7 June 2022

The Wagga inventor conquering the world with a can-do attitude

| Chris Roe
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Man and a digger

Sam Turnbull and the invention that changed the screening game. Photo: Chris Roe.

You don’t look at something and say “that can’t be done” – you say, “it can be done; it just hasn’t been done yet”.

This attitude saw “Flip Screen” inventor Sam Turnbull take a literal back-of-the-napkin idea and transform it into a global business.

“So many people are taught what you can and can’t do,” he says with a wink.

“I wasn’t taught that because I was too dumb to go to university.”

Raised on a farm, Sam bought his first bobcat in the mid-80s and began carving out a niche in the Sydney demolition and excavation market.

A born inventor, he began playing with ideas to save the money he was spending to outsource screening work (separating materials like sand and rock).

“I had this idea; wouldn’t it be great if you could do all this on the front of the excavator?” he says.

“You’ve got plenty of horsepower. You’ve got plenty of hydraulics. It’s all there.”

man welding

A welder at work on an upscaled mining version of the Flip Screen. Photo: Chris Roe.

Sam says it was a lightbulb moment when he first sketched out his idea for a hydraulic cylinder and set to work on a prototype.

“I put a video camera in it because it’s actually quite complex, making it work properly,” he explains.

“I used to sit down and watch it and work out the proper shapes and things it needed.”

After two years of tinkering with the design, Sam knew he was onto a winner and in 2003, threw his hat in for the Agri-Innovator of the Year Award at the Henty Machinery Field Days.

“I won that,” he says with a grin, “then I went on The New Inventors (ABC1 television show) and I won that and then it just went nuts.”

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He says the tractor-mounted screening device delivered a portable solution that previously required large purpose-built machines.

“It takes a day to set those suckers up,” he says.

“This one, you drive it off the truck, screen and drive back on the truck.”

Flip Screen has garnered dozens of industry innovation awards. Offices have been opened in the United States and Canada to sell the Wagga-made screens.

The Copland Street factory employs 38 people operating industrial CNC machines, laser cutters and a handful of state of the art robots.

“We literally can’t make enough of these things,” he says.

Man and robot

Sam employs 38 people and four robots in his Wagga factory. Photo: Chris Roe.

With Flip Screen selling across the globe and being used in a diverse range of industries from wrecking yards to military mine-clearing, the company is about to expand in three stages.

“We’ve just secured 90 acres of industrial land and we’re going to start by building 13,000 sqm of manufacturing space for stage one,” Sam says.

“So that’s going to create a lot of jobs here in Wagga. We’re looking at up to 300.”

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With a nationwide shortage of skilled workers, Sam is already looking at recruiting local youth who may not fit the academic mould.

“I’m not trying to target the genius kids who get the ATAR of 98 at the end of year 12,” he says.

“It’s the ones who get the really bad mark at the end of years nine and 10 and think, ‘I’ve had enough of this. I don’t actually think I’m as dumb as they say I am’.”

front end loader sifting dirt and gravel

The Flip Screen in action screening rocks from sand. Photo: Supplied.

As well as upscaling production, Flip Screen is also expanding into crushing technology and upsizing its core product to cater to the mining industry.

“We’ve bought a couple of the big 992 caterpillars and we’re building onto the front of one of those,” he says.

While he obviously relishes the chance to play with even bigger machines, he tempers his enthusiasm with some sage advice for other inventors looking to invest in their ideas.

“Just pick something and run with it,” he says.

“I’ve seen a lot of inventors that just keep inventing stuff. Just pick one thing and forget the others.”

Original Article published by Chris Roe on Region Riverina.

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Flippin good idea…

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