Wednesday, 25 June 2014 20:27

Tech Turned Tool Designer Headlines EB-CAA May Meeting

Francesco’s Italian Restaurant in Oakland, CA was the place to be on May 20, especially if you were a member of the East Bay Chapter of the California Autobody Association (EB-CAA).

It was the association’s spring dinner meeting and featured a program with three speakers discussing three distinct segments of the collision industry. Tim Brusher from Honda’s ProFirst Program discussed the importance of OE certifications in today’s collision industry while reviewing Assured Performance Network’s Certification Program; Karl Kirschenman from Alldata made a presentation entitled “Creating Customers for Life” and Tim Gerhards, a former body tech turned tool designer presented his line of collision repair tools during a presentation he called “Tool Time with Tim.” More than 30 collision professionals attended the meeting as they dined on Italian cuisine and networked with fellow body shop owners, local vendors and prospective EB-CAA members.
Gerhards’ story will resonate with anyone looking to make a better mousetrap, or in this case, an improved way of skinning a car door. Many great inventors started out the same way as Gerhards did. In fact, Thomas Edison was a salesman before inventing the phonograph and the light bulb and Henry Ford was a machinist before he founded Ford Motor Co. Both saw a burning need and found solutions by inventing tools that can make our lives easier. And that’s why Tim Gerhards embarked on a journey that eventually led this collision repair veteran to his first invention and six other tools that he subsequently designed—all of which are currently being used for a wide range of applications worldwide.
It all began one day when Gerhards was skinning a door while working at B & J Body Shop in Rancho Cordova, CA back in 2001, he explained. “This procedure normally requires lots of hammering and dollying and walking around the entire door frame and beating this metal over and over until you get what you need.  It puts a ton of wear and tear on your hands and it’s time consuming. I kept asking myself ‘how does the factory do this?’ and I just began experimenting with a better way of doing it.”
So one day Gerhards picked up a piece of wood and shaped it into a crude tool that would enable him to bend the door’s flange over and flatten it out at the same time. After testing it and tweaking it a little, Gerhards realized that it worked and named it the Skin Zipper. “I realized wow—I need to patent this thing,” he said. “This tool takes a two-hour repair and cuts it down to about 10 minutes with a hammer, so I thought shops are going to love this thing.”
After more than 40 months, Gerhards received his patent and jumped into the inventor’s world with both feet. “I immediately joined a local inventors’ group and was advised to market the tool at a trade show. So I went to NACE in 2009 and showed the Skin Zipper to everyone I could find. Steck Manufacturing called me back after NACE was over and showed some interest in manufacturing and distributing the tool. It was a great moment, because all of the work I had done on designing it and developing it were finally paying off.”
Since inventing the Skin Zipper, Gerhards and Steck Manufacturing in Dayton, OH started working together on more tools, he explained. “The people at Steck must have been pleased with the Skin Zipper, because they were interested in pursuing patents for anything else I could think of, Gerhards said. “Those products include a MIG Light, Panel Shaper, Workstand Clamp, E-Z II Strip Molding Tool and a Handipull Kit that consists of a series of eyebolts that screw into welded-on nuts to allow for light pulls all around a vehicle. Once I get into that inventor’s mindset, the ideas just kept coming. As a tech, I was encountering difficulties all the time during repairs, so I started asking myself, how can I make a tool to solve these problems?”
Gerhards’ success with Steck has inspired him to create his own company, TG Products, to manufacture and market other inventions on his own. TG’s first product is The Rail Saver, a system that repairs damaged side members and frame rails. Last year, Gerhards was able to finally step away from his job as a body tech to pursue his dreams as a tool designer and inventor full-time. He strongly believes that the collision repair industry is primed for new exciting tools, to be made by people who actually make the repairs, just like him.
“Many collision repairers have the skill sets to build their own prototypes, because they already know how to weld, shape metal and build prototypes,” he said. “In this business, we’re all constantly encountering situations where there is no tool. So, I know I’m not the first person to ever rig something to get the job done and I surely won’t be the last.  One of the biggest problems is that people are reluctant to show their inventions to anyone, because they’re afraid of them getting stolen. Or they think it’s worth more than it really is and think they’re going to be millionaires overnight, which is totally unrealistic.”
Gerhards advises aspiring inventors not to go to invention submission companies. Instead, he says they should join a local inventor’s organization at the United Inventors Association or www.uiausa.org. For more information about any of his tools, visit his web site at: www.therailsaver.com.

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