Clean sweep of inventions fills vacuum in industry

🕔Sep 22, 2005

In five years’ time, vacuuming will be a snap in 210 countries, according to a northern inventor who’s about to revolutionize the cleaning industry.

Scott Walter of Terrace has patented four new individual vacuum components that have never been available anywhere in the world before: a removable handgrip, a hose with double swivels, modular extension hoses, and a new click-and-snap connection.

But how does that improve the dreaded chore of cleaning? In a multitude of ways, according to Walter, from simple convenience to assistance for the disabled.

“For one,” Walter says, “your hose will never kink up again. Dual swivels in the centre allow you to walk in circles without having to twist your handle to straighten out your hose.

The new “Quick Click” puts the 35-foot hoses, that are currently on the market, in the little league. With multiple extensions, you’ll be able to reach across 320 feet, more than four lengths of a standard swimming pool, or the entire length of a soccer stadium—without pulling the canister with you.

Bye-bye to the days of climbing rickety ladders lugging the entire vacuum to access hard-to-reach spider webs on the ceiling. Hello to leaving the canister outside tight spaces like a motor home!

The modular hoses are available in different lengths, which allow each person to customize their own vacuum cleaner.

The hoses will also work with built-in vacuum systems, where there’s lots of room for improvement, according to Walter.

“I have one at home, but I don’t use it. The hose is too tangly, and often too long.”

Following in his father’s footsteps, Walter joined the Electrolux fleet of door-to-door salesmen at 17 years of age. “I learned a lot, and took mental note of what customers didn’t like.”

Two years later, Walter found out about a work opportunity in Terrace—a town he’d never heard of.

“I decided to go there for two years, and to make a fortune,” he laughs today.

Now 35 years old and with a family of his own, he’s still in Terrace—and in pursuit of fortune.

Currently two years into the invention process, countless hours and over $40,000 invested, he can see the light at the end of the hose.

With some government funding, Walter’s four components will be trademarked and patent-pending in 210 countries for five years’ time. If all goes well, the new Quick Click could be available in August this year.

Before then, Walter will make a prototype mould to test for durability and safety.

Once he’s happy with the product, it’ll go before the Canadian Standards Association for final approval.

But major players are already banging on Walter’s door. “I’ve got a few large companies after me,” he smiles. Among them: Hoover, Kenmore and Panasonic.

Walter plans to license the product to them, who in turn will manufacture the Quick Click for their pull-behind vacuum cleaners. With the revamped options, a vacuum will approximately retail for 10 per cent more than today’s models, Walter estimates.

But despite the offer from the big-wigs, Walter is not walking away from his baby. He’s planning to manufacture the hoses for built-in vacuum systems himself, and market them to the 10 or so large distributors in the industry.

And his inventions don’t stop here. “I’ve got quite a few other products to bring out,” he admits secretly.

One is another vacuum hose system, this one to increase the actual vacuum efficiency. “It doesn’t allow friction of the air,” Walter discloses reluctantly. “I haven’t tested it yet, but in theory it should allow full suction.”

Although fully immersed in the vacuum industry, Walter’s inventions don’t stop there.

When his hair started thinning 10 years ago, he became intrigued with preventing hair loss. “Hanging your head off the side of your bed to increase circulation is not really going to cut it,” he realized, so he invented a circulatory scalp massager, which we may see on the market in the future.

And while most people aspire to kick back on their holidays, Walter ponders new inventions all the time. When scuba diving in a warmer climate a few years ago, he was annoyed at the lack of quality of scuba gear, so that’s another invention in the works.

“There is also some sports equipment that I want to bring out, a whole pile of products,” he adds, but refuses to reveal more details.

While he’s pursuing his Jekyll and Mr. Hyde behind closed doors, Walter still manages to run a vacuum and sewing machine store and repair centre in Terrace: Northern Vacuum & Sewing Center.

Among a staff of seven, Walter is the head mechanic, although he has no formal schooling or training in the field.

“As a kid, I used to pull everything apart. The more you know about one thing, the more you know about something else.”

Why nobody else has jumped on this void in the vacuum industry, he simply dismisses as lack of action.

“All of us come up with ideas. I’m sure a lot of people have thought of what I invented, just not taken it to the next level.”

New coach

The northwest now has a new regional business coach.

As part of the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) team, Betty Barton of Terrace will liaise with small and medium-sized businesses to determine their needs for cost-shared research and development funding, advisors and technical expertise.

“There has been tremendous interest,” says Barton.

With letters of support from industry across the region, she’s currently in the process of applying for core funding from the provincial government to staff the Northwest Science and Innovation Council.

The Council was formed a year ago, in response to a study by Western Economic Diversification in the fall of 2002: Promoting Innovation in Rural Communities, which identified a need for the northwest to embrace a technology economy.

To encourage inventions and enhance the organization’s visibility, the Council is working on a website to share science and technology resources with area innovators and link up to other science-based websites.

IRAP has helped several area inventors with expertise, travel assistance or funding for their research and development, in many cases leading to the production and sale of their ideas, according to Barton.

She’s working closely with Northwest Community College to facilitate any research or training that the college can provide once a need has been identified.

Barton travels throughout the region from the Queen Charlotte Islands to Telkwa, and from Dease Lake to Kitimat, to meet with entrepreneurs interested in pursuing any of the IRAP programs. She can be reached at (250) 635-6244 or by e-mail at

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Same ‘sockets’ for bright ideas

The inventor behind the phonograph and the light bulb, Thomas Edison, once said: “I make more mistakes than anyone else I know. And, sooner or later, I patent most of them.”

A record holder of 1,093 patents, he’s considered one of the world’s most prolific inventors of all times.

Although 73 years since his passing, he still has profound impact on modern life—and a lot in common with today’s inventors.

Michael Kerr is the industrial technology advisor with the National Research Council of Canada, in Prince George. Part of his job is to travel around the North and assist inventors, so he’s seen his share of talent.

Regardless of invention and personal calling, there are some personality traits that stand out, he says.

“They are eccentric, very eccentric,” he says with a smile. “Their minds never stop. Some of the more avid inventors say they can never sleep.”

Kerr finds his interaction with the inventors incredibly stimulating. The tough part, he says, is to keep them focused on one invention at a time.

Contrary to common beliefs, inventors today—just like Edison—seldom just invent within his or her field of expertise. Nor do they usually have formal training or schooling in their field. When Edison’s schoolmaster called him “addled,” his mother took her “poor student” out of school in Milan, Ohio.

True to form today, Kerr says, inventors “learn as they go”—many of them better than their peers with formal education. “They learn and then apply that learning to other sectors.”

What motivates inventors is often something in their personal life that’s not working to their liking. And the fear of failure doesn’t hamper their enthusiasm for change.

“They never stop inventing. They are never satisfied. They are always perfecting.”

Although Kerr has seen inventions develop from idea to market in one month’s time, the norm is much longer, often several years.

He acknowledges that many northerners pack up and leave in the process—often due to financial reasons. “There is less money here for venture capital, and fewer investors,” he explains. That makes it hard for inventors to financially bridge the gap between securing funds from friends and family, to the leap of borrowing from financial institutions.

Another problem is finding companies to license the products to. “This is a severe restriction,” Kerr emphasizes.

Having access to professional organizations, such as the National Research Council, is very helpful, however, he says.

“Inventors usually think they need funding more, but I find what they really need is advice and somewhere to go to understand the patenting process, how to do it, and whether they should patent at all.”

But there is some silver lining in the North. “People are very resourceful here. They see a problem, they fix it.”