They are bullet proof. A lot of things come and go in this industry, and that is one that’s been worth it.”

The Chem-Blade was an easy fix to issues facing Ethan’s family farm near Kingman, Kansas. While using 2.5-gallon containers and a sprayer-mounted educator was convenient, rinsing and disposing of them was a challenge. Ethan thought there had to be a better way.

“Those rinse systems worked okay, but they are slow. When you’re spraying, it’s either the wind or a storm or just the sheer farmer in you that’s trying to move as fast as you can,” he said. Cleaning and recycling jugs at the shop was a hassle.

Eck went to school at WyoTech in Laramie, Wyoming, to build racecar chassis.

“I always loved working with metal. I had the expertise in TIG welding, and we thought there had to be a better way. I figured we needed a spear to poke the jug, and blades, and drew up the first Chem-Blade on cardboard,” he recalled.

Eck contacted the Kansas Small Business Development Center, which put him in touch with a patent attorney. By then, Eck was working in an oilfield. He found a manufacturer who built some of the pieces for a prototype. He quit his job, began selling Chem-Blades out of the back of his pickup and took advantage of the breaks he was given. One of those was meeting the president of Fairbank Equipment at the Kansas State Fair. Another was getting introduced to inventor and businessman Ralph Lagergren, who was one of the founders of the original Bi-Rotor combine. Lagergren is a partner in Chem-Blade and serves as a mentor for Ethan.

“We always had the mindset to make the farmer’s job easier, quicker and make them more money,” Eck said. “We want to make a difference while keeping them safe.”

The original Chem-Blade continues to be a success; to allow for growth Eck has built a factory on the family’s farm. Here, the Chem-Blade knives are cut and sharpened, assembled and shipped to distributors. The inventor’s fabrication skills are put to use in the various jigs and assembly protocols required to get as many products out the door as quickly as possible. He has one full-time and one part-time employee to help shoulder the load.

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What’s next for Chem-Blade?

Eck is refining the newest product coming soon from the company. The Chem-Blade ES, an enclosed system allows users to empty jugs and bags of product in a fraction of the time users can empty jugs by hand. Chemical is emptied from the container, which is immediately rinsed. All opening, emptying and rinsing occurs inside a sealed chamber so operators aren’t exposed to chemical splashes or spills.

“We can do the entire process in less than 30 seconds, when it takes other handling systems three to four minutes,” Eck said.

He estimates a sprayer with 120-foot booms moving 12 miles per hour is worth $20 per minute. The Chem Blade ES, then, can pay for itself quickly with the efficiencies operators gain.

“The ES combines the best of all worlds for chemical management,” Eck said. “Faster loading keeps the sprayer in the field to spray an additional 24-45 acres per day.”

The Chem-Blade ES can be used as an eductor, an inductor at a supply station or can be integrated into an existing loading system. It relies on 12-volt power combined with air. “The ES can load jugs, bags, bulk, and even partials with the Caddy integrated into the Chem-Blade ES plumbing,” Eck said.

The Chem-Blade ES had been licensed to Hagie Manufacturing. However, that company’s acquisition by John Deere disrupted that venture. Still, there was global interest in the Chem-Blade ES, Eck said. It can be used by large farmers, commercial applicators, aerial applicators and can be used in lawncare and golf course applications, Eck said.

The Chem-Blade ES will retail from $7,500 to $10,000, depending on options. It will be available at dealers early in 2018.

For more information, visit www.chem-blade.com.

Bill Spiegel can be reached at 785-587-7796 or [email protected].