Earlier this month I was lucky enough to pitch the company at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Startups2students event, which connects startup-curious students with local companies. A number of students and recent grads reached out afterward, and I’m happy to announce we’ve hired two of them!
Sam Taylor graduated from the CU Boulder Leeds School of Business last December. He dove into the solar industry head first by joining GRID Alternatives as an installer, where he helped build a couple large commercial projects. He went on to lead a trail crew with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, where he rebuilt portions of the epic Colorado Trail among other projects. What will he build next? Marketing and sales strategies for Slick Tools!
Nils Johnson is another recent CU grad, from the Mechanical Engineering department. He is committed to the global effort to reverse climate change, and his experience includes leading the CU Backcountry Ski Club and designing cool metal stuff for McLean Forge! Nils has already been instrumental in R&D testing related to the AG Bender.
As you might have guessed from the photos, both Sam and Nils are trained in avalanche safety, which will come in handy on the occasional Slick Tools Backcountry Ski Day. Looking forward to having these two accelerate the growth of the company (and dig my butt out of the snow)!
For the past couple months I’ve been busy developing the “Power Feed” feature of the AG Bender™. The idea behind Power Feed is to:
Eliminate the need to anchor the AG Bender before use. Installers sometimes struggle to find a solid mounting location in their van or at the worksite; now you can just plop the machine on any surface and start bending!
Eliminate the need to pull material through the machine while awkwardly walking backward. The pulling action could lead to lower back strain or a fall if the machine attachment were to fail.
Speed up the whole wire mesh bending process.
Provide all these benefits while keeping the machine portable, compact and non-reliant on AC power.
Here’s a quick video of the latest prototype (R5.2) in action:
It took several design iterations of the sprocket tooth profile and axle linkage in order to apply pressure to the wire mesh in just the right amounts – both horizontally (to drive the mesh forward) and vertically (to keep the teeth engaged with the mesh). This was accomplished by linking the drive axle to the machine with a diagonal link whose angle establishes a stable ratio between those forces. I was initially hesitant to mount the drive mechanism to the entry rather than the exit of the machine, thinking that material could buckle or shift sideways when pushed from behind. Fortunately, this turned out to be a non-issue as the contact rods do a great job of keeping the mesh on-track throughout the bending process.
Version 5.2 contains a dozen or so other small improvements that make the machine more compact, lighter weight, and easier to adjust and use. The prototype has performed great in the shop – now it’s time to hand it over to local solar installers to put some miles on it at real job sites. After gathering feedback and making any design tweaks, we’ll produce a dozen or so machines to send out to installers for free demo use. Reach out at email@example.com if you’re interested in a demo!
Slick Tools at SPI 2020
Come try the AG Bender yourself at booth 3857 at the Solar Power International trade show (also known as North America Smart Energy Week) in Las Vegas, October 21-22, 2020. In addition to showing off the Bender, we’ll have several popular types of animal guard mocked up for visitors to check out and compare. Not sure what to make of the various animal guard products on the market? Skip the marketing hype and come see and feel the difference yourself! We will of course be practicing strict COVID safety protocol at our booth. Hope to see you there!
Today I’m thrilled to release our new website, share what we’ve been working on for over a year now, and tell you where this project is headed!
My name is Marshall Poland, founder of Slick Tools LLC. I’m a recent convert to the solar industry, having spent most of my career as an engineer in the cycling industry. I’ve been working as a solar installer and PV designer for two years in Boulder, Colorado.
Why Slick Tools
I see a lot of waste in the solar industry due to folks not having the right tools or information for the job. For example:
Solar installers get repetitive stress injuries while performing manual work that could be done by a machine.
Homeowners and installers lack access to reliable data regarding PV reliability; so they’re forced to base important decisions on anecdotes and gut feelings (e.g. whether to install animal guard to protect a PV system).
PV designers’ workflows include many small steps that could be automated or eliminated, if only someone had time to develop a custom-tailored software tool.
I hope to build tools and services under the Slick Tools name that solve these problems and empower folks in the solar industry to do their best work.
Our first product – the AG Bender™
The AG Bender is a tool for professionals who install pest abatement screens around solar PV arrays. Roof-mounted solar arrays create perfect nesting sites for birds and squirrels, and have exposed wires underneath them which rodents love to chew. Best practice is to install a wire mesh screen around the perimeter of the PV array to keep these animals out.
Many installers use their hands and a 2×4 or other hard edge to manually bend wire mesh into a rigid channel before installing it. We’re talking hundreds of feet of manual bending for a typical residential solar array – it’s a lousy job, and I’ve personally seen coworkers put on light duty due to repetitive stress injuries from this activity. The patent-pending AG Bender performs this work for them – quickly, safely and with more consistent results. Here’s a short video of the Bender in action!
We’ve sold 15 units to local installers, and are now opening sales and demo units to any installer in the US. Check out the AG Bender product page for more info!
The current AG Bender is the culmination of a year of hard work – involving a lot of CNC router time, many hours of field testing, four design revisions and a patent application. Here are some highlights from along the way.
Brainstorming design requirements
Proof of concept parts
Proof of concept testing
CNC router programming
R3 AG Bender
First batch of R3.1 Benders
R4.1 AG Bender
Okay, wipe away those sentimental tears– let’s talk about the future of Slick Tools! We have a number of projects underway:
You’re looking at it. We’ll use this channel to release information about the latest developments at Slick Tools. This is also where you’ll see new content posted as we build out the…
Solar PV Pest Control Guide
Looking around the internet, we found a striking lack of information on the topic of pest control in the solar industry. So we’ve taken it upon ourselves to build the ultimate online solar/pest knowledge base! Published in weekly installments, we’ll be crunching data from reputable sources such as NREL; gathering insights from our network of solar veterans; and sharing our own experience to bring you:
Installation best practices
Time, cost and ROI analyses to help system owners, installers and investors decide if pest abatement is right for their PV project
The guide’s main page lists the topics we plan to cover. We welcome your requests in the Comments section of that page.
We’re working on a power feed attachment to enhance the AG Bender. Currently, the Bender must be mounted firmly to a solid object before use, and finding a good mounting location/method has been a pain point for some users. With the power feed, you’ll be able to leave the machine resting on any surface and pump out 10 foot sections of wire mesh profile in ~4 seconds – no pulling required. The power feed will be driven by any cordless drill or impact, leaving the machine just as portable and compact as ever. It will be sold as an add-on compatible with all AG Benders.
That’s all for now. If you’re a solar professional interested in our work, feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay healthy and safe out there!