Tapping into innovative streak
A Japanese company used the lockdown to conceive a cheap, cool tap design that's hygienic to use and doesn't need a water connection. And India will manufacture the first batch
According to UNICEF, there are over three billion people—40 per cent of the world's population—who do not have access to basic hand washing facilities at home. And, the Coronavirus pandemic has only deepened the vast inequities around the access to water. The unsettling disparity and its implications on public health has prompted LIXIL Corporation, a water and housing products manufacturing firm from Japan, to introduce an innovative handwashing solution. Daigo Ishiyama, technology and chief marketing officer, explains that the taps have a plastic base with a nozzle that can be fitted with widely available plastic bottles of different sizes and shapes. The design ensures minimal contact between the user and tap, thereby reducing the spread of disease, while the trickle action minimises water use, meaning fewer refills, while maintaining a solid flow of water.
Interestingly, there is a local angle to the innovation, with the first batch of these innovative taps scheduled to be manufactured in India, before distribution kicks off across the country and globally.
With the virus continuing to spread across continents, Ishiyama says the project was undertaken with the sense of urgency that it deserved. Given that most countries had imposed strict lockdown measures at the time, they encountered hurdles in the making. "We had limited access to resources and faced operational challenges. During the development phase, even purchasing supplies was an ordeal, with many businesses closed due to the pandemic." He remembers how early samples were made manually at home, but as the concept evolved, they needed access to 3D printing to create the prototype. "Fortunately, a local 3D vendor was open for business, but he was busy printing the parts of PPE kits that proved to be critical for the medical industry. So, we made do with machines that weren't being used for PPEs."
Daigo Ishiyama contracted the novel Coronavirus in March and spent his time recuperating from the illness by tweaking the design of the tap
For the initial user testing phase, Ishiyama couldn't approach a sample group of users due to stay-home measures, so his family members became primary testers. "All in all, it was socially-distanced team work that enabled the development to progress through the pandemic. We created taps that are affordable, but aspirational and can be used anywhere inside a home, and don't need a water connection to operate."
The product will be made available to partners for humanitarian needs in September and the company will work to ramp up capacity through early 2021 for retail availability, starting with their key markets in Asia, including India and Africa. "The final cost for the SATO tap will depend on manufacturing partners, local market factors and logistical costs, but we anticipate the price to sit between $3-6 dollar per unit (Rs 200-450)," he says.
How it works
The SATO Tap has a plastic base with a nozzle/connector designed to accept a bottle neck of any diameter. The base enables users to tip the nozzle down to release a steady flow of water—just enough to wash your hands, while saving enough water to use multiple times. Tipping the nozzle back up stops the flow of water and keeps the water in a closed environment, mitigating the risk of contamination. The design relies on pressure and gravity to create a simple on-and-off mechanism.
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