Molds for Clean Water

When I received the release that Industrial Molds Inc. (MMT's 2012 Leadtime Leader Award Winner) was selected by Kohler Co. to oversee the manufacture of six molds to help create the Kohler Clarity water filtration system to be used to help bring clean drinking water to those who need it, I had to share the story.

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When I received the release that Industrial Molds Inc. (MMT's 2012 Leadtime Leader Award Winner) was selected by Kohler Co. to oversee the manufacture of six molds to help create the Kohler Clarity water filtration system to be used to help bring clean drinking water to those who need it, I had to share the story. Click here for a video describing the project.

In October of 2013, Kohler learned about water quality and availability issues some associates in India who were experiencing a drought. Kohler's "Innovations for Good" participants decided to come up with a way to help their own associates get clean drinking water. The result was the Kohler Clarity, an innovative product with a ceramic filtration system that will help 1.8 billion people in remote regions to access safe, reliable drinking water. 

The system is simple to use and works on gravity alone, with no electricity or water infrastructure needed. The filter holds 11 liters (2.9 gallons) of dirty water that flows into a 12-liter (3.1-gallon) reservoir, where the clean water is stored to avoid recontamination. The system is designed to provide a family of four with the potable water they need for the day, removing over 99 percent of bacteria and protozoa to meet the World Health Organization’s interim-level water quality guidelines.

Since the product would be manufactured using plastic, Kohler wanted a partner known for its engineering expertise in mold design and build, and one that would contribute molds at their cost. As a current, proven vendor for Kohler, Industrial Molds VP (and MMT EAB member) Tim Peterson was approached. He quickly jumped onto the project when he heard that Kohler planned to manufacture and distribute the Clarity systems at cost to non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Peterson agreed to oversee the mold builds at cost.

"It did not take much convincing to get them to participate,” says Tim White, Business Development Manager – Water Technologies, Kohler. “The leadership team at Industrial was very gracious and agreed to do everything at cost. They didn’t want anything more other than the ability to publicize the program.”    

According to Industrial Molds, they managed the mold building process in China using a trusted partner with which Industrial had built a relationship.  Industrial’s account manager, Joe Hansen, was brought in as he manages the relationship with the China vendor for Industrial and is experienced in that arena.

The Clarity project required a great deal of collaboration between Kohler, Industrial and the Chinese mold manufacturer. Mike Radloff, Senior Project Manager – Water Technologies for Kohler noted that one of the first calls he made to Industrial Molds on the program was to review tooling drawings. “We had regular phone calls to review the molds and exchange input,” says Radloff. “Industrial provided good suggestions on part thicknesses to avoid sink and advice on gate location, as well as program scheduling. We asked for some atypical things but Industrial Molds responded quickly to our requests for answers. We found that response time very amazing.”

The tooling package consisted of six molds: the lid, the upper chamber, a lower chamber that collects the clean water, the stand, filter holder to hold the ceramic filter, and a nut to secure the filter. The spigot is purchased. The upper and lower chambers are molded in virgin clarified PP.  Because Kohler needed robust parts, the wall thickness was increased, but that resulted the part being cloudy. Kohler needed transparency so that users could see the water dripping into the collection (lower) chamber. At the last minute, a surface texture was added at Industrial’s suggestion in order to help improve transparency.

Joe Hansen and another Industrial account manager, Wes Stephens, went to China with Kohler’s Radloff and a tooling engineer, to oversee mold tryouts.  They did a small-lot run of 150 parts and shipped them to Industrial Molds for a quality check as Kohler needed samples for a show. Other Clarity systems went to Kohler in India where Kohler personnel performed beta testing on the Clarity system.

“We set up a lot of extra out-of-the-norm activities such as getting the sample parts made in China to have parts in hand,” said Radloff. “We had Industrial do a lot of extra work in setting everything up with the Chinese mold vendor, but they were always there to help us when needed. I was amazed how smooth everything went in China. Everything we asked for came out exactly as it was supposed to. Industrial Molds’ people were professional. It was one of my most enjoyable trips to China. It was quick; we got in and got things done within the timeline we needed.”

The molds were then shipped to Industrial for the breakdown, inspection, cleaning and final checks prior to being shipped to the Kohler molding facility in Sheridan, Arkansas where production was scheduled to begin at the end of January.

You can ask Industrial Molds about the project yourself at Amerimold. They are exhibiting in Booth 422.

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