Roofing Company Keeps on Top of Safety, Innovation
Most roofing companies do fine work, but they just put on roofs. They don’t concentrate on insulation or have a safety division that works with clients to provide them with dependable and reliable access to roof areas. And they probably don’t receive patents for their solutions in either area.
Of course, most companies don’t have a CEO who lives off the grid, either.
Springfield in Kingsley focuses on innovative solutions for its clients, whether that means simply roofing or providing insulation that keeps refrigerant tubes from icing up or leaking.
“We do a lot of work for food and fruit companies,” explained CEO Terry Umlor. That included trying to find ways to prevent ice buildups in freezers, or refrigerant lines filled with ammonia from being contaminated by water from leaks.
“We weren’t trying to create a widget (to) patent, but to solve a problem,” he said. “We struggled to find anything (that would work).”
But a search for a solution proved, well, fruitless. So they created their own. It took two years of research and development for the company to develop a product that would prevent contamination and protect against ammonia vaporization inside the pipes and the subsequent degradation of the insulation. It began using the process in 2008, and in 2012 was granted a patent for it, which it dubbed SmartShield™ technology. Not only do company clients see a return on their investment due to savings on energy and maintenance costs, they no longer face the specter of replacing the insulation every few years.
That’s not the only area where the company stands apart. It recently received a second patent, this time for its SmartAnchor™ Fall Prevention System. The product safely secures an extension ladder to the roof of a building in order to keep it from slipping sideways along the roofline or slipping out from the wall at the ground level.
“The old way of working was to run and hide from OSHA (the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration),” said Nick Jacqmain, company president. “Terry made the decision to embrace safety, make it an everyday thing. It’s the right thing to do.”
Springfield workers work on roofs of all shapes, sizes, and pitches. “We’re confronted with many different issues,” said Umlor. “We want to ensure a safe work environment.”
Since the issue of worker safety can keep people up at night, it seems only right that that’s when the solution came to Umlor. “I woke up in the middle of the night and came up with the idea,” he said. The next day he presented it to the rest of his staff for discussion and modifications, and within a week they were using it.
That was two years ago. Six months after the initial design they began the patent application, and received the patent earlier this year.
The company also touts its use of rooftop natural daylight fixtures. The so-called “skylights on steroids” are tube fixtures which concentrate and evenly distribute sunlight from the roof into the industrial workspace. The natural light can cut energy bills in half by eliminating the need for artificial lights.
The skylights are made in the U.S. by Orion Energy Systems and are used by beverage company MillerCoors in its distribution facility in Milwaukee, resulting in savings of $127,000 a year on electric lighting.
All in a day’s work for the company, which has clients across Michigan as well as some nearby states. Jacqmain said it stems from Springfield’s focus on the entire scope of a client’s needs. “Even before entering the fall protection business we were always looking at the building envelope,” he said.
And yes, Umlor and his wife Terri Jo (company CFO and human resources director) do indeed live off the grid. Their home is a mile from the road, and the cost to get hooked up was steep. Umlor had always been interested in alternative energy, and today their home is powered by solar cells and wind turbines. He estimated that the cost of purchasing and installing all the energy sources they currently have would run around $30000-40,000 today, though he built it bit by bit over the years. “We have TV, microwave, washer and dryer,” he said. “We have just become more conscious of using energy.”
That kind of innovative thinking has obviously served his company well.