When Don Bean got a tour of the Warren Theatres’ 3-D setup a couple of years back, one thing really jumped out at him.
And no, it wasn’t the picture on the screen.
“They showed me how they washed and dried the (3-D) glasses," Bean said. When it came to the drying, “I said, ‘You’re really doing this about as wrong as you can do it.’ ”
The experience inspired Bean to invent his own machine for drying 3-D eyeglasses and form Visi Enterprises Inc.
Warren Theatres has become Bean’s first customer, and Bean hopes to persuade others in the theater and movie industries to follow suit.
Bean said his background as an applications salesman for industrial supplies gave him the idea for the contraption. Bean, who also is known locally as a music promoter, has sold chemical processing equipment such as tanks, pumps and valves for the same company for 18 years.
Before that, he worked in the aviation industry, earned a business degree and obtained a pilot’s license.
“I’ve always been hands-on, always been around a lot of equipment and machinery," he said.
Bean said employees at the Warren Theatres had been using an air hose and compressor to dry the glasses, which are washed after each wearing.
“The biggest problem they’ve had is water drops that dry on the lenses," he said. “It’s a huge customer satisfaction and quality issue."
Customers frequently tried to remove the spots themselves with a shirt sleeve or shirt tail, which damaged the glasses. And because each pair was dried individually, it was costly in terms of labor.
Beans says his machine can dry 12 pairs of the eyeglasses at a time using a conveyor system, high-volume air blower and components called “air knives" that move air around the glasses. He bought as many of the parts for the machine as he could “off the shelf," had a company in Salina make the stainless-steel table that forms the base and assembled the dryer in a friend’s garage.
Bean said he went through four different designs of the device before it was ready. Early on he brought in Wichita businessman Charlie Buess as a partner.
Higher-ups at Warren Theatres weren’t interested in his drying machine the first time he pitched it to them. But a week after the Wichita-based chain opened its massive IMAX theater at 21st and Tyler, Warren Theatres contacted Bean and gave his dryer a tryout. The company has since bought a second dryer for its equally huge IMAX theater in Moore, Okla.
“Bill Warren has been very instrumental in giving us this opportunity," Bean said of the chain’s owner.
The first machines sold for $16,000 each. That might seem like a lot, but the glasses themselves are a big investment for theaters. Because 3-D movies come in IMAX and several other formats, many theaters have multiple sets, Bean said.
Bean said his dryer can save a theater owner $40,000 a year compared with drying the glasses individually.
Bean has a provisional patent pending on the invention, which he said gives the partners about eight more months to decide whether they want to go through the more expensive process of obtaining a nonprovisional patent to protect his work.
Of course, Bean hopes the trend in big-budget 3-D movies such as “The Avengers," which opens next month, won’t end anytime soon. He doesn’t know how many theaters around the world show 3-D movies, but he knows “it’s a large number."