By Jason M. Reynolds
Barry Andersen says he decided to take action one rainy day after a passing tractor-trailer threw a blinding spray of water onto his car's windshield while driving down the road.
"I wondered, 'Why can't someone do something about this?' " he said.
In a flash of inspiration while cleaning an air filter, the East Ridge man said he began thinking about screens. Thus a new mud flap fluttered into creation.
The Eco-flap is a heavy-duty plastic, perforated mud flap for trucks and trailers. The perforations, inspired by the air filter, lead to less water slung onto cars driving near a semi, Mr. Andersen said. The result is increased traffic safety, since slung water often limits a driver's vision.
Eco-flaps cost $40 for a set of two standard-size flaps, he said, or $44 for a set of two large flaps. With installation costs by a fleet's mechanic, a truck can be outfitted in Eco-flaps for less than $100, he said.
The perforated splash guard for tractor-trailers reduces spray from passing rigs and adds fuel efficiency, its inventor says.
The mud flap's perforations also are responsible for increased fuel efficiency, an unexpected side benefit, Mr. Andersen said. Eco-flaps are more aerodynamic than traditional mud flaps which blow up during driving, he said.
The flaps will pay for themselves in about two weeks through fuel savings, Mr. Andersen said. An independent study found the flaps produce 3 percent or more fuel efficiency, he said, which averages out to about 500 gallons per truck per year.
"They should have been made like this 20 years ago," he said.
Mr. Andersen started designing the Eco-flaps, got them patented, and worked with truck companies to road-test the product, he said. He took them off the market briefly in December to change the design, and began selling them again in March.
The Eco-flaps have become a full-time job for Mr. Andersen, a 25-year tanker truck operator, and his wife, Rosemary, who handles marketing and manages the office from home. The company, Andersen Flaps Inc., has 12 salesmen across the nation as independent contractors.
"It's pretty rewarding," said Mrs. Andersen, vice president of Andersen Flaps. "It's a great experience. You learn how to build a business and run it."
The Andersens received counseling help from organizations such as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, Mrs. Andersen said. Andersen Flaps was nominated for the 2006 Chattanooga Kruesi Spirit of Innovation Award.
Eco-flaps uses domestic labor, Mr. Andersen said. A family-owned company in Cookeville, Tenn., produces the flaps, which are made of a polycarbonate mix, Mr. Andersen said. The boxes come from Dayton, Tenn., and a local company produced a sales video. He said he turned down offers from companies wanting to make the flaps in China and Indonesia.
"The challenge now is to get people to save their money on fuel efficiency and finding quality employees to sell it," Mr. Andersen said.
E-mail Jason M. Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org