Flueshoe – The journey so far

One year on from debuting his product as part of InstallerINVENT, Simon Brown talked to Installer about the journey so far for Flueshoe.
The heating and plumbing sector has long been a hot-bed of development for innovative, ‘home-grown’ products. The INVENT initiative was developed to help promote the next generation.
How did you come up with the invention?
Plumbers and heating engineers are problem solvers. Every job that we attend is to solve a problem – from a dripping tap to re-instating heating and hot water. The Flueshoe in essence is the same – I saw a problem and set out solving it.
Every time I had to cut a boiler flue to length, I often wondered why there wasn’t a tool available to help me to cut it. On one occasion, I was cutting a flue outside over a garden bench in the rain. The tenant of the house must have seen me trying to keep the flue steady while cutting it, and he came out and held the other end of the flue.
Although this was a nice gesture on his part, it wasn’t quite the professionalism I was wishing to portray as an installer. I decided right there and then that I had to think of an alternative solution.
When did you realise that you had a product that would work and solve the problem?
Once I had made some rough sketches on what I thought the tool might look like, I set about making the component parts from wood and a copper tube handle. The flue-trimming discs I cut out of a sheet of stiff polystyrene. I tested the jig cutting through old flues and found that this rough prototype performed quite well.
I noticed that the flue could be held steady over the V blocks while cutting. The boiler flue was fitting well and held in place perfectly, the jig had become a sort of shoe for the flue.
While working on ways to make the tool a better cutting experience for boiler installers, I also realised that by employing the flue trimmer discs I had eliminated a considerable safety risk as the inner products of combustion flue of a concentric flue could not be cut too short.
This was to be a significant aspect of the design. At present, larger installation group companies that are working on behalf of Local Authorities are viewing the Flueshoe as a tool they need to use to minimise risk during flue installations.
How long was the process from idea to finished product/prototype?
The project began back in 2013, but it was in 2014 before the matter of Intellectual Property searches and the Flueshoe designs were registered. Once I had a Patent Pending status on the Flueshoe I could start to develop the product.
What has been the hardest part of the process so far?
For me, this was trying to convince the non-installers of the plumbing industry how the Flueshoe could assist in cutting flues in an easier, safer and more professional way.
Installers could quickly see the benefits, but for those who have never cut a flue before it was not so easy for them to see the difficulties the Flueshoe solves.
What has been the most satisfying part of the process so far?
The most satisfying part of the process for me has been the wonderful support and feedback from installers in the trade. By listening to their comments and input, I have been able to produce a tool that does the job it was designed to do.
At the end of April 2016, I put a message out on social media asking if any installers could spare an old flue for me to cut up on the Flueshoe at Installer2016.
Within two hours, I had the promise of 28 flues. Some I picked up from other installers and we talked through the prototype, others were sent to me. All of the flues promised were new and arrived in time for the trade event.
The publicity and feedback from Installer2016 was invaluable.
At that point, I had a prototype made from aluminum V blocks with rubber stuck to the base and a handle made from chromed copper tube. I had no idea how the idea would be received by other installers. My fears were unfounded.
After just two hours on day one on the InstallerINVENT stand, the feedback I received was incredible and the general consensus from installers was that it was about time we had something to cut a flue on.
How helpful has participating in the INVENT initiative been?
Participating at Installer2016 gave me the opportunity to showcase my prototype and make contact with installers from over the UK. It also gave me the extra confidence in my product to get home and finish the job I had started.
Although the idea for the Flueshoe was conceived in 2013, the product was born on the InstallerINVENT stand in 2016. Following the event, I immediately set about having the necessary tooling made to form the component parts of the Flueshoe. By August 2016, the first 50 units were assembled and in September I sent seven Flueshoes out to some of the installers that had given me the flues for the show.
They tested the Flueshoe for me and came back to me with ways the product could be improved and, in one case, identified a design fault in one component. The identified problems were all rectified and full production commenced in October 2016. I am very grateful to this group of installers who tested the product and gave invaluable feedback before it went out for general sale.
For more information on the Flueshoe, visit the website: www.flueshoe.co.uk
For more information on how you can get involved with the INVENT initiative, email invent@installeronline.co.uk