There is an old adage that says sometimes the simplest inventions are the best. For Erick Vandenhurk and Jarika Penny of Midale, Sask., that has held true. The two Grade 12 students entered their improved grain bin lid in the 2010 Canada-Wide Science Fair in May and won a Manning Innovation Achievement Award; they also took home a silver medal from the event.
The pair say when they looked around at the complexity of some of the other projects entered in the Peterborough, Ont., event and compared them with their submission, they were far from certain their improved grain bid lid would garner a prize. But it did.
A press release issued by the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation calls Erick and Jarika’s invention “simple, yet elegant.” That is high praise, considering there were nearly 500 finalists vying for awards.
To evaluate entries, judges looked at five considerations: the degree of intellectual achievement, the uniqueness and originality of the project, its current stage of development, commerciality (market potential), and its benefits (economic or otherwise).
The redesigned lid started out as a high school science project. It was later nominated for entry in the science fair. “We decided we wanted to do something on the farm,” says Jarika. They chose to work on a grain bin lid because of problems both had seen on their families’ farms. “We needed something that would stop flying open,” Erick adds.
“It was a two-week project,” says Jarika. Remarkably after deciding on the concept, Erick went to work in the shop fabricating one without any detailed drawings. “We never really sat down and drew up plans,” she says. “Erick just started welding.”
Their design relies on gravity to hold the sloped lid closed, allowing rainwater to run off, and unlike conventional designs that can catch in the wind and blow open, their design stays closed. “Instead of the wind working against the lid, it works with it,” says Erick.
The lid uses a simple hinged mechanism with few working parts. “It doesn’t use springs,” says Erick. “It’s simply weight that keeps it closed.” The improved system clamps over a standard 20-inch bin opening. “It wraps around the existing tube,” he adds.
After returning from the Science Fair, Erick was notified space was available at the New Inventions section of the Western Canada Farm Progress Show in Regina, so he displayed the lid there. He hopes to retail his invention to farmers. Initially each unit will cost about $450, but Erick expects that price to drop after he begins production.
But unexpectedly for him, there has been interest from manufacturers visiting his booth at the show, which may see production taken over by a major company.
Jarika doesn’t expect to participate in the lid marketing efforts; instead, she is planning to attend university this fall and major in a science field. Something that will now be considerably cheaper for her, as the award included an offer of entrance scholarships at three different universities for both of them.
After returning home from Peterborough with an armful of prizes for their efforts, both Erick and Jarika say not only are their families pleased, so are their high school teachers. “They’re pretty proud of us,” says Jarika.