Posted: Friday, February 28, 2014 1:00 am

Saving lives is the driving force behind a Leola man’s invention. A man who knows the heartbreak of losing a friend in a grain bin accident saw that invention recognized at a recent world farm event in California. With that recognition, Jerome Mack hopes that many more lives can be saved.

After three years of working with an idea to turn it into a practical safety device, Mack’s invention called the Bin Bot was named as one of the top 10 innovative products at the 2014 World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif.

The Expo provided this description of the device: “Miniature in size but big in performance, the Bin Bot is a unique skid-steering electric robot which handles grain, cleanup and maintenance work inside bins and other confined spaces where it’s unsafe and illegal for workers to enter.”

“It can work efficiently in some of the most dangerous places for a dust explosion to prevent human injuries and death, particularly in commercial grain facilities and large farm grain handling operations,” says farmer-inventor Mack. “The Bin Bot replaces workers inside bins to move and free clogged and broken power sweeps. It can also dislodge grain stuck to bin walls to prevent grain avalanches and do various bin cleaning and maintenance chores.”

In 1998, Mack’s best friend was killed in a grain bin accident. His friend had entered the top of a nearly full bin to break up a crust of corn interfering with grain flow. The kernels were stuck and not discharging out the bottom of the bin. He stepped through the crust and was sucked down into the corn. He suffocated.

After that, Mack began working on an invention that would keep others from suffering the same fate. The 6-foot-by-2-foot, 800-pound Bin Bot is small enough to fit through a grain bin door, yet powerful enough to lift heavy buckets of grain. It also can be fitted with a video camera and lights. A worker can operate it by looking at a video monitor without having to be near the bin.

Mack showcased his Bin Bot at the Expo and is willing to customize the device for other industry applications. He found that people stopping by his booth were intrigued by the machine. Mack said those in the nut business were very interested.

“The most interest came from those in the pistachio nut industry,” Mack said. “They have some of the same challenges as in the grain industry. It could be used in their storage bins, much like in our grain bins. We were looking for industries that would be a good fit for our product. Without attending the show, we never would have thought to expand to that market.”

The World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif., had 1,500 exhibitors and 100,000 in attendance during the 3-day event. It is known as the world’s largest annual agricultural exposition. A number of South Dakotans attended the event, including a delegation from the South Dakota Department of Agriculture.

David Skaggs, with the South Dakota Department of Agriculture – Ag Development Division, was thrilled that Mack’s invention was honored.

“I’ve been to Leola and it was fantastic to see what Jerome has produced,” Skaggs said. “He took me into what used to be the bank building in town and now is a hunting lodge. In the back of the building was a room with the Bin Bot. That is where the changes and modifications have been made to this product during the last few years.”

Once Skaggs saw Mack’s product, he encouraged him to submit his invention to the World Ag Expo’s committee to be considered as one of the top ten products.

“As far as I know, this is the first time a product from South Dakota has been chosen for the top 10 list,” Skaggs said. “Gov. Dennis Daugaard stopped at Jerome’s booth to congratulate him and to get a chance to try out the Bin Bot.”

“I was very pleased with the positive response to the Bin Bot,” Jerome Mack said. “We had many people who recognized why we developed the product.”

“It was really good news as we’ve put a lot of work into the production,” Mack said. “We don’t get a lot of feedback as we’ve been working on it. Being chosen as one of the top inventions was an evaluation from a group of peers.” Mack was especially pleased with the honor as the judges were made up of those he considered his peers: farmers, ranchers and industry professionals.

After spending time in California, Mack went to Omaha to attend the GEAPS Exchange which is the grain handling industry’s largest and best venue for operations professionals and suppliers to connect. There he hoped to make more connections with people wanting to save lives.

To learn more about Bin Bot,

Some of the information in this story came from a story written by Jeff Natalie-Lees titled “Leola man’s robot may prevent grain bin accidents,” published in The American News on Jan. 7, 2012.

Leave a Reply