How a JLL engineer blended safety and innovation for our first patent

When Dave Crowell was a little boy, his dad used to take him to work. Daycare was expensive, after all, and there was plenty to do.

As Crowell’s father, a well-established electrical contractor in Northern California, made service trips in his van, the floor of the shop would serve as Crowell’s babysitter. But while most children pieced together Legos or Lincoln Logs, Crowell was sorting electrical parts.

It was this intimate knowledge of the craft that, over 30 years later, would lead him to solve a potential $80-billion-dollar productivity problem and build a safety measure that could save as many as 500 lives per year. The result was JLL’s first engineering patent.

“I can guarantee you no other property management or commercial real estate company would have done this,” Crowell said. “I still get goosebumps talking about this stuff. JLL’s dedication to safety truly makes us stand out.”

How it started

The invention itself may seem like a simple concept—an electrical panel meant to preserve worker safety, boost efficiency and make compliance simple—but it didn’t start out that way.
Four years ago, Crowell was working in an energy safety group for a large financial services client. At that time, and to this day, safety standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) required engineers to shut down an entire electrical panel, even for simple modifications.

While this protects workers from potentially dangerous shocks, downtime is disruptive and costly. To maintain uptime, companies cut corners and accidents happen—as many as 500 deaths per year as a result.

It was there that Crowell found inspiration. “I wanted to bridge the gap between staying productive and staying safe,” he said.

From garage to board room

Crowell still keeps a lot of his dad’s old equipment in his garage; everything he ever unloaded off his old service van when he quit being an electrician is in there, too. So he went out, grabbed an electrical panel and started to think.

It took Crowell about a month to come up with something he was proud of. The result of his work, a see-through device, is made up of plugs that can be removed individually to provide access to each section of the breaker.

By covering the energized parts, you can service the de-energized parts without shutting the entire thing down. The lack of downtime keeps clients happy, and the attention to safety keeps OSHA happy.

The idea was ready for a larger audience. But Crowell isn’t really in the business of board room pitches, and JLL isn’t really in the business of manufacturing widgets. Both are, however, in the business of safety. Crowell needed help, and he got it from the JLL Legal team.

“We knew it was a special idea when it first came to our attention,” said Gabriela Cleveland, Chief Counsel, Technology and Intellectual Capital at JLL. “We’d never patented anything like this before, but the concept of the electric panel was so brilliant, yet simple and innovative that we thought why not? If it means helping our clients, that’s what we’re going to do. Dave’s idea did exactly that.”

JLL then began the two-year process of patent submission and evangelizing the idea to leadership.

The reward of innovation

Like most companies, innovation is core to JLL. The Da Vinci Awards are our platform for recognizing those ideas, celebrating employees’ efforts and spreading their success. What started as a simple, celebratory dinner in 2003 has grown into a global program to source and share the firm’s top innovations each year.

Crowell’s invention was chosen in February as a 2017 winner and celebrated as one of the firm’s finest innovations to date. The patent was awarded last year and steps are being taken to realize what a full-scale rollout of his model would entail.

“I knew there was a way to do it,” Crowell said. “I just had to sit down and grind it out.”

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