It’s never too late to go back to improve an old prototype.
Just ask Kurt Olson, who likens the second generation of his invented product, the Gap Defender, to a Rolls Royce compared to similar entries in the market.
The durable product is made of silicone, is not affected by temperature, and molds seamlessly to the gap between the tail gate and bed of a truck, making it easier for home construction and repair companies to easily transport and remove waste without risk of injury.
Olson is president and CEO of Lighthouse Tool Company, a maker of industry-specific tools in Tacoma. He first came up with the idea for the Gap Defender in the early 2000s, when he owned a home remodeling business and experienced firsthand the hassle of transporting waste and getting dirt and shards of glass stuck in the gap.
“I got a piece of glass stuck in my finger,” says Olson, “and a light bulb came on.”
Unfortunately, the bulb, at the time, didn’t shine as brightly as he wished. Olson made his original version of the Gap Defender out of Santoprene, a thicker, less-flexible type of rubber.
“I shelved it because the properties were not what I wanted,” Olson says.
Six years ago, Olson was confronted with another idea. While working at U.S. Oil, he was approached by a colleague, Leo Cazinha, who handed over a crude prototype of a tool he claimed would revolutionize a petrochemical professional’s chores. It offered the ability to safely and effectively extract gaskets from a flange pipe, clean the flange face free of debris, and replace a new gasket in the flange.
“I knew Kurt for quite a few years,” Cazinha says. “He had a friend who was a patent lawyer. I mentioned to him that I had a makeshift prototype. Kurt got a hold of the patent lawyer, and it started from there.
“The prototype I had was pretty primitive. “It took a good while to get it to where it is now,” he continues. “I just believed in the possibility. Kurt spent a lot of money investing in the tool’s promotion.”
Together, Olson and Cazinha as co-patent holders on the product, agreed to call the tool FlangeKing. According to Harald Hohendorf, who oversees product support at Lighthouse, FlangeKing went through many blade designs.
“The first one we had was so sharp I could’ve shaved with it,” Olson laughs.
Lighthouse came up with a refined finished product two years ago. The blade comes in four different models to fit the demands of a particular job site: 90- and 45-degree blades in eight and 16 inch lengths, made of 4130 steel and heat-treated.
The professionally made product is a stark departure from the makeshift tools — everything from coat hangers to modified saws and blades — that maintenance professionals in the energy sector have used. Olson and his team claim that their product provides substance to go with the flash, keeping worker's extremities clear of the “danger zone,” while expediting gasket removal and replacement time by 30 percent.
“This is a tool that is generational,” Olson says. “You can pass it on to your kids and your grandkids.”
Lighthouse is also proud to say FlangeKing is made locally.
“Having it manufactured locally is important to our client base,” Olson says. “It helps us put money back into the local community.”
And Jamie McCormack, Lighthouse general manager, says it gives the firm a considerable amount of control over quality.
“We can proudly say every part is made right here,” she says.
Peninsula Machine in Gig Harbor makes the steel blade. Seattle Commercial Fabrics handles materials and design of the nylon sheath and tool-belt attachment loop. And the handle of FlangeKing is made at Injection Molding in Fife.
So far, distributors have reacted positively. Lighthouse sells FlangeKing direct from its website, but also through retailers like Lamons and SMP Tools in Houston, right in the oil industry’s Texas nucleus.
“It has been endorsed by the Houston Area Safety Council, a leader in training for the oil and gas industry,” McCormack says. “Twenty facilities across the U.S. use FlangeKing, in addition to five or 10 turnaround service providers.”
McCormack says FlangeKing is also currently being tested in some commercial marine and public utility environments, too.
“We would expect it to be widely available in these markets by the end of this year,” she says.
With the increasing success of FlangeKing, Olson was inspired to diversify in product line, returning to his Gap Defender — now more than a decade old.
Out with Santoprene and in with silicone, and Olson — ever the salesman — believes he’s hit paydirt again.
“I knew this is what the product needed to be made of to be effective,” Olson says.
McCormack says the new Gap Defender is top of the line.
“It takes the shortcomings of other similar products and solves those problems,” she explains. “Our product is made to last every time you use it.”
McCormack says the company is in the final stages of product development on the second generation Gap Defender. The company plans to make the product available to consumers in late October or early November, with pre-orders available in mid-September via the Lighthouse website.
“We’re distributing to auto dealers and auto-parts stores where buyers can go in and buy one off the shelf,” McCormack says. “We’ll also be selling to construction companies that might have a fleet of five to 100 trucks.”
Lighthouse anticipates selling out of the first run of Gap Defenders within the first few months of launching.
“We’ve had great champions of our products,” McCormack says. “Truck dealerships and auto part stores are eagerly anticipating it.”
Lighthouse is so confident, in fact, that Olson and his team don’t rule out expanding products distribution globally. In fact, conversations have been hatched with international sales groups, though those talks are still in formative stages.
“It’s going to be big,” says a confident Olson, the omnipresent smile still gracing his lips. “I’m telling you, Rolls Royce.”