GILFORD — It was one day, in 2012, when Wayne Swanson finally had enough. He was working at a local marina, performing an oil change on a large cruiser, and readied to take off the oil filter.
“You take it off, oil goes everywhere. It made a mess. I said, there’s got to be a better way,” Swanson said. The problem was, there wasn’t a better way. He had placed absorbent pads everywhere he could think of to catch a spill, but he was still left with a lot of clean-up to do. He chewed over the problem as he fell asleep that night, and when he woke up, he had the solution in mind.
That solution came to be known as the “HV-FLEX,” which stands for “high velocity fluid extraction,” and which has slowly but surely been building momentum since Swanson got a patent five years ago.
Swanson, a Navy veteran, developed a system that straps onto the side of an oil filter while it’s still attached to the engine. A pin punctures the side of the filter, and a tube draws all the oil out, in seconds, into a vacuum tank. Then the HV-FLEX can be removed and the filter changed without any mess to mop up.
His invention could be used by automotive or aviation shops, or even by home heating oil service professionals. For starters, Swanson is focusing on the boating industry because of the unique damaging potential that oil presents in an aquatic environment. He took care to wipe up all the oil he spilled in the engine compartment of that big cruiser in 2012, but a less conscientious person could have let it all go out the bilge.
Swanson said that, if recovered, a gallon of oil can be recycled to make 2.5 quarts of lubricant. If dumped overboard, that same gallon can pollute a million gallons of water, he said. A typical boat engine filter contains 10 to 12 ounces of oil.
Swanson began marketing the HV-FLEX in 2017 as a vendor at the Great Northeast Boat Show, held each winter in Boston. He learned that it’s one thing to bring a product to market; it’s another to market the product.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Swanson said, crediting his daughters and son-in-law with helping him to write product descriptions, create graphics, build sales connections and financing. “So much of this has been education,” he said, but he’s now gaining momentum.
At the 2019 boat show, he started to sell some units. At a recent product demonstration at Goodhue Boat Company in Meredith, he brought 15 units and sold each one. Swanson also participated in a Shark Tank-style competition for military veterans called “Heroes to CEOs” sponsored by Bob Evans Farms. The HV-FLEX won a $10,000 grant, which he will use to spread the word about his product.
“For one, I’ll be able to build up my inventory, get prepared for the Boston boat show, go on the road and visit marinas,” he said about the cash injection. Swanson builds the devices himself, with production occurring on his kitchen island, with all the components divided into ice cube trays. His home is on Varney Point in Gilford, and he has a view of Winnipesaukee as he works.
“I’m getting into a position where I’m getting a lot of interest.” Swanson hopes that interest will lead him to a manufacturer who would like to purchase a license to make the extraction devices on a broad scale. “It’s one solution to pollution,” he said.