RETROPOL RAPID-CLEAN BRUSHHello, my name is Stewey Fergusson, and I'm the inventor of the RETROPOL RAPID-CLEAN BRUSH stainless steel weld cleaning system. Brisbane, Queensland is my home city, state, and I've lived here pretty much all my life. Well hey, if you've been here long enough, you'd know we have everything you need right at our fingertips - international tourist attractions only 45 minutes drive (Gold Coast Qld), the very beautiful Sunshine Coast just an hour or two up the road, and some of the most scenic natural places on earth scattered all around - Natural Bridge, Glasshouse Mountains, Great Dividing Range to name just a few. South East Queensland, with it's sub-tropical climate, huge diversity of native flora and fauna, and it's people is somewhere I'm proud to call home.
Often, people ask me how I came up with the idea of RETROPOL RAPID-CLEAN BRUSH. The truth is, it wasn't a lightbulb kind of moment where all became known to me in an instant. Rather, it has been a long slow process of smaller ideas being conceptualised, experimented with and then either improved upon if it led to positive results, or discarded when things went terribly wrong. And yes, there have been times when I thought about just giving up - but deep down I knew I had an idea worth pursuing, that I could create a quality product that did what I expected it to, and would be seen by others in the industry as a better, more cost effective method for weld cleaning.
Being a sheetmetal-worker with some 20 plus years experience in architectural and marine stainless steel manufacturing, I've often been forced to work with pickling products for cleaning stainless steel welds in situations where no alternatives were available. Around 2003, whilst working in the marine stainless industry, my right middle finger was exposed to hydrofluoric acid as a result of using pickling paste. I had used the same product numerous times prior to this with little to no ill effects. This time however, things were different - a tiny cut in the skin of my finger allowed the paste to get in. This led to months of pain and a festering wound which continued to grow in size & severity. Though not a life threatening incident, it opened my eyes to the inherent dangers of hydrofluoric acid. Eventually my finger healed, but it took quite a long time, and caused a great deal of pain.
Somewhere around that time, I remember watching an episode of 'The New Inventors' on ABC TV. The episode featured a mobile electropolishing machine which, it was claimed, could be used as an alternative to pickling. I immediately recognised the benefits such a machine could offer people in my industry, and I soon later enquired about this machine at local welding supply stores. To my dismay, the machines were retailing then at around $6500.00 . As a fairly modest earner, there was no way I could afford to buy one of these units on my own, and my then employer made it abundantly clear that he wasn't wasting any money on one either. Out of necessity however, an idea was born - a low cost system of electro-chemical weld cleaning.
Years were to pass whilst I read as much as I could about electropolishing stainless steel. I taught myself the basics from information gleaned from the internet and library books. Eventually, my knowledge base expanded considerably, to the point where I was confident in attempting a few experiments in the process of stainless steel electropolishing. Rudimentary as they were, my early experiments laid the foundation for my later successes. I remember one such early experiment consisting of some denim cut from an old pair of jeans, wrapped around a piece of arc welding electrode, dipped into a pungent blend of acetic and phosphoric acids, and wiped across a piece of stainless steel offcut that had conveniently found its' way home from work in my pocket. It wasn't quite the professional science lab most people think of when they hear the word 'experiment' but it was cutting edge science to me none the less.
In late 2009, I started devising my first prototype machine. It was pretty big & bulky, but my initial trial proved very successful, with one exception being the woven fibregass sock that insulated the electrode. Still though, the machine worked, so from that point I set about writing and filing a patent application, legally covering my intellectual property rights in relation to utilising the DC current from a TIG welder to perform electro-chemical weld cleaning. By the end of 2010, I had a granted Innovation Patent, a working prototype machine, and a head full of dreams about where I was going to be spending all that money that was sure to come flooding in. The reality was I had a big ugly box full of wires, pumps and pipes that still cost an arm and a leg to produce, and had a major flaw in that the woven fibreglass cloth sock that was being used as an insulating media between the electrode & workpiece, kept falling apart after very little use. Sure the system worked very well - but only until that sock started to disintergrate, requiring an endless supply of consumables. Once again my idea was shelved for a time.
The following year I became aware that my brother, who is also a metal worker, had purchased a new electropolishing machine for the sum of $3500.00. This particular machine, whilst quite costly, was said to have a very reliable carbon fibre brush applicator, which gave pretty good mileage for work done. Dismayed that my own brother had purchased a competitor's product, yet intrigued by the results he was getting from the carbon fibre brush, I examined his new piece of workshop equipment. Upon my first witnessing of this product being used, I was instantly impressed at the performance of the brush. It was able to get into tight corners that the fibreglass coated block electrode from my own prototype machine would never have been able to reach. It was then that I realised that I had to incorporate that carbon fibre brush into my own system. At present, RETROPOL ELECTROPOLISHING SYSTEMS sources carbon fibre brushes from a local supplier, but plans are in place to begin manufacturing our own brushes, hopefully in the not too distant future. This depends though, upon our present supplier, and how flexible they are on price.
The final hurdle to manufacturing a complete system of electro-chemical weld cleaning involved the bristle length of the brush. The bristles on a new brush are typically 40mm long, and are extremely flexible. They fray out in all directions when wet, making the brush by itself pretty much unusable. Competitor products use a patented sliding shroud that holds the bristles in a tight bunch, to enable the brush to be more 'focussed' than it would be otherwise, allowing the user to slide the shroud further up the bristles as they wear out. This wasn't an option for my system, as space does not really permit room for the addition of a shroud, given that the adapter is connected directly to the TIG torch. Instead, I have opted for a thermo-tightening plastic tube, commonly known as 'heat-shrink', to hold the bristles firmly gathered together in a bunch. The benefits of this system are that (i) it offers a very inexpensive solution to the problem of fraying bristles, and (ii) as the brush heats up during use and then cools afterwards, the heat-shrink tube remains nice and firm. As the bristles wear out, the heat-shrink tube can easily be snipped away with a pair of side-cutters. I have even provided three lines of serrations to aid in the removal of the heat-shrink when the bristles wear down.
The final product as is now available from various retail outlets listed on the home page, has undergone rigorous industrial testing over a twelve month period at a local stainless steel manufacturing enterprise. My goal from the outset was to provide an AFFORDABLE alternative to using pickling paste, and one which was of high enough quality and durability to be acceptible for high-end stainless steel manufacturing plants. It is with great pride that I declare that product testing was a huge success. So much so in fact, that shortly after testing began with only one brush/adapter operating in the plant, every other tradesman & apprentice on the workshop floor, after seeing for themselves how effective my product was, asked me for a brush/adapter for themselves. What else can I say, the results speak for themselves.
At the present time, it is still early days, and we have very little brand recognition. In time I am sure that as RETROPOL becomes more widely known, trust and acceptance in the quality of our product range will continue to grow exponentially. I still work a full time job outside of RETROPOL ELECTROPOLISHING SYSTEMS, so product demonstration time is limited to only one day each fortnight, which coincides with my rostered days off. So far I have given only two demonstrations to welding supply outlets of what our product can do, and in each case, I am awarded with comments like "Mate, that's a bloody great idea" and "Your product is going to replace pickling paste!" Each retail outlet that I have visited, I might add, have eagerly taken our product range on board!.
One quick final point - if you are reading this and are having trouble finding a retail outlet near you to make a purchase,
PLEASE LET ME KNOW!Who knows, I have been known to be a fairly generous person - if YOU help me out by helping me to expand my retail outlet base, you might just recieve a little something in the mail! That's all from me for now, hope I haven't bored you with all my ramblings...
(click above link to send me an email)