Inventors create snow plow for all vehicles
September 01, 2010 - Just as Henry Ford's automobile made the horse and buggy obsolete and Thomas Edison's electric light made candles and oil lamps a thing of the past, so Dan Miller and Tom Lhota are hoping their invention, built right here in good ol' Oxford, will replace the snowblower.
|Dan Miller (left) and Tom Lhota are looking for a manufacturer so they can bring their new product, the Snap-n-Go Plow, to the market. Watch short videos depicting how the plow works at YouTube.com. Search under “Snap-n-Go Plow.” A total of six videos are posted. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)|
It's called the Snap-n-Go Plow and the patent-pending idea is quite ingenious, but also quite simple.
Two adjustable metal frames are fastened to the front (or rear) tires of a motorized vehicle. A snow plow, made of composite plastic, is then attached to the front of the frames and voila, the vehicle is instantly ready to clear snow from driveways and private roads.
Drivers can point the blade in any direction by simply turning the vehicle's steering wheel. As the tires turn, so does the plow.
Unlike traditional snow plows specifically made for trucks, the Snap-n-Go Plow can be used on virtually any vehicle including cars, trucks, all-terrain vehicles, golf carts and small lawn tractors.
"This is all made for residential use," said Miller, who lives in Metamora Township. "The idea is for the average homeowner to be able to use a snow plow versus a snowblower."
Affixing the Snap-n-Go Plow to any vehicle is a breeze.
"It takes about a minute to two minutes, depending on the person, to actually install it or take it off," Miller said. "The blade takes about five seconds to attach or detach."
The blade has a rubber sweep, so it doesn't damage the surfaces it's plowing. Blade sizes vary in length and include 48, 72, 80 and 90 inches.
Miller, who worked in the robotics and machinery field from the late 1970s until his layoff in August 2009, started tinkering with the plow idea last fall.
Over the winter, he was joined by Lhota, an Elba Township resident who owns an electrical contracting business based in Oxford.
Together, the two men worked tirelessly in Lhota's Oxford shop building and improving plow prototypes until they finally applied for a patent from the U.S. government in June.
Miller and Lhota are hoping homeowners will flock to their invention as an alternative to the snowblower.
In their opinion, the Snap-n-Go Plow is superior to snowblowers in a variety of ways.
One, instead of spending an hour or so pushing a snowblower up and down a driveway in the freezing cold, the new plow allows homeowners to get the job done in 5-10 minutes while sitting inside their heated vehicle.
Also, with the Snap-n-Go Plow, homeowners don't have to worry about buying extra gas and oil, dealing with mechanical failures or maintaining a snowblower in the off-season.
Miller and Lhota would like to initially sell their product for somewhere in the $800-to-$1,200 price range. If demand increases to point where millions of plows are being made, then the price could come down to the $400 range.
"Kind of like the first computers were $4,000 to $5,000. Now, you can get them for $300," Miller said.
But before their product can hit the market, they first have to find a local manufacturer who's willing to produce it for a reasonable price. "That's where our obstacle is at this point," Miller said.
So far the shop rates they've been quoted from Michigan companies range from $40 to $80 per hour.
"We need to have a manufacturing cost that's a lot lower," Miller explained. It needs to be lower in order to make the price competitive with snowblowers.
Although doing business out of state somewhere like Indiana or even out of the country in China would probably mean cheaper manufacturing costs, Lhota and Miller would much rather have their product built here in Michigan.
"We're trying to keep it onshore and in the state," Miller said.
Although they could do it, manufacturing the product themselves is not their first choice to get their plow on the market.
"If we have to manufacture them, we're going to be on a smaller scale," Miller said.
But that doesn't fit well with their goal of making the product both affordable and competitively-priced through large-scale production. Nor does it fit their desire to help existing Michigan businesses and give a boost to the state economy.
"We don't necessarily want to start up our own manufacturing facility in Michigan if there's already people struggling," Miller said. "The problem that we're having is that people are struggling because they don't want to bend on their shop rate."
During the development of their invention, Lhota and Miller utilized the products and services of Michigan firms such as Quality Fastener and Supply Company, based here in Oxford, and Plex Lab Plastics, located in Warren.
Once they get their plow on the market, the two men hope to develop other attachments for the Snap-n-Go frames such as a sweeper to clean the driveway and aerator for lawns.
"The idea is to be able to use the same frames, the same drive mechanism off the wheels, but with different attachments," Miller explained. "We don't want to be one-dimensional with only plows. If we can come up with another six or 12 products that can fit on the frames, then it has more appeal because it has multiple uses."
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CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.