Making clean water out of GE ingenuity

Making clean water out of GE ingenuity
This is the process GE Appliances and WaterStep are taking to make clean water through a water chlorination system that reduces the cost per unit by 75 percent. (Photo courtesy of GE Appliances)

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Teaming up with WaterStep, a Louisville, Ky.-based organization that provides solutions to the root causes of waterborne illness through training and readily available technology, and Louisville Water Company, GE employees and retirees have been volunteering their time to design a water purification system that is more affordable, more compact and easier to install in developing countries, while being manufactured with components and tools typically available at any hardware store.  

About a year ago, working in the basement of the WaterStep offices, the team received a call from a charity that needed 50 chlorinators to help flooding victims in Pakistan, and they needed them quickly.   

Steve Froelicher, GE Appliances senior product architect, and Sam DuPlessis, GE Appliances design manager for high-efficiency water heaters, along with other GE engineers and volunteers, helped develop a water chlorination system for WaterStep that reduced the cost per unit by 75 percent (compared to what they had been purchasing from a supplier) by implementing Lean design principles. Louisville Water Company volunteers helped outline the specifications needed in the new chlorination system and lent their testing and water analysis expertise to the project.  

The GE team also followed up with a Lean manufacturing process that would allow WaterStep to manufacture the chlorinators in-house. Between the savings from the newly designed chlorinator system and in-house Lean manufacturing process, WaterStep will be able to more than double its annual supply of chlorination systems to the 23 countries they serve in the first year of production. 

Lean manufacturing
According to DuPlessis, Lean design and manufacturing principles were used to achieve key objectives and initiatives of the program, which included:

  • Benchmarking the chlorine production capability of existing chlorine generators and identifying the key specifications required for such a device to be used reliably in the field.
  • Developing a system that treated 1,000 gallons of water in less than an hour, is rugged for portability and use in third-world countries, and is made of readily available materials that do not require complex manufacturing processes.
  • Building and testing design prototypes to assess their ability to meet the ideal specifications.
  • Building design confirmation models for use in the field to check for any issues.

“The contributions GE has made to our efforts to provide safer drinking water to people who don’t have nearly enough has been a complete game changer for our organization,” says Mark Hogg, executive director of WaterStep.

“With GE’s involvement, we were able to save significant costs on the newly designed chlorinators, have more control over the supply and manufacturing and allow us to own the process. Most importantly, with GE support, we can save more lives by providing more clean water.”

Looking ahead
One of the key practices of Lean design and manufacturing is continuous improvement. The volunteer team is already thinking about how it can improve on the current design to better achieve the key objectives of the project. In the coming months, the team will be working to develop new technologies and design platforms with the objective of greater efficiency, decreased cost and refining the logistics of installations in the field.

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