Build a Better Mousetrap Competition Previous Winners
First Place: Otter Tail County Highway Department
Project: Otter Plow Cushion
Problem: Winter roads, especially late in the season, can be especially rough, causing more stress on snowplow lift chains and plow lift parts as the heavy plow assembly bounces more. Broken plow lift chains are a common result and can take maintenance vehicles and personnel out of service for hours.
Solution: Maintenance personnel with Otter Tail County Highway Department created the Otter Plow Cushion with spare parts during downtime on a cold winter day. The device absorbs the shock of rough roads on the plow assembly and lift chains, improving ride quality and reducing the failure of the plow lift chains and parts. Once their stock of used parts was depleted, the department maintenance staff found they could purchase the needed parts new for about $431 per plow.
Second Place: City of Rochester Public Works Department
Project: Hydraulic Arrow Board
Problem: The city's infrastructure maintenance crew members had to climb into the back of the truck and physically lift/lower the electronic arrow board into position. The arrow board has to be lowered before moving to a new worksite in order to avoid it being caught in low-hanging trees.
Solution: The arrow board is now raised and lowered by a hydraulic pump operated from inside the vehicle. This eliminated the need for staff to climb into the back of the truck to raise and lower the board manually. Additionally, the new system allows the arrow board to be raised 18 inches higher than before, making it more effective at traffic control because it's more visible.
First Place: Clearwater County Highway Department
Project: Tractor-Mounted Shouldering Box
Problem: After spring road restrictions and before the county begins its normal summer road maintenance, staff fill the slow period by shouldering the county's roads using available equipment. In the past, the county has added a shoe to the end of the moldboard on the motor grader or to the end of the wing on a plow truck to accomplish this task. However, using this equipment took away from production and other maintenance activities.
Solution: The county fabricated a tractor-mounted shouldering box, which allowed the county's motor grader operators to remain on their regular blade routes without interruption and freed up a truck to haul shouldering material. As an added benefit, the box of the tractor-mounted unit keeps gravel material on the shoulder with minimal spill onto the roadway. Savings achieved included enhanced visibility, minimal cleanup, increased speed due to visibility, and increased safety for the traveling public.
Second Place: Polk County
Project: Asphalt Patch Trailer Improvements for Safety and Productivity
Problem: Members of the county's patch trailer crew had no safe way to load tack oil into the top of the machine without climbing on the trailer tongue and then the propane fuel tank to reach the fill port. In addition, the tack oil dispensing wand was too short to reach more than one lane of the road surface without positioning the truck/trailer between both lanes of traffic on two-lane roads.
Solution: County staff designed and fabricated a platform with an access stairway that allows workers to safely maintain three points of contact while ascending and descending the platform to perform required duties, including filling the tack oil tank, monitoring asphalt material hopper levels, and servicing the tack oil pump. Staff also designed and fabricated a swinging boom to support the added weight of the extended tack oil dispensing wand to reduce operator fatigue and provide an extended reach for two lanes of traffic and roadway shoulders. The boom also prevents the excess hose from lying on the roadway, thereby eliminating tripping/entanglement hazards for the other workers on the patch crew.