Graco takes the guesswork out of foam insulating

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 1, 2013 - 1:54 PM

A new wireless monitoring system for contractors and builders shows how data-tracking systems can be used outside the factory.

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Tony Kubat of Metro Home Insulation uses a new product, Graco InSite, to track the quality and time required to apply foam insulation.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Like he’s done 100 times, Tony Kubat strapped on stilts, donned his respirator and then sprayed foam insulation into the nooks and joists of a house under construction in Brooklyn Park.

Only this time, he was testing ­Graco’s new InSite data system in the field. It let Kubat — and his boss at Metro Home Insulation in Elk River — see the chemical sprayer’s “real-time” temperature, pressure and amount of foam insulation applied. An embedded GPS and wireless tracking system also told Kubat’s boss exactly where the sprayer was and when Kubat used it.

“It logs everything and sends data back [to the cloud server] every minute, so we can check to make sure I am working to spec,” Kubat said. “And it’s kind of nice that it counts how many gallons you use.”

Graco’s technology puts it on a new path for data collection and gives homebuilders and contractors a novel tool to check on work crews from afar. It also will prove to homeowners, and even insurance companies, that homes were properly insulated. It’s a frequent bone of contention in regions where temperatures reach extremes.

“Our system improves accountability,” said Nick Pagano, the Graco business development manager who created InSite. Graco field-tested the data tracking system for six months, debuted it at an industry trade show in October and now is rolling it out nationwide.

Minneapolis-based Graco joins Toro, Honeywell, 3M and other Minnesota-based manufacturers that are introducing “smart,” remote and real-time data-tracking devices to help managers in non-factory settings. The technology that has long been popular inside manufacturing plants is now finding its way to tracking the soil compositions of golf courses, the locations of firefighters trapped in buildings and the comings-and-goings of hotel guests who may have left an air conditioner blasting.

Now with Graco’s help, such tracking software is entering the building trades with gusto.

‘An industry standard’

“This is a game-changer. This is creating an industry standard,” said Metro Home’s Ken Sheldon, who manages Kubat and the five other truck crews who insulate 600 homes a year in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Wisconsin and Iowa. Sheldon agreed to test Graco’s equipment on two of his six trucks.

“It reduces risk,” Sheldon said. “Because Minnesota is such an extreme climate, at least every couple of months we get a homeowner or general contractor who challenges us about what we did and didn’t do. It happens quite a bit. Now, if ever we are challenged, this takes the guesswork right out of it.” The foam data is tracked, recorded and easily printed for any job.

Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, said Graco’s new technology will benefit contractors, homeowners and commercial building owners. “We are starting to see more of that type of control technology in different industries. But the application [Graco] describes appears to be unique. It’s creating an inventory at a certain job site. Not only of the amount of product being applied, but also where and how,” Melander said.

Graco’s tracking technology is so different, it might even attract young people to the construction trades. “Technology changes like these may spark an interest in those who only thought of us as wielding shovels and hammers,” he said.

InSite is a significant development for Graco, a traditional manufacturer best known for its pumps, paint and foam sprayers, food extruders and other liquid-handling equipment. For 10 years, Graco has made the $20,000 and $30,000 “chemical reactors” that convert resins and hardening chemicals into spray-foam insulation. But Graco never delved into the world of wireless data systems for contractors.

Graco’s InSite kit costs $1,250 and looks like a black box not much bigger than a wallet. It bolts onto the foam-insulation machine in a contractor’s truck and wirelessly tracks the hoses, heat and drums of chemicals that become sprayable insulation.

Last Wednesday, Kubat peeked at his InSite data on an iPad and learned that he’d sprayed 46.5 gallons of foam in just over two hours. It showed that his spray gun shot foam onto wall joists at 1,125 pounds per square inch. But it also showed a red dot, meaning that Kubat was no longer spraying foam. What impressed Kubat most is that he can check his work from any iPad or cellphone. “I can even check the data on our truck that is out in Savage,” Kubat said.

Sheldon, Kubat’s boss in Elk River, said he will install InSite on his four other trucks next year.

Brian Cote, a vice president for Metro Home’s parent firm Installed Building Products in Ohio, just ordered 20 InSite systems for his New England rigs. Beyond that, the company is looking to adopt InSite nationwide. Installed Building Products insulates 20,000 to 30,000 homes a year — most of those in extreme climates, Cote said.

“I am exited about [InSite],” Cote said. “When I started spraying foam, I had a small piece of equipment and there were no gauges, no information. Nothing. There was only a lot of opportunity for error. But with this piece of equipment you can see if all the ratios are right, and if there is a problem you can quickly see it and fix it.”

Cote envisions giving homeowners InSite’s spray data as soon as the insulation job is done. “It’s so they can see they got a quality job that was according to specification,” he said.

 

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725





 

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