A new patent by a Wichita construction company has its roots in the front lines of the Korean War more than 60 years ago.
Working with Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research, Hunter and Son Construction has developed a new way to repair sagging foundations.
“It’s a game-changer,” Steve Hunter, president of Hunter and Son Construction said of the new method. “In less than three years, I’ll have turned the industry upside down.”
The system, which has been five years in the making, features interlocking couplings that help disperse the weight load carried by the underground piers supporting the foundation.
His father invented foundation piering after returning to Wichita after the Korean War, Hunter said. The concept has its beginnings in sketches his father made in a note pad that was part of the Red Cross CARE package he received after being wounded in combat.
After he recovered, he was sent back to the front lines with the CARE package and used the pencil and note pad included to sketch concepts for building better foundations.
He came home to Wichita, joined his father’s construction business and got a patent for the process. They used it to build homes in Eastborough and commercial buildings around the city.
The company continued to use that process into this century, but Steve, the third generation, began working on potential improvements.
When the company was working on the child development center at WSU in 2011, a professor asked Hunter who was handling testing for the firm. Hunter said they were looking for a university that could help them.
NIAR officials reached out and the company has worked with the university ever since.
“The university has been instrumental in helping our business grow,” Hunter said.
Chris Rempe, manager of the reverse engineering and additive manufacturing laboratories at NIAR, said Hunter brought in designs and ideas. The university created CAD models and then prototypes of parts.
“We did 3D printing to help prove out the concept,” Rempe said.
Hunter said he was thrilled with all the assistance the university provided.
“It’s a great place to go to — very resourceful,” Hunter said. “They want to help you succeed. When we do that, jobs are created.”
Rempe said the university’s work with Hunter’s company is typical.
“We help out anybody and everybody with new design concepts or making” an idea “a reality,” he said.
Hunter and Son has created 40 jobs through the various phases of developing, testing and installing the new product. The firm now has 65 employees and has set a goal of raising that number by nearly one-third by early next year.
“Every day there’s something new,” Hunter said. “We’re always thinking, ‘There’s some better way of doing this.’
“That’s what we do. We’re innovators and job creators, too.”
Hunter’s firm is getting between eight and 10 calls a day about potential jobs.
“I’ve had seven phone calls this morning and it’s not even 10:30 yet,” he said one recent morning.