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Architect invents sandbagging device that could help save lives, property...  By Katie Winchell
Reprinted with Permission by US Water News


Low-tech GoBagger allows one person to fill sandbag when time and manpower are of the essence.

To the uninitiated, filling sandbags the old-fashioned way seems to work just fine. A shovel, two people and a bag -- how could it get any simpler? But for emergency workers scrambling to hold back floodwaters, "sacking" bags is both time-consuming and manpower-intensive.

Product gaining reputation in flood control
Architect Matthew Piner saw potential for what he calls "the elegant solution" in a handheld scoop device that would allow one person to quickly and easily fill a sandbag. After two years of sweat equity and design modifications, he now has the "GoBagger", a unit gaining a reputation in the flood control business as the first worthwhile low-tech improvement on the shovel-and-bag method.

Made of lightweight (and recyclable) molded polyethylene, the GoBagger looks like a curvy yellow trash can with no bottom and two vertically-stacked handholds on one side. Using it involves sliding a standard burlap or plastic sandbag over the bottom of the GoBagger, gripping both the bag and the unit with the lower hand, gripping the top of the unit with the upper hand, scooping sand into the unit, lifting it to channel sand into the bag and releasing the bag. This smooth, intuitive process takes only one load of sand per bag instead of the traditional three to four shovels.

Biggest advantage is freeing up people
"It works real excellent," Bill Hampton, general manager of Levee District 1 in Yuba City, CA, said. "The biggest benefit is freeing up people. With a GoBagger, it takes only one person to fill a sandbag. So if you have 10 people, you free up five to help place the bags or watch for new breaks. It’s faster too. One person can get about four bags filled in a minute -- one dip of the GoBagger and you’re done. With two people working a shovel and a sandbag, you fill about one and half bags a minute."

Hampton’s district is in Sutter County, right next to Yuba County -- the two counties with the most miles of levees in the state. "We could have definitely used GoBaggers in 1997," Hampton said.

That year, a record flow of water came down the Yuba, Feather and Sacramento rivers. "Even with 350 people toiling, it was difficult to hold the levees," he recalled. "All I had to think about were 50,000 people’s lives. And once we got them evacuated, there were still billions of dollars worth of assets."

While Hampton’s group managed to keep their levees intact, Yuba County was not so lucky, suffering loss of life and property.

When Piner first started investigating the efficacy of his sandbagging idea, there were already several low-tech devices out there. In talking to emergency agency representatives, Piner found they all had drawbacks—moving parts that break, bulkiness, two-person operation, shoveling, or difficult operation. He found that his main competition was not other sandbagging devices but the traditional bag and shovel method. That freed him up to come up with a totally original idea.

‘Take purest idea and give it form…’
"I was interested in something simple," Piner said. "I am an architect and a contractor. Everything I’ve been doing in my business for the last 15 to 20 years is always about problem solving -- the simplest, most direct way to do something. Take the purest idea, the best solution and give it form."

When Piner got the idea for a one person scoop, he made a model out of construction paper, enlarged it to a paper pattern, cut and riveted a sheet metal prototype, and found it worked. "The problem was how to attach the bag," Piner remembered. "Finally I realized the best way to hold the bag on the device was simply grabbing it with your hand, because the hand is probably the most versatile tool there is."

Made of plastic for safety and light-weight
Following a patent search, Piner began researching the manufacturing process. "I knew I wanted it made out of plastic to be safe and lightweight."

After an industrial designer (Avatar Design of Sacramento) refined the GoBagger design, Piner found a rotational molding company (RRS Industries) to make it. In rotational molding, granular pieces of plastic are poured into a steel mold that slowly rotates on two axes in a 600 degree oven. In a process that takes about an hour, the plastic melts, then cools and hardens into place. The GoBagger is then removed from the mold and both ends are trimmed with a computer-controlled router.

A "Revolutionary Product"
With GoBagger in hand, Piner set off to introduce his invention to county and state agencies. His first big breakthrough was with the California Conservation Corps (CCC). "They are probably the world’s leading flood fighting force," he said. "They’ve studied methods of everything from how to shovel into the bag to how to build barriers to stop water and control erosion… I did a demo for them and they were blown away. It was great. They invited me back to train their corp members."

Dave Rosenberg, CEO for Sacramento Bag Manufacturing Company, decided to carry GoBaggers. "We see a lot of things," Rosenberg said, "I was kind of skeptical, but after I saw a demo, I knew it was a revolutionary product. We expect it to be a good selling item… We’ve been making sandbags for 75 years, and this is a good vertical market for us."

Markets expanding for GoBagger
Additional markets for the GoBagger have also been realized. In California, where 7,564 wildfires burned 276,762 acres in 1999, the units are being purchased for erosion control when the next big rains come. Rice and bean farmers may buy GoBaggers for quick field sampling or municipalities can have people bag their own compost at landfill composting sites. Piner has additional purposes in mind. "We are interested in bringing this to the Third World, for famine relief, as well as flood and erosion control. Grain and other commodities come in bulk, and people are there just bagging it however they can."

Reprinted with Permission by US Water News


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