Uponor will invest $15 million for starters in Phyn. The joint venture “significantly accelerates our efforts to make plumbing systems more intelligent,” Uponor Corp. President and CEO Jyri Luomakowski said in a press release.
Uponor makes mostly cross-linked polyethylene piping materials and with annual sales of $265.2 million is the 16th largest producer of pipe, profiles and tubing in North America, according to Plastics News rankings.
Phyn has patented pressure-sensing technology and with a single point of exposure to a plumbing system can tell how much water is being used by faucets, toilets, dishwashers, washing machines and irrigation systems, according to Bill Gray, president of Uponor North America.
“Much like electronic devices create characteristic signatures in an electrical system, devices in plumbing systems have their own unique signatures that can be measured and then interpreted, allowing for usage to be monitored” Gray said in a telephone interview.
“You'll figure out how much hot and cold water you're using inside your house and how much irrigation water you're using, and decide whether this is efficient,” he added. “The whole idea is that you can only improve what you can measure. And data leads to awareness and awareness to efficiency improvements, which is also known as conservation. We need to change our view of water. It is not an unlimited commodity, rather it is a scarce public resource.”
Water scarcity is a global concern because of climate change, droughts and pollution. Belkin cites a World Wildlife Fund projection that two-thirds of the world's population — some 4.5 billion people — may face a shortage of clean water by 2025.
In the meantime, in the U.S., more than 2 trillion gallons of treated water is lost annually to aging infrastructure, which is prone to pipe leaks and water main bursts.
“Besides the resource itself, water has a huge environmental footprint. Through pumping and treating, water has a huge amount of embedded energy,” Gray said. “I think anything you can do to limit or curb the waste of water, given that it is more of a necessity than a luxury, is good and I support anything that can help increase awareness of these issues.”
Most municipalities will admit that they lose 30 percent of their treated water to leaks before it gets to end users and another significant amount of water is lost inside the home through leaking toilet flapper valves, irrigation valves and the like, Gray added.
Phyn technology will give homeowners information that could help the save money a couple of ways. They will be able to adjust their water consumption and save on utility bills as well as monitor their household plumbing and catch leaks before damage that could lead to insurance claims.
Belkin has completed years of research and field trials and now the Uponor partnership will accelerate the commercialization of the technology, according to Phyn CEO Ryan Kim.
“With our rich background in consumer IoT, sensor and machine learning, coupled with Uponor's expertise in water delivery infrastructure, our dedicated team is ideally positioned to scale and deploy an intelligent water solution that sets a new bar for reliability, accuracy and intuitive user experience right out the gate,” Kim said in a news release.
Uponor's initial $15 million investment was made in exchange for a 37.5 percent shareholding. The investment will impact second quarter cash flow but not 2016 profit guidance. No timetable has been set for the first product launch.
Uponor has the option to invest another $10 million for a 50 percent share of Phyn. A second JV in Europe also is planned at a later stage.