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For Release: April 2, 1996
June Malone/Bob Lessels
NASA TECHNOLOGY HELPS INVENTOR CLEAN UP
Technological assistance from NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is helping an inventor clean up -- literally.
Cecil Thornburg of Millerville, Ala., operated the Mr. Clean Janitorial service in nearby Sylacauga. One of his customers was a supermarket with a large parking lot. The lot needed to be swept and have trash picked up. Thornburg felt there should be a way to sweep the lot and collect the trash at the same time.
Working to develop this idea, Thornburg devised a vacuum-sweeper combination that worked, but needed improvement. The amateur inventor got the professional assistance he needed free-of-charge through the Marshall Centers Technology Transfer Office.
Working from a technology assistance request submitted by Thornburg, the Technology Transfer Office representative for Alabama, Benita Hayes, enlisted the help of NASA mechanical engineers Matt Marsh, Neill Myers and John R. "Rusty" Cowan. All work in the Marshall Centers Propulsion Laboratory in the Component Development Division.
After a visit to Thornburgs business to see and discuss the inventors idea and design, the engineers used their expertise in propulsion systems to suggest improvements. These included changing the shape of the vacuum units fan blades, introducing weight-saving and weight-redistribution refinements, and devising a way of guiding heavier items of trash, such as cans and bottles, to a point under the vacuum where suction was the greatest, thereby ensuring its collection.
"Were picking up nearly 100 per cent of the litter we roll over," Thornburg said recently.
The new "Vac-n-Bag" design is pulled by a tractor and operates off of the tractors engine. It has proven itself to be an efficient, cost-effective way of cleaning athletic fields, golf courses, parks and other grassy areas in addition to parking lots. The vacuum unit pulls the trash into the unit where it is shredded and bagged for disposal. Vac-n-Bag simultaneously mows the grass and collects the clippings, to boot.
The Vac-n-Bag is now being manufactured by the dozen employees of Thornburgs new firm, the Burg Corp., in Sylacauga. It has been demonstrated for a number of municipal sanitation officials and for the Alabama Department of Transportation. Six of the units already have been sold.
Marshalls Technology Transfer Office is responsible for the direct transfer of NASA-inspired ideas and solutions to businesses throughout the Southeast. The office also interacts with companies and government organizations around the country, providing assistance for a variety of technology challenges.