Earlier this year, Graco customers were calling the company to see if they could repurpose their Graco paint sprayers to use with disinfectants.

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends List-N sanitizers to kill viruses and bacteria, including the coronavirus. Many of those List-N sanitizers, more than 300 in total, are alcohol-based and contain other chemicals such as bleach and hydrogen peroxide.

While effective at killing viruses, they are also corrosive to equipment designed to spray paint or architectural coatings.

Minneapolis-based Graco, a manufacturer of fluid handling equipment for industrial and commercial uses, has introduced a new line of airless sprayers, SaniSpray HP, specifically built to handle high-level disinfectants, sanitizers and deodorizers.

Dan Johnson, the global total markets manager for the contractor equipment division of Graco, was part of a multi-department team that developed SaniSpray HP. "Our sprayers need to be designed for the products that go through them," Johnson said. "It turns out there was a lot that needed to be changed."

Graco quickly assembled a team of people from all parts of the company, among them design and manufacturing engineers, and teams from marketing, packaging and product safety.

Johnson said the teams benefited from some prior research done for that potential market. But Graco still developed the new product within months when some new product development processes might take a year or more.

Graco had annual revenue in 2019 of $1.6 billion and it earned $344 million. It is known for developing innovative products, and last year spent $68 million on product development across its three business segments, up from $63 million in 2018.

"We developed it to meet a need and help assist in the fight against COVID-19 and the pandemic," Johnson said

The new purpose-built sprayer comes in six models designed for customers that would use anywhere from 15 gallons of disinfectant a week to customers who need to sanitize arenas and other large public spaces who might go through more than 300 gallons of sanitizer a week.

The line consists of handheld models that can tackle small jobs to ones that can run multiple hoses and applicators capable of sanitizing stadiums and arenas. Prices will range from $400 to $24,000.

Graco generally develops products for commercial and industrial markets. Johnson said the SaniSpray HP line will appeal to more markets, including food services, hospitality, transportation, health care, housing and education.

"Everyone is now a customer for this," Johnson said, "from your local gym to an arena."

Johnson said the SaniSpray HP was developed with four goals in mind: to provide the highest speed and productivity; to apply the best coverage; to be purpose-built for the application; and to be delivered with everything the customer needs to start sanitizing.

Compared with spray bottles or hand pumps, the airless SaniSpray HP produces an even sheetlike coating so people don't have to spend additional time going back to smooth it out with rags and paper towels.

Troy Olson is an owner of the 1029 Bar, across the street from Graco in Minneapolis. He's purchased a new SaniSpray HP for his business, which was closed for awhile but now is "half open."

"We are just trying to pay our bills and keep people employed," Olson said.

He is using the Graco sprayer on top of his usual cleaning and opening and closing procedures. And even if there is a vaccine for the coronavirus, he says the product is so easy to use and cost-effective in the long-run that he'll continue to use the Graco sprayer.

"I want to stay open," Olson said.