By IAN ROSS
Kevin Karhi subscribes to the mantra of working smarter, not harder. The 31-year-old Desbarats native (east of Sault Ste. Marie) and budding entrepreneur has developed an innovative and patented snowplow system that can handle the bumps and grids of frozen Northern Ontario highways.
The system features a quick-change cutting edge for highway snowplows and graders, a system he has spent the last three years developing.
He has spun off his own company, Inverta Corp., to develop and market the product.
The idea was germinated while working in his family business, Karhi Contracting, along the North Shore of Lake Huron and spending many hours pushing snow for a Ministry of Transportation (MTO) highway winter maintenance contract.
“Having to change the blades in the middle of the night after working all day is what made it happen. I always thought there has to be a better way.”
Known as the Edwin Plow System, it is named after his now-deceased father who, together with his mother Tuula, started Karhi Contracting in 1960. Today, his older brothers Ed and John run the business.
Most conventional snowplow systems use a long steel backer with three sections of steel together with carbide inserts that are held together with carriage bolts.
“It’s very heavy and hard to handle for one person,” says Karhi.
An impact gun is usually necessary to tighten the carriage bolts. And after months of wear and tear, sometimes a cutting torch is necessary to remove them.
Together with his friend Len Ledyit, a retired Algoma Steel welder and fitter, they came up with a system that allows one person to change blades quickly and without tools.
Karhi’s system involves 11 individual steel blades with carbide inserts, each about 12 inches wide, on the bottom of the plow. Each blade fits into slots at the bottom of the plow, known as a blade keeper, which replaces the conventional mould board.
Holding each blade in place is a hinge pin that can easily be removed without tools.
For $2,500, Karhi will modify a conventional snowplow to accept his segmented blades. He supplies a set of replacement blades for $1,500.
Karhi says his system saves times, reduces the wear on blades and is safer to use. Blades can be shuffled and replaced in a matter of minutes if one wears out.
To field test his system, Karhi initially sold a few units to the family business. He also demonstrated his invention to MTO officials a couple of years ago, during a fleet inspection tour for private contractors with winter road maintenance contracts.
The MTO purchased one unit and has been using it in northwestern Ontario for the last two years without any problems.
Karhi, who is also working on a concrete end cap for culverts, says his inventive and inquisitive ways are a trait that just comes naturally.
“I grew up on the family dairy. Being around all different types of machinery and always having to improvise, I think that’s where it comes from.”
With no structural problems registered so far by his customers, Karhi wants to start contacting other highway maintenance contractors and some Ontario municipalities to convert over to his system, and plans to launch a website later this year.
Down the road, he plans on approaching the larger snowplow manufacturers to have his system offered as an option.