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Patrick Schatz is a restless inventor. Imagine, if you will, a young Einstein who’s infatuated with improving machinery function or inventing a device to do something no one else has previously created.
The intrepid mechanical engineer has several patents and sees most things in life as performing interconnected functions. He rebuilds old cars in his spare time (preferring circuit board-free muscle cars) and works, happily challenged, for innovative Dayton, Ohio-based manufacturer HPC Fire Inspired (www.hpcfire.com).
Schatz, HPC’s product engineer, notes that some testing functions were tedious and repetitive. For many years, they tested various equipment functions, capturing data by hand. “Some testing procedures were so monotonous that it became the least interesting part of work, which added repetitive cross-checking to ensure the accuracy of testing,” he says. “Something had to change.”
Schatz sought a way to modernize and simplify laborious testing for accurate measurements and data required for monthly CSA, ANSI or UL audits. Computations include fuel temp, ambient temp, barometric pressure, precise gas pressure, etc. Testing — and the recording of test data — was necessary but very time-consuming. To make matters worse, they then had to feed all that data and information into computers, keystroke by keystroke.
“Our testing became one of the most significant impediments to product development and introductions,” Schatz explains. “It negatively affected company performance and profitability, and just hammered our job satisfaction.”
Fire and water
Why all the hard work?
Picture in your mind the coolest, most dazzling outdoor feature for social gatherings — something you’d expect to see in Las Vegas, perhaps, or on the set of a Star Wars movie. HPC’s flagship product is one that Schatz was instrumental in bringing to market.
HPC’s H2Onfire product is ideal for many residential or commercial settings. The innovative fire and water effects add the sound of soothing water and beautiful blue LED lights to the warmth and romance of fire.
“When you get to work on products this cool — and we’ve always got new ones in development — the work’s worth it,” Schatz says. “It’s both challenging and invigorating.”
Yet despite the challenge of repetitive testing, the mid-sized manufacturer was recognized in the hearth, patio and BBQ market for its many innovations. In March 2020, HPC Fire Inspired won the Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association’s prestigious Vesta Award for its new Universal Gas Orifice, and was later recognized by Ohio. It was a project Schatz was involved in developing.
In 2013, HPC — along with Schatz’s Evolution 360 design (a circular outdoor fire and water feature) — won a patent and several design awards. “At Las Vegas home show in 2016, we could’ve sold the demo unit a hundred times,” he notes.
HPC also makes the Evolution 360 using the water as the media. The gas bubbles up from the pool of water and ignites just above the surface, looking almost holographic — but it’s real. Often, when people encounter the fire-on-water action for the first time, they‘re mesmerized.
It’s rarely a surprise to learn how some of the coolest, most appealing products (even muscle cars) come to life through hard work. Someone’s got to do the dirty work.
Well, back at HPC’s plant, Schatz and engineering tech Mike Chaffins continued to move through the need to test and re-test various equipment functions and performance. After all, as their products are natural gas or propane-fired, safety is their first and foremost concern.
“Getting the data was laborious,” Schatz says. With notepad nearby, pen and stopwatch in hand, and counting the revolutions (more revolutions = better, more accurate results), Schatz and others tested various equipment functions. Imagine doing these tests manually (analog and by hand) every day as new products were prepared for shipment.
Love at first sight
At HPC, they still do all those tests today, yet curiously, Schatz and the HPC team are moving product through the testing stage at a much greater speed and with greater accuracy. Morale is a lot higher, too.
That’s because one day, Schatz learned about a new testing and data collection device from Engineering Manager Tom Witman. When he tested his first fire pit with Dormont’s FloPro-MD (a portable 3-in-1 gas flow meter, digital manometer and calculator), he described it as “love at first sight.” Then Schatz corrected himself, saying it was actually better than that.
“It was like hitting a home run, running a touchdown and scoring a trifecta all at the same time,” he says.
Soon, Schatz purchased another FloPro-MD. HPC now has three of the devices. With FloPro-MD, all data is now more accurately captured and made available electronically, saving many hours each week. The pros at HPC consider the FloPro-MD’s most valuable features (in order) to be:
• Live, real-time graphed data transmitted via Wi-Fi to a smart device;
• Computation: data is entered/compiled to reveal useful information;
• Wi-Fi signal to smart device/computer;
• Data is then populated into Excel;
• Ease of use: small size/lightweight/transportability;
• Durability: they dropped one of the devices but it did not affect operation or accuracy.
“FloPro-MD changed our operations substantially,” Schatz explains. “Not only does the device give us quick access to accurate information, but it automatically presents data into Excel spreadsheets upon file access. It’s cut our R+D and testing time by at least 60 percent. It’s the finest diagnostic, testing and product performance tools I’ve ever seen and have had the pleasure to use.”