Invention Convention & Problem Solving

In my conversation with Jason Kasch, CIO at Structural Group, Jason discusses very specifically how the senior team and the owner of this 4,000-employee business use a concept called ‘Invention Convention’.

I especially like this short 8-minute segment because it shows what a company can achieve if you always explore the art of what is possible to bring ground-breaking and money-saving benefits to your customers.

This is another great conversation with a member of my CIO Innovation Forum community. This group provides an important source for CIOs and IT leaders to get together, communicate, and dive deep into common concerns and challenges they face in their organizations every day. They learn how to flex different muscles in their thinking and recognize leadership and innovation opportunities.

To learn more about innovative defense strategies or in attending a CIO Innovation Forum lunch, email

A full transcript of my conversation with Jason can be found below.

Bill:       I know I just came up with a little bit of a seizure suggestion for your parking garages. But you actually have a pretty innovative program here. I know your CEO is always coming up with ideas; and I know you’re always helping, assisting and doing your own thing. How does that work within Structural and what’s an example of something that’s popped out of your innovation group that you think is part of your company’s DNA and culture that is really cool?

Jason:    Yes, our owner has this thing he calls an Invention Convention.

Bill:       Invention Convention?

Jason:    Invention Convention. It generally pops up when there’s a very interesting job that comes up. One that we could solve one of many, many ways. Part of our fame is our ability to solve basically any construction problem. Interestingly, it doesn’t have to be interesting, but being able to solve it, save money for the client, and ultimately make more money for us, right? If you can save the client money, and you can increase our profit because we’re able to use some technique or material or something that has not been applied to that in the past. Then our CEO, Peter Emmons, uses these Invention Conventions to get people in the company who, let’s say, it might look and smell like a waterproofing or a strengthening or an electric problem. How do I get all those people? Let’s just explore what are all the possibilities on how we could repair this.

You know what you’re deep in or what you’re an expert in. The Peter superpower is being able to know a lot about a lot. He’s able to take that problem and what everyone says and start it down a path. One really interesting repair technique that we have is inside of water pipes. If you think about the traditional mechanism for repairing a water pipe, Baltimore City is a perfect example, right? Every day we hear about some water main, whether it’s waste, whether it’s pressurized supply water or wastewater that is either burst or collapsed in the City. So now the block gets shut down. A whole City block gets shuts down. We have to excavate – it depending on how bad it is – we have to excavate it, we have to cut out that section of pipe and we have to repair that section of the pipe, we have to put it all down and that could be out for days to weeks to months.

There are ways to repair it from the inside, depending on how bad the structure has been compromised. But we have a technique of, in a nutshell we call it ‘Slinky in a Pipe’. If you can imagine what a Slinky looks like? This piece of steel that’s continuous, that’s wrapped in a cylindrical nature, and epoxy it to the inside of this pipe. If you could take a toilet paper roll and put a Slinky inside of it, and epoxy the Slinky, to the toilet paper roll, it retains the size, you lose a little bit of the diameter, ultimately, but you’ve also increased the amount of pressure that you can put on it. Then the outside actually becomes sacrificial. None of it matters. You could destroy the entire outside of that because now the inside Slinky can take care of it. Now the way we do it, is we use straight-

Bill:       It’s almost like a band aid or do you have to do-

Jason:    No, it’s permanent.

Bill:       Permanent. Okay.

Jason:    It’s permanent it’s not a band aid. Think about – you spread epoxy on the inside of this thing, whether it’s by person or semi-autonomous or autonomous; and then we’re working on things that scan that spectrum. Then you have this piece of steel, that looks like either the thickness of a piece of graphite in a pencil, or up to as big as the size of a pencil. We have this autonomous robot that’s in there and it embeds it in the epoxy. Anywhere from, millimeters to inches apart depending on what you need. It embeds it in this epoxy. Then you come back and you put a coat on the outside of it so that the material is completely embedded in this piece of epoxy.

That’s one thing that came out of these Invention Convention, kind of thought-provoking processes. Because prior to that you would use – well, there’s lots of different ways to do it; and again, I’m not an expert in that field, but I know how we do it now. Before that, we would use carbon fiber sheets. The same thing you make your golf club shafts out of, and we would buy it in sheets. Then you fly-paper it essentially. Just like putting wallpaper in your house in horizontal and vertical cross sections to have strength. That was a traditional means and methods and still is for things like… some people are still doing it with straight runs. We would prefer you use the strong-pipe ‘Slinky in the Pipe’ method, but going around corners is difficult for that process, so we’d still use some of those traditional techniques. But putting this flypaper style stuff inside is very typical to do it.

Let’s talk about, how do we innovate and innovate in an environment that – well, its construction, it’s feels fairly benign. You may think with fairly tried and true methods, there’s not a lot of innovation. It’s not true. There’s tons of innovation going on in this field, including things like drones and AI.

Bill:       It’s interesting you’re also doing some stuff with IoT as well for structural strength, no pun intended, but structural strength of concrete. Don’t you embed a sensor of some sort? Or are you thinking about doing that?

Jason:    We do. No, we actually do embed sensors. We embed sensors in the steel of concrete. There’s a rebar mesh or a structure inside of concrete, generally for strength. Steel corrodes; and when it corrodes, it starts to.. it grows. That’s what causes this flaking.

Bill:       Oh, the flaking.

Jason:    That’s one method of causing the flaking. There’s a lot of other methods, but that causes the flaking. If you could simply know, or predict, when or if that rebar has either started to corrode or you can predict when it will corrode, there’s a lot of value in that for the owner of the structure.

Bill:       Not the least of what the insurance companies would want to know that as well, right?

Jason:    They would.

Bill:       When’s my asset going to fall apart?

Jason:    Oh yeah, and these assets don’t have one-week, one-month, or one-year lifespans. They have 50, 75, 100-year lifespans. But we have a method of basically electrifying through positive and negative anodes and cathodes to be able to read the electrical continuity between two points. If you create a grid system, with all of these, we can start to identify areas where continuity is changed, right? Up down, or whatever, but if it’s changed, something’s going on there. And the electrical engineers here will tell you that they know what it means the up the down, I don’t. I’m using it from a layman’s IT perspective. I understand it in theory. Here’s how it works.

Yes, in theory, you vary the continuity in it too. You could retard the corrosion process. So, another  very interesting thing we’re doing, is that.

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