What started as a challenge to deliver water to those in need has turned into a new way to make water containers that can be reused as building blocks for homes, schools and other structures.
Wendell Adams and his WaterBrick International Inc. have already built a concept home from the interlocking blow molded containers and are now preparing to build a school with them in rural South Africa.
We thought, 'What if we could rescue all those PET bottles from the landfill?' Adams said during the Society of Plastics Engineers 2009 Annual Blow Molding Conference, held Oct. 7-8 in East Lansing.
The WaterBrick project looks at inexpensive ways to address two emergency needs in developing countries: water and shelter. Adams had to start by rethinking the shape of the container.
WaterBrick worked with engineers to create interlocking bricks that can be neatly stacked onto a pallet for delivery, Adams said. Molded into each part is space for simple PVC pipe that snaps into place on the bricks that can be neatly stacked onto a pallet for delivery, Adams said.
The container can be filled with water, oil or food and is even tough enough to survive an air drop by parachute if necessary.
He then took the concept to consultant Daryle Damschroder and his D2 Blow Molding Solutions of Elmore, Ohio, and toolmaker FPM Tooling & Automation of Fremont, Ohio. Custom-Pak Inc. of Clinton, Iowa, and ACM Plastic Products Inc. of Sturgis, Mich., blow mold the high density polyethylene bricks.
We've got a lot of people who come in and see this and get really excited about it, said FPM President Martin Cass.
The real key to the WaterBrick is not just in water and food delivery, but in taking it another step, Adams said. Once the 3.4-gallon container is empty, it can be filled with sand or dirt to become a 48½-pound building block. The same interlocking ability that helps during shipping also works to create stable walls on the ground.
Adams is working with the 50,000-member Ngwenya Tribe in rural South Africa to create real-world prototypes proving out WaterBrick's potential for buildings, including plans for a school in Mkuze that would allow 350 children to attend classes near their home, rather than walk nine miles for an education.
Tribal housing typically does not provide protection from predators, so WaterBrick also can be used for more-secure homes, Adams said. The company built a 12-foot-by-12-foot test house near Orlando using 485 bricks.
Even beyond the potential in developing areas, Adams said, a sand-filled WaterBrick can withstand shrapnel, making it a possible replacement for sandbags in military zones.
WaterBrick is working with the International Red Cross and other emergency relief organizations to get the WaterBrick into the field, Adams said.
Copyright 2009 Crain Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.