Many Canadians are all too familiar with the block heater struggle—getting it plugged in while juggling keys and bags, connecting cords while saddled with bulky gloves, and even finding the plug in a dim garage. And those are just the things that fall into the “irritating” category. There’s also a safety element involved: if you forget to unplug your block heater, the dragging extension cord can be damaged, lost, or cause accidents and more serious problems.
Enter Sterling Roberts. The Prince George resident, inventor, and tech-head had a brainwave one winter day while witnessing the car in front of him pulling a twenty-foot block heater cord down the highway. Thinking there must be a better solution, he searched online for an improved block heater plug-in connection product—to no avail.
That germ of an idea in mind, he approached BCIT, connecting with the BCIT Applied research team MAKE+. The group of multidisciplinary research staff took the prototype Sterling had created and took it to the next level.
“BCIT got me to where I am now, design wise,” says Sterling. His initial intent was to have MAKE+ adjust his cone-shaped prototype, but the experts at MAKE+ saw more room for improvement. “They thought it could be done better so we went a bit out of scope and we redesigned it.” He now has a prototype for the first-to-market, tension-released electrical adapter that connect block heaters to an extension cord.
It wasn’t just the team’s product development expertise Sterling found crucial. “Their knowledge of how to work with NRC-IRAP [Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program] and NDIT [the Northern Development Initiative Trust]—the paperwork side of things was invaluable to getting it done. I didn’t have the money to do a full round of engineering without the financial support of those organizations and BCIT helped work with me to be sure we were good on those fronts.”
“The last and probably more important thing was that their knowledge base meant I knew [MAKE+] could get it done. Since certification was always a concern I knew if anybody could design it around the requirements needed, it would be them,” adds Sterling.
The collaboration was rewarding for BCIT researchers as well. “It is a pleasure to work with clients on the research and development process,” says Gordon Thiessen, MAKE+ Project Leader. “When a prototype advances to the stage of commercialization it is very satisfying for our team to see their efforts come to fruition.”
WHAT IS Q-PLUG?
The Q-Plug is a tension-released electrical adapter primarily used to connect block heaters to an extension cord. Tension-released just means that a simple five pounds of pressure are all that’s needed to pull the plug’s sides apart safely.
Many people are too familiar with the struggle of getting their block heater plugged in during the frigid winter months. With the Q-Plug, there’s no wrong way to plug it in, and chances are you can use it blindfolded (with gloves on too!). The plug lights up so you can see it in the dark. Even when you have hands occupied with things like keys, a thermos, or a phone, it’s easy to plug in one-handed.
WHO IS THE Q-PLUG FOR?
We all have a lot of things distracting us in the morning or arriving home at the end of the day. It is no wonder we sometimes forget about the block heater cable.
Living in cold climates requires a little more patience in the morning and more often than not more things to remember. From warming your car to packing extra layers for your children on their way to school, we are sometimes left wondering if keeping our sanity is on the list too.
Whether you’re a new driver who hasn’t become accustomed to having a block heater to plug in or a parent looking to keep your vehicle in one piece, the Q-Plug is a perfect fit for you and your lifestyle.
BCIT MAKE+ is a group of multidisciplinary research staff focused on product and process development, evaluation, applied research projects, and education.