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Kirk Swinimer

Location: Chester, NS

Award: Innovation Award

Category: Consumer Product

Year: 2003

Innovation:

Invented the original and only code-evaluated, engineered footing form for construction tubes that enables one worker to perform the integral pouring of the footing and the column. Bigfoot Systems' patented, cone-shaped, high-density plastic footing form is used by builders throughout Canada and exported worldwide.

News Release

Carpenter Puts Construction Industry on Stable Footing

Nova Scotia inventor of Bigfoot Systems® wins $10,000 Manning Award

Calgary, AB (September 3, 2003) - Bigfoot Systems® is the original and only code-evaluated, engineered footing form for construction tubes that meets or surpasses building codes throughout North America. Inventor Kirk Swinimer of Chester, Nova Scotia, has won a prestigious $10,000 Manning Innovation Award for his simple yet elegant solution to a long-standing construction challenge.

Swinimer, a professional carpenter and construction contractor, got the idea for his Bigfoot innovation while building a deck for a client. Like many construction jobs, it entailed building footing forms. These small wooden box frames are meant to form a base for and hold upright the fiberboard construction tubes in which concrete is poured to make the column-shaped footing.

Placing footing forms is a painstaking task. Typically, one worker must level the wooden boxes in the hole and fasten the construction tubes, while another worker lines up the tubes and ensures they're all level at the top. Two separate pours of concrete are required to finish the complete footing.

Swinimer struggled that day, on a site that included buried tree stumps and roots, to place the wooden footing forms on level ground. "I was lying over in the hole and it was just like a lightning bolt came over me: 'By God, there's got to be a better way than this!'"

Swinimer's patented Bigfoot Systems is a cone-shaped footing form made of lightweight, recycled, high-density polyethylene plastic. The top of the form is simply attached with wood screws to a standard construction tube, and the entire footing form is put in place as one unit. The unit is then filled with one pour of concrete, creating a solid, uniform footing from top to base.

Bigfoot Systems enables one worker to place the footing, reducing labour costs by 90 per cent.

The Bigfoot also forms a seamless, one-piece concrete footing. This eliminates air pockets in the concrete and, eventually, frost infiltration and cracking at the base of the footing that can occur when a round construction tube is attached to the flat surface of a conventional wooden footing form.

Bigfoot Systems has undergone rigorous independent testing, and is professionally code-approved throughout North America for residential building and many commercial and industrial applications.

Made in a small Nova Scotian community that had lost its mining industry, F&S Manufacturing Inc.'s Bigfoot Systems is now used throughout Canada and the U.S. and is exported to Japan, Panama, Norway, Germany and Iceland, with plans to expand to Australia and New Zealand. Swinimer, vice-president and general manager of F&S Manufacturing, estimates that up to 200,000 Bigfoot Systems Footing Forms will be produced in 2003, generating about $2 million in sales.

Swinimer has won the $10,000 Manning Innovation Award sponsored by The Edper Foundation.

Since 1982, the annual Manning Awards program has encouraged and recognized leading Canadian innovators with more than $3 million in prize money. This year's four major winners, who will be honoured at the annual gala dinner Oct. 3 in Halifax, will share a total of $145,000.

For more information about the award-winning Bigfoot Systems® Footing Form, please contact Kirk Swinimer at (902)-627-1600 or email: info@bigfootsystems.com

For more information about the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation, please contact Donald Park, Executive Director, at (403)-645-8288 or e-mail: Don.Park@encana.com
 

Media Backgrounder

$10,000 Manning Innovation Award

Sponsored by The Edper Foundation

Kirk Swinimer, Bigfoot Systems® Footing Form


It was a troublesome site - the kind Kirk Swinimer had seen many times in his years as a construction contractor.

Swinimer was building a swimming pool with a deck for a client. Tree stumps and roots lay buried in the uneven ground on which he had to pour the concrete footings that would support the deck.

First he had to build the wooden footing forms that would serve as the base for the footings and a place to attach the fiberboard construction tubes in which concrete is poured to create the footings.

Since the time of the ancient Romans, construction workers have built footing forms essentially the same way. They make a wooden box form, about two feet square by eight inches deep, for each footing. Each wooden form is then placed in the excavation and leveled.

It is a painstaking task to do alone. Usually, one worker has to clamber in the hole to level each wooden box and attach each construction tube. At the same time, another worker up top has to make sure all the construction tubes are aligned and level.

That day in 1996, Swinimer found himself in a hole - struggling with a wooden footing form.

"I still remember the moment," he recalls. "I was lying over in the hole and it was just like a lightning bolt came over me: 'By God, there's got to be a better way than this!'"

That night, Swinimer sketched out an idea for making the footing form and the construction tube as one unit.

It wasn't his first invention. Previously, he'd made a collapsible, eight-sided cedar picnic table that anyone could easily sit down at without climbing awkwardly over a bench seat. He'd also started making fence post caps in the 1980s, long before they became a mass-market item.

Construction tubes, however, were already an established, widely marketed technology. He realized he needed something that would complement the tubes - a stable footing form that could be attached onsite to the end of a standard construction tube and be adapted for various-sized tubes.

Swinimer tested his concept using an inverted large plastic flowerpot. It worked!

But then he discovered that making a footing form out of injection-molded plastic would require building a special mold, at a cost of $150,000 to $250,000.

Swinimer put together a business plan and convinced his friend, Jack Fickes, to come onboard with investment funding.

The partners learned from Georg Nemeskeri who owned GN Plastics Company Limited, a local plastics manufacturer, that vacuum forming - where plastic is sucked over a wooden mold - is less expensive than injecting plastic under high pressure into a heavy and expensive steel mold.

Swinimer initially planned to call his product "Apollo." The squat cone-shaped form did resemble NASA's Apollo space capsule.

He was still trying out names when he arrived early one day for a meeting. "I was sitting in my truck in the parking lot and 'Bang! Bigfoot! Wow, that's catchy!'" Because the form is used along with a standard construction tube, he dubbed his product Bigfoot Systems® Footing Form.

Swinimer built a mahogany wood form to create the prototype for his Bigfoot footing.

He chose a recycled, food-grade plastic that would be environmentally safe for use underground. He also decided to use high-density polyethylene, so the footing form would weather deep frost and repeated freeze-thaw cycles without turning brittle and shattering.

In the early fall of 1996, with advice from Nova Scotia Business Development, Swinimer launched into defining the claims for his invention so he could obtain a U.S. patent.

By November 1996, he had samples of his Bigfoot Systems ready for a building materials trade show in Ontario. Two months later, at the Northeast Lumbermen's Association show in Boston, the Bigfoot got a warm reception. Bigfoot now had a toehold in the market, so to speak!

In fact, people liked the Bigfoot system so much that the initial vacuum-forming process proved to be too slow and expensive, in terms of materials, to keep up with market demand.

In January 1997, the business partners decided to go with the injection-molding process. "That was probably the hardest part - getting the mold manufacturer and then going to market," Swinimer says.

Fortunately, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency came through with an interest-free loan.

And Swinimer located Ropak, an injection-molding company in Springhill, Nova Scotia. Ropak now manufactures and inventories the Bigfoot Systems, using what would otherwise be downtime in its shop to produce and stockpile the product in advance of the next construction season.

On July 28, 1998, Swinimer received U.S. Patent No. 5,785,459 for his invention.

F&S Manufacturing Inc.'s Bigfoot Systems carries the four vital certifications that professionals require for applications in Canada and the United States. Bigfoot has also received building code approval in Australia and Japan, and the company is securing code approval in Germany and Norway.

Bigfoot Systems won the Best New Product Award in both U.S. Homeowner magazine and at the Western Region Canadian Lumbermen's Show. The product has been featured in several magazines, including Popular Mechanics and Cottage Life, and on This Old House on television.

J. Marc LaPlante, of Waweig, New Brunswick, says Bigfoot Systems allows him to do a proper foundation design for a building. "The product and the system enhance the construction industry."

What's the potential market? Well, an estimated four million construction tube foundations were formed in North America in 1995 - including 40,000 just in Atlantic Canada.

F&S Manufacturing expects its Bigfoot to penetrate two-thirds of this market. The company captured 1.5 per cent of the market in its first year, increasing its share to 3.5 per cent by year three.

The Bigfoot is sold by most major building supply stores, including Home Hardware, RONA/REVY Home & Garden and Totem Building Supplies. The product comes in four models, each with adapter rings that can be trimmed off to fit small, medium and large construction tubes.

Swinimer, 44, says that in addition to his business partners and the funding agencies that helped him, his wife and children stood by him as he worked to turn his idea into a successful commercial product. A lot of other people told him early on that his idea was too different to work, he notes.

"The biggest satisfaction of the whole thing was just seeing it in stores and seeing it being used," Swinimer says. "If you feel in your gut and your heart that it's a good idea, keep plugging away at it."

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

This year, Manning Innovation Awards presents $145,000 in prize money distributed among four leading Canadian innovators, as well as $20,000 among eight Canada-Wide Science Fair winners. Since 1982, the Foundation has awarded over $3 million to recognize Canadian innovators.

Media contacts (photos available):

Kirk Swinimer


F&S Manufacturing Inc

Phone: (902)-627-1600

Website: www.bigfootsystems.com

Donald Park, Executive Director

Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

Phone: (403)-645-8288

Website: www.manningawards.ca