A simple solution

Posted on Nov 9, 2015 :: Education and Training
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

The principal behind Ockham’s Razor holds that the simple solution is usually the best.

A team of plumbers and engineers participating in this month’s Community Plumbing Challenge will give that principle a real world test as they tackle the task of using plumbing to improve the lives of nearly 500 students attending Municipal School 125 in Nashik, India.

The U.S. team — which includes two plumbing apprentices and an instructor from Fox Valley Technical College — must solve the challenge of improving hygiene and sanitation facilities in a school with inadequate bathroom facilities and a limited water supply. Plus, the plumbing solution must be easy to maintain and replicate.

Simplicity will be critical for success.

“We have to keep it pretty simple so they can effectively maintain it and replicate it,” says Randy Lorge, a plumbing apprenticeship instructor at FVTC and one of the coaches for the U.S. team. “Our project centers on the washroom so the kids will use it. We have to make it work and teach them why that is important.”

This is the second year of the worldwide Community Plumbing Challenge. Interestingly enough, the U.S. team is comprised entirely of professionals from Wisconsin. In addition to the plumbing apprentices and instructor from FVTC, the team’s two engineers and its other coach are from the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

The competition took place Nov. 2 to 4. The objective was for teams to create a solution to plumbing problems for impoverished areas of the world that can be easily and cost-effectively supported and replicated in other locations.

That has meant a departure from the normal routines and resources used on the job.

“We’ve really had to open up the brain and do some creative thinking,” says Adam Koenigs, a plumbing apprentice with J.F. Ahern in Fond du Lac and one of the two FVTC students on the team. “We can’t just fire up the power tools and start threading pipe. We’ve had to really think about how we do each step.’

The setting and the challenge differ from most jobs they have faced.

Nashik, a city in western India, has a population rapidly approaching 1.5 million. School 125 is home to 500 students between ages 5 and 15, both boys and girls. Located in a densely-populated area, the school caters to some of the poorest social groups in the city and lacks much of the basic infrastructure found in more affluent neighborhoods or private schools.

Bathroom facilities are limited and basic. There are three basic toilet facilities, one male and two female, with a total of 13 toilets for girls and seven for boys. These facilities lack a reliable water supply for flushing and hand washing. The toilet rooms are dark and poorly ventilated. As a result, the facilities cannot be cleaned effectively, hygiene is poor, and this discourages their use, according to the challenge documents.

Between the main boys and girls toilets is a small room providing eight taps and a sink for use by both students and staff members. This room is used for handwashing and for drinking water — though the taps are broken and there is no water filtration.

The sole source of water is tanks on the roof which are filled at the beginning of each school day.

Using simple materials and hand tools, the U.S. team has created a solution that will restore the functionality of the handwashing stations and will increase the number available. One sink will include a simple filtration system for filling water bottles.

To improve sanitation — the toilets are trough toilets with no flushing capability — the system will capture wastewater from the handwashing stations that can be used to flush the toilets.

The challenge was to create a plumbing solution that will improve the functionality of the facilities, promote better hand washing and enable local residents to easily maintain or replicate the system.

It’s much more than plumbing, it’s also education.

As part of its solution, the team has developed pictorial, step-by-step instructions for the installation and maintenance of its proposed solution, as well as educational games and skits to emphasize the importance of handwashing and overall hygiene, Lorge says.

That’s been a unique challenge for team members. 

“Coming up with lesson plans when I’m not a teacher has been a challenge,” says Peter Hollmaier, an apprentice with SBS Plumbing in Oshkosh who rounds out the FVTC members of the team. “We will be teaching kids — who have a short attention span — and we’re not sure how well they understand English.”

Still, the team was undaunted and the excitement was building as the group prepared for its Oct. 31 departure to Mumbai, India. From there, the teams traveled by bus to Nashik for the competition. One last-minute addition to Lorge’s suitcase was a supply of whiteboards to help team members teach and explain
by illustration.

At the competition site, each of the international teams presented its solution and a winner was chosen. From there, it changed from competition to collaboration: the winning team became the project manager while the others became the labor force constructing the solution.

The teams had just four days to accomplish the installation, documentation and education components of the winning design.

No matter the results of the competition — and the team was certainly excited about the prospects of its design being selected — Lorge and his former students were
looking forward to representing both country and school on an international stage.

“I’d like to think it speaks well to the skills we emphasize here at FVTC,” says Lorge, who has already been tapped as one of the coaches for the 2016 challenge. “It’s an opportunity to showcase those skills in a way they might not get to here at home.”