Product design company 3fD (3form Design) have created a low cost water saving device for the consumer market that ditches a reliance on electronics but instead blends user-friendly design with engineering. The golf ball sized device uses a tiny, inbuilt gearbox that allows consumers to easily control and monitor their domestic water consumption without the need for expensive smart devices or apps.
Ally Le Sueur, operations manager at 3fD commented: "Many water saving devices limit usage by measuring time rather than volume, so people are left with no real understanding of how much water they're actually using. The ones that do measure volume are often expensive devices with integrated electronics and apps. FloSTEM is a much cheaper device that allows everyday consumers to measure and control their domestic water by using the power of product design and engineering rather than electronics."
Essentially a 'fit and forget' device, FloSTEM can be easily fitted between a shower-head and shower, or a tap and a hose pipe, and enables consumers to monitor their water usage in 'packets' of 45L. When 45L of water has passed through the device it shuts off until the user presses a button on the side to allow the next packet of 45L of water through. With an average 8-minute shower using 65L and a typical bath 80L, 3fD chose to limit the device at 45L to emphasise FloSTEM's water saving functionality and to give people a realistic insight into their water consumption.
Ally Le Sueur continued, "It was really important to us that the device didn't feel punishing or negative. Instead we wanted to inform and empower consumers by giving them a simple and clear insight into the water usage and giving them the choice of whether to use more or adapt their habits in order to conserve."
Inside the device an impeller rotates as water flows through, driving a specially designed fixed ratio gearbox that triggers the shut off mechanism when 45L has passed through. An extraordinarily high gear ratio was required in order to make the device viable, and the team sought inspiration by looking into 'epicyclic' water mechanisms and even dissecting an egg timer. To add to their design challenge, the device had to be made from plastic and be small enough to fit through a letterbox.
Simon Willis, product designer at 3fD commented, "We chose to use an epicyclic gearbox because they can be made really compact and can reach the very high ratio that we needed to make the device work. The final gearbox has many nuances to make it work especially for FloSTEM and it's certainly the smallest gearbox that we've ever come across."
Last year the team created their first prototypes by 3D printing the tiny gears and parts using their in-house Stratsys Connex Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) machine. This allowed them to test their device and design data before manufacturing started.