Kettering University students developing 3D printed water filter adapter to help during water emergencies

It’s cool to see how far 3D printing can take us.”

Two Kettering University Mechanical Engineering students are showcasing the power of 3D printing to help find a short-term solution to help Flint residents during the water crisis.

Kyle Mikols ‘17 and Ryan Webster ‘16 created The Trunk -- a 3D-printed product that adapts one end of a hose to a home’s faucet and the other end to a compartment, which contains the water filter.

It allows residents to use any type of NSF standard filter and allows them to adapt the size to fit their specific faucet. The Trunk was created as part of their Rapid Prototyping class, but also as a submission for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers IAM3D Challenge.

On January 6, 2016, the State of Michigan officially declared a State of Emergency due to elevated levels of lead found in sections of the Flint water supply

“Currently, there are not filter assemblies available that can fit the variety of fixtures in homes or businesses with a lack of mechanical inclination,” the students said in a video for the IAM3D challenge. “The design files can be readily accessible on local government or disaster relief organization web pages. This open access would allow individuals with 3D printers to print them as needed or emergency/crisis response agencies could mobilize 3D printing farms to meet demand in a crisis.”

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Kyle Mikols ‘17 and Ryan Webster ‘16.

Webster said the project for the competition brought an unique experience for them to take hold of.

“They are currently having issues fitting filters to faucets here in Flint,” he said, adding the products just aren’t available. “We thought we would come up with a foolproof filter, something anybody could use.”

All in all, their prototype could be made with a 3D printer in 16 hours or less. The name ‘The Trunk’ comes from its resemblance to an elephant trunk and the ability to deliver water.

“I think it’s cool that it can be printed. That gives you a lot of variability as far as adapting things. You cut out a lot of expensive costs that occurred in manufacturing for tooling. So it’s cool to see how far 3D printing can take us,” Webster said. “It’s not a long-term solution for the crisis, but I think it’s a very viable short-term solution and something that could open efforts to pursue something like what we’ve done with more resources.”

And with Kettering being an anchor institution in the city of Flint, Mikols said it’s a very tangible way to be able to help the residents of the city.

The submission deadline for the IAM3D Challenge is April 15. The students are still finalizing their prototype. But the overall use of the design could be very powerful, Mikols said.

“If there was a disaster our plan was that any corporation or the government could contract with anybody who has a 3D printer to print them off for the general public,” he said. “We are currently trying to address the Flint water crisis situation, trying to work with everybody to help create a solution for the people that had the outdated equipment.”

Even though The Trunk is very applicable for the city of Flint currently, Webster and Mikols are designing the product to help cities across the country, as well as make others aware of the need for filtration systems.

Through their research they found that many cities have outdated water pipes that, should a catastrophic series of events occur, could leach out harmful heavy metal contaminants into their water supply.

“In the business case Kyle and myself are working on, we use the Flint water crisis as an example for the need of citizens to be able to quickly access and use a water filtration system,” Webster said.

The Trunk should not be the sole solution, he said, for now it’s a good solution in emergencies.

The Trunk would fit to any faucet and could use Brita, Pur or whatever filter was available, without the high cost of manufacturing while using dies and tools.

“The Trunk is a viable short term solution for water emergencies, until long term solutions become available,” the students state on the video. “Let’s not let another water disaster happen without access to The Trunk.”