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PATH is partnering with four companies to develop new water filters and filter elements to bring safe drinking water to low-income consumers in developing countries. The filters, which will begin reaching developing-country markets early next year, are designed to provide a breakthrough user experience. Based on design guidelines developed by PATH through extensive field research, the filters require no pipe connection or electricity, making them ideal for use in low-resource settings. The filters feature standardization to further enhance safety, expand product choice, and improve access for consumers.

The four manufacturers—Cascade Designs, Inc.; Dukang, Inc.; Ningbo Clean, Inc.; and PureEasy, Inc.—expect to make the products available beginning in the first quarter of 2012, exporting from China to developing countries worldwide.

Water filters designed for the user

Multiple interventions with low-income households in developing countries have demonstrated the health benefits of correct and consistent use of water filters. But the lack of appropriate, affordable, and effective water filters designed for these settings limits the potential benefits. To address this gap, PATH and our partners are spearheading a new approach, creating designs centered around users’ specific needs.

Each water filter incorporates the lessons of substantial field experience and sophisticated industrial design, representing the first applications of PATH’s Household Water Treatment and Storage Design Guidelines. The design guidelines are based on PATH’s study of product interactions among low-income users in the developing world—including more than 600 hours of careful in-home observation.

Our research found that first impressions matter. The aesthetics of the new filters blend traditional and modern themes, evoking both aspiration and familiarity. Intuitive assembly builds users’ confidence from the start. PATH found that many women clean the household’s kitchenware—including any water filters—every morning, often with an abrasive mixture of soil and water. Accordingly, the new water filters are designed with round corners so fingers can easily remove grime. Each unit holds enough water so users will only need to fill it two or three times per day.

The right partners for the mission

PATH identified partners with the core competencies necessary to bring to market water filters that are both compelling and accessible to low-income consumers in developing countries. Three new water filters are in progress—one each at Dukang, Ningbo Clean, and PureEasy. These water filters will accept a range of filter elements. Dukang and PureEasy are also developing filter elements, and Cascade Designs is developing an advanced filter element. Partners’ roles reflect their competencies.

Cascade Designs’ expertise is in water treatment under challenging conditions, including for the outdoor and military markets. The company, based in Seattle, collaborated with us to evaluate existing water filters, create a water filter reference design, and develop an advanced filter element.

Dukang, Ningbo Clean, and PureEasy are based in China and manufacture low-cost water filters and filter elements for developing countries’ mass markets, exporting widely to countries from Southeast and South Asia to Africa and beyond. Combined, they produce 200,000 water filters annually. When selecting partners, we focused on companies with entrepreneurial leadership and a strategic priority on innovation for the global mass market. Dukang and PureEasy have in-house labs, conduct research and development on filters, and produce more than five million ceramic filter elements annually.

The partners’ experience helped them engineer the products for low-cost production. Prices are expected to start at less than US$12 per unit wholesale at the factory gate, with each unit nested in a compact package only one cubic foot in volume to reduce shipping costs. Compatibility with a range of filter technologies will support low operating costs.

Standardization—better choices for consumers and producers

The partners’ forthcoming products are standardized on the new C1 Common Interface, which enhances safety and usability and enables water filters to accept any filter element that is also C1-compatible. The C1 Common Interface, established by PATH, is a design specification for the common connection point between a water filter and the filter elements that go inside of it and that require periodic replacement. The interface creates a classic “light bulbs and sockets” scenario so different brands’ products can work together.

PATH learned from users that replacing the filter elements in existing water filters is often too complex. We responded by engineering and field-testing the C1 Common Interface to provide a safe and satisfying user experience. The interface features safeguards to prevent upside-down installation of filter elements and leak-through of contaminated water around filter elements—even at the tricky moment when a user removes a filter element for cleaning and residual untreated water is present.

The C1 Common Interface improves choice for consumers and brands. Consumers can always choose the best available filter elements without replacing their whole water filter. Filter element makers can more easily partner with water filter brands to reach developing-country consumers. Water filter brands can take advantage of more sourcing and technology options. Proliferation of the interface will support higher-volume production, lowering prices for consumers. We will make the C1 Common Interface specification freely available for license starting in January 2012.

More information

Posted September 29, 2011.