General Panel Discussion: Industry Technology Panel
by Justin Bailey
The Industry Technological Panel discussion at the 2016 National Chimney Sweeps Guild Convention in Orlando, FL featured several of the leading figures in the industry. As I sat down in my usual place in the front row and set up my computer to take notes, somebody asked me if the seat next to me was taken. I looked up and saw that it was CSIA President Mark Stoner. Sitting next to President Stoner turned out to be almost as entertaining as the panel discussion itself.
The first panelist to speak was Jim Pritchett, who began his presentation by saying, “My wife bought me a new toy.” Pritchett proceeded to to do a show and tell presentation, with his iphone wirelessly connected to the overhead projector. He was showing us the latest in 3D photographic technology, available online for under $400. “What I did last month was work on a lighting system,” said Pritchett, messing with his phone to change the images taken by his 3D camera on the giant screen behind him. He showed us a photo of something that looked like a cross between a UFO and an IED, with some LED light bulbs sticking out in different directions. “I have a picture of myself going through TSA with this,” he said. President Stoner, sitting next to me, immediately pulled up a couple of 360 degree cameras on amazon.com on his ipad. They cost from $260 to $360. During a pause in the presentation, Stoner asked Pritchet, “What brand is it?” “Oh that’s top secret,” said Pritchett. “Show them what a flash cam is,” said CSIA Director of Education Ashley Elridge, standing next to Pritchet. “How many people know what a flash cam is?” Pritchett asked the crowd. I was too busy trying to keep up with what was going on with President Stoner’s ipad to to turn around and see how many people raised their hands. At one point there was a question about how to protect the camera when it was inside the chimney. Pritchard said that he had ordered something from Japan.
After a brief interlude, during which panelist Sally McKnight spoke about the possibility of using mushrooms to safely compost leftover creosote, Pritchett came back and showed footage of something that could prove to be a highly valuable tool for chimney sweeps: a thermal imaging camera that works with an iphone. “Its available at the Apple Store for $250,” said Elridge, as Pritchett showed images taken from his thermal imaging camera on the big screen. The pictures were highly psychedelic, colorful photos of various objects, including people. A murmur went through the crowd as several hundred chimney sweeps contemplated aloud the potential applications in our trade for this device.
Legendary Chimscan Chimney Interior Inspection System Inventor Tom Urban was the next panelist to speak. “I’m kind of a student of innovation, and for you younger guys, I’m innovations’s bitch,” he said. Urban spoke for a few minutes about the challenges of keeping up with the ever increasing rate of innovation, as an inventor and as a business owner who develops and manufactures highly technological chimney inspection systems. “We spent close to 100 thousand dollars having outside consultants helping us structure the business.” The next panelist was Kevin Binder, who talked about the possibilities of interfacing various apps, including google maps, to help a service business operate. He mentioned the usefulness of consumer safety apps, including one called RecallManager, which enables a user to find out if the product they are trying to service has been recalled. The next panelist was Rob Lindemann, who introduced himself as “owner of the largest chimney sweeping company on the planet.” He wore a cast on his hand, which was from a weightlifting injury, he said. Lindeman spoke about the exponentially increasing pace of technological innovation, known as Moore’s Law, and he went through several criteria he uses to decide which technology to adapt in his business. “The most important thing is to use technology that other people are using,” said Lindeman. “If you buy a piece of software and the people aren’t willing to implement it, it won’t work.” Lindemann said he prefers equipment that can be easily repaired and replaced. “I like stuff that’s readily available. You can go to Best Buy or Amazon and get something replaced. Easy to fix, easy to replace. Get something that’s tested and supported.” As far as apps go, Lindemann said, “I don’t think we’ve ever spent more than nine bucks for an app.”
The final presenter on the panel was chimney sweeping legend Jim Brewer. Brewer has been experimenting with the use of flying drones to help with chimney inspections. In his usual deadpan style, Brewer got the crowd laughing right away with his lists of things drones can do and can’t do, with regard to chimney work. Drones can’t carry materials, repair chimneys, or clean chimneys, he said. But drones can do some things, he said. They can crash, they can injure people or kill people, they can damage property, and they can interfere with aircraft, he continued. Drones can also give you
good, up close look at chimneys, crowns, and flashings, which can be practical for estimates and pre inspection that otherwise might require a bucket lift. But if you can put a ladder up to see what you need to see, Brewer said that’s probably the best way to go. Brewer said he spent over forty hours learning to fly his own drone before he felt comfortable putting one anywhere near a chimney. He also mentioned that when you program a drone to return home if the signal is lost, be careful where you are. Brewer said President Stoner was in his living room (President Stoner’s living room) when he programmed a drone, and so when the drone tried to come home it crashed into his roof trying to get inside. President Stoner laughed and nodded his head and laughed some more, agreeing with Brewer’s recommendation. The president did not deny the allegation of his drone SNAFU.