Inspiration: Making clay refrigerators
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Disaster, destruction and a sudden burst of inspiration is all that took for Mansukhbhai Prajapati to turn a tragedy into a
springboard of innovation. Born and brought up in Wankaner village of Gujarat, Mansukhbhai is a potter by profession. When the Bhuj earthquake in 2001 flattened his pottery unit, a newspaper published his photo sitting amidst earthen ruins with a title: “Fridge of the poor in pieces”. They were earthen pots used for storing water everywhere in India, but the word fridge caught Mansukhbhai’s attention.
He embarked on his quest to create a clay refrigerator. Mansukhbhai knew there was a latent demand for his intended product as it would fill the aspirations of rural folks who held back their desire to buy a refrigerator out of two compulsions: The refrigerator available in the market was very expensive and its maintenance was high. And, second, the power supply in rural areas is erratic and hence the investment wouldn’t have yielded desired results for the buyer. It took him four years of trial and error to finally arrive at a mix that was good enough to create the final product.
Soon he developed a technique where using water as a coolant, he created a refrigerator. It was christened “Mitticool”. This refrigerator has two chambers; the upper chamber is filled with water which drips on the sides, evaporates and brings down the temperature of the outer and inner walls.
Within the second chamber of the refrigerator, there are two shelves. The one above is used for keeping vegetables and the lower one for milk. Vegetables can be stored for a week, while milk and milk products can survive for three days. There is also a provision for cold water which can be accessed directly from the water chamber with the help of an in-built tap.
This innovative product has presented an option for the burgeoning rural customers to opt for an environmentally-friendly and low-cost option of refrigeration. The product can go a long way in solving the problem of CFC (Cloro floro carbons) being emitted from old or locally made electric powered refrigerators that are harmful for the atmosphere.
It takes a week to create one refrigerator, and till now he has sold around 3,500 of them. Manshukhbhai has kept the cost at bare minimum which comes close to Rs 3,000. There are plans to increase production with the help of Ahmedabad-based organizations like Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and National Institute of Design.
Mansukhbhai is aware of the two shortcomings of his products: small size and unstable door handle. The refrigerator is 18.5-inches in height and is 11-inches wide. The depth is also 1- inches and it weighs 20-kgs. Its water chamber can hold 20-litres of water, but only 5-kgs of vegetables and an equal amount of milk or any other liquid. In the last five years, he has received complaints that the door magnet gives way after sometime, and has started work on dealing with the twin challenges.
He is also exploring concepts to fit in two fans within the system, and connect it with the solar panel to increase the efficiency of the product and working on improving the doors too. However, even now his products have found huge markets in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka; places that have long spells of summer.
The refrigerator is not the only product from his clay stable. He has also created a pressure cooker, a water filter and a non-stick pan. His non stick pan has been adjudged as having food grade coating. Earlier the tawa (Pan) were handmade. Later Mansukhbhai made an innovation whereby they were produced by a handheld machine and the production went up from 100 to 400. Today these pans and water filters are being sold at large departmental store chains and being exported to countries like Kenya.
The products have been appreciated at every level, and former president APJ Abdual Kalam has called Mansukhbhai a real scientist. He has received the President of India’s award, and been selected as one of the seven most powerful Indian innovators by Forbes magazine. His product is also the first by any rural innovator to receive an ISO certification.
The creator of Mitticool refrigerator is planning to work on a Mitticool house where the normal temperature within the home would be 15 to 20 degree less than the outside temperature. This difference would be achieved without electricity or use of fan.
( Courtesy: http://innovationjockeys.yahoo.net/inspiration.php?id=32 )