Engineering students place first in competition

By Izbel Torres

A group of three Cal Poly Pomona students has come up with an innovative water purification system, and received well-deserved recognition for the project.

The team of CPP industrial and manufacturing engineering students earned the grand prize at the Product and Manufacturing Systems Design Contest hosted by the Small Manufacturers Institute and SME, formerly known as the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, in Sante Fe Springs last month.

The idea for the water purification system came from Jon Schacht, a manufacturing engineering alumnus who recently graduated, and the environmental research and development company he works for, Water414.

“How the project started was we were trying to fulfill a requirement for our senior project,” said Schacht. “The initial idea came from my boss and myself at Water414. It so happened that what we wanted to do we were able to get credit for our senior project.”

The design was created with portability and sustainability in mind, so that it could be used in third-world countries where resources are scarce.

“In third-world countries, you have people that have contaminated water,” said Schacht. “They sometimes use the restroom in the same water that they are drinking. So our intentions were to come up with some sort of personal water treatment system that somebody can have in their home.

“They can leave it on the shelf and leave it sitting there for 10 years in case there was some sort of natural disaster that had happened.”

What sets the design apart from other purification systems is the method the device uses to kill bacteria in contaminated water.

“We wanted to make sure that the system would run without any power,” said Schacht. “There are some systems that people have created but nothing along the lines of what we were trying to do. Nobody was using electric arc ozone to treat water. So that’s what we decided to do.”

Victor Okhuysen, an industrial and manufacturing engineering professor, recommended the students enter their design in the design contest.

“A lot of it had to do with the professors,” said Ion Darmancev, a fourth-year industrial engineering transfer student who helped with the project. “I guess they know a good project when they see one, and they kind of told us about it. We didn’t really know what the competition was about. There wasn’t any information online.”

The three brought on CPP Professor Dixon Davis as an advisor. Davis provided feedback and contacts where they could test their product’s purification capabilities. As a former judge for the manufacturing challenge, Davis’s input proved to be invaluable.

“In the beginning, he just let us do our own thing and let us come up with the designs,” said Schacht. “When it came down to the second quarter, he really started to push us forward.

“Sometimes it felt like he was pushing us a little too hard, but he was always asking us to do certain things that really helped us. [He helped us with] the physical prototype and put us in contact with certain people in the industry so we could do our testing.”

One of the team’s initial testing sites was the duck pond on campus. The results showed the water contained ghastly bacteria.

“It’s nasty,” said Eric Cramer, a third-year manufacturing engineering transfer student and project team member. “There was E. coli in that water that come from the turtles and the ducks pooping in it. The system killed it 100 percent, and it reduced all the other bacteria by like 85 percent.

“It’s drinkable water. Jon drank it, though it’s not exactly EPA standards or bottled water standards.”

At the design competition held in Sante Fe Springs, the three students earned best of show and won $1,000. Their earnings were primarily used to pay off design expenses, and what was left was split amongst the students.

“The way the judges scored it, they announced third place in university and third place in community colleges,” said Cramer. “They went back and forth [until they called first place] and they didn’t call us at all. So I was kind of disappointed. The last thing they did was call the grand prize. I didn’t even know that there was a grand prize.”

Amongst the other product designs entered at the competition were a 3D printer that incorporated a cutting tool, a method for melting down aluminum cans into a block of aluminum, and techniques for underground plumbing.

“Nothing was similar to us,” said Cramer. “I think ours was the best mainly because it serves a purpose. People need water to survive, people don’t need a 3D printer to survive.

“There’s not really a system like ours on the market. There are [other filtration systems] that are on a huge scale to treat water for a whole community, whereas we focused on a small unit that is portable and can treat a household.”

Though Schacht says the product is not ready to go to market, a patent has been filed which will allow the students to continue working on the design without the possibility of their idea being stolen.

Water Purification

Courtesy Dixon Davis

Water Purification

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