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Here’s a True Plumber’s Friend Computerized Port-a-Potties Catch On
By John Hubbard
Courtesy The Ellsworth American

ELLSWORTH—No one likes to think about the problems people face when large groups gather to work or play away from the convenience of indoor plumbing. The food and drink preparations are comparatively simple details, easily left in the hands of a professional caterer or pulled from a lunchbox. But the task of providing reliable toilet facilities still fills many hosts, campers and contractors with dread.


Earle Archer, who heads the portable toilet facilities division of Ray Plumbing and Heating in Ellsworth, uses a handheld scanning device to check the status of a portable toilet Friday. Ray Plumbing and Heating has created a program that is usable with a handheld data device.
STAFF PHOTO BY JOHN HUBBARD

Dan Ray and his brother-in-law, Earle Archer, of Ray Plumbing and Heating in Ellsworth are addressing that problem. Thanks to Ray’s foresight, the job of keeping track of 400 portable restrooms is becoming easier as it becomes computerized. The benefits are obvious for Ray’s organization and for his customers.

As he explained his solution last Friday, Ray grasped a small, handheld personal data organizer.

“I bought one of these,” Ray said, “and was looking at it when I discovered it could be used as a bar scanner.”

Bar scanners are commonplace, these days. Found wherever larger companies sell anything from groceries to car parts, they electronically scan a sticker that is coded with different size bars, telling a central computer what the item is and how much it costs.

For Ray, bar scanning seemed unattainable until only recently. “We looked at bar scanning units and they all sold for around $1,500,” Ray said. Then, there was the added expense of programming the scanner so that it would store information on how many portable toilets Ray had in stock, how many were being rented, where they were and what servicing was needed on each one.

That’s a lot of paperwork to keep track of without a computer. Servicemen in the field, armed with pen and paper, often write illegibly. But with a clean sweep of the palm-sized organizer equipped with a small scanning unit, the information is stored instantly in a form that is easy to use back at the office.

Getting bar scanning into use at Ray Plumbing and Heating was not the only benefit to finding the small scanner units, Ray said. DAT Associates of Mertztown, Pa., provided the expertise in developing a program called ScanMan Pottie-Scan, by which Ray could use his personal data assistant units to keep track of the potty units.

The result was a one-of-a-kind program and one in which Ray has maintained part-ownership. That means he and developer Al Fortuner, president of DAT Associates, can sell the program to other sanitation companies.

Archer is in charge of the company’s 400 well-managed potty units, which constitute a story all by themselves. There are 18 “upscale” units that are used for weddings or other outdoor entertainment where restrooms just aren’t available.

Then there are the green units used by campgrounds either as primary or backup facilities. And, finally, there is the common variety found at construction sites where it is not possible to have running water facilities.