Gadgets put Howard firm on road to success

Its windshield nozzles are on 80% of American cars

May 08, 2000|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Beneath the windshield in nearly every car in America sits at least one small, plastic gadget that squirts washer fluid across the glass before the wipers brush the window clean.

In about 80 percent of those cars, the little gadgets are manufactured in Howard County at Bowles Fluidics Corp. The company pioneered a version of those nozzles that sweep water across windshields without using moving parts.

"They're alive," Bowles' president, Ron Stouffer, said of the gadgets. "They sweep, they wobble, they oscillate."

The fluidic nozzle sweeps water back and forth across the windshield at a rate of about 80 times a second, squirting in the same pattern one might make rinsing off a driveway, moving one's arm back and forth with the hose.

Here's how the nozzle works: Washer fluid is pumped into the nozzles, which are about the size of a grape.

The fluid then swirls around through a plastic maze within the device and shoots out in a sweeping motion, almost forming an "S" on the windshield.

"That little funny looking geometry that you see in [the nozzle] causes a stream of water to sweep," said Stouffer, 68, who has been with the company since 1967.

Though the company has developed other fluidic products, windshield washer nozzles are the largest part of its business.

Since 1965, the federal government has required that cars have a means to wash windshields, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"They can miss putting the hood on, but they have to have something to wash the windshield," said Mel Clough, vice president of operations at Bowles.

Bowles has developed 85 types of automotive windshield wiper devices, including one nozzle invented by Stouffer. Its customers include DaimlerChrysler AG, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp., Stouffer said.

Last year, Bowles' sales reached about $25 million, he said.

Founded in 1961 in Silver Spring by engineer Ronald E. Bowles, the company was making other types of nozzles by the time it incorporated in 1972. By then, the company had developed shower nozzles that pulse and oral irrigators that sweep water across teeth without moving parts.

Stouffer, an engineer, joined Bowles after he was introduced to the fluidic devices while working for a large aerospace company.

"I was so fascinated with these devices," said Stouffer, who left that company of about 26,000 employees in 1967 to join Bowles, which then had 26 employees.

Bowles has grown to about 350 employees, including about 20 engineers. It operates from 88,000 square feet that include offices and a manufacturing plant in Columbia and a 14,000-square-foot warehouse in Elkridge.

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