Engineers need to be able to design a product that meets expectations and which comes in on time and, preferably, under budget. But there's another element which isn't always considered – and that's meeting a global need. In the case of Andrew Burrows from i20 Water, it's saving water – an increasingly precious resource.
And it was as a result of Burrows' design that the panel of judges at British Engineering Excellence Awards (BEEAs) chose him as the winner of both the 2010 Design Engineer of the Year and the Grand Prix Awards.
Burrows, a chartered engineer, member of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects and an active member of the International Water Association, won the accolade for his design of the i2O's Smart Water System, which can reduce water leakage by 20%. He designed an intelligent valve, controlled by a central server which learns the behaviour of the network and constantly adjusts the pressure to the optimum.
The judges described Burrows' work as 'an elegant solution to an urgent worldwide problem arrived at by thorough process and methodology' and 'A great idea making a real impact on a global problem'.
So what has happened since then?
Having won both the 2010 Grand Prix and Design Engineer of the year awards by a panel of judges including David Kynaston, Colin Brown and Kate Bellingham, what did this mean to you?
As innovators and engineers we can get so involved in our technology that we don't really realise what an impact it is having outside of the design office. The solution that we have built is now having an impact on a really major problem, and it is great, not only for me, but for all the team of very talented engineers who have supported this vision, to receive recognition for the effort, the innovation and what it is now doing for this urgent problem.
Since you won the awards have there been any further developments / industry reactions to the Smart Water System?
Yes, things are moving very quickly for us now. The system is now becoming recognised as the most economic solution to solving water shortage. In Malaysia we are now saving 20million litres per day from just 100 systems, we are in detailed discussions with water companies and governments in many countries to use our technologies to solve the problems of water supply shortage and wastage. We have also launched a new application of our technology which allows water companies to make substantial savings in energy consumption in pumping water and this is now also receiving a great deal of attention.
You jointly filed a patent for a valve which had a hydraulic feature that enabled it to be actuated 400 times per day for five years using only tiny amounts of energy. Can you tell us more?
The pilot valve is just one of the many innovations in our system – but a key one to enable us to smoothly control the pressure reducing valves. The pilot valve maintains the fundamental operation of a hydraulic pilot valve; which provides its inherent reliability, but introduces a smooth sliding and rotating control component which can move with tiny amounts of energy where previously it required the brute force of a spanner to adjust.
Can you describe any other developments / patents that you have worked on since 2010?
We are now working on an even more innovative pilot valve which will bring more capability to our system and enhance the operating envelope of the existing pressure reducing valves. Probably the most innovative feature of the system is the architecture with the centralised server and artificial intelligence which automatically learns the network characteristics and remotely optimizes ...and that is also being significantly enhanced. We are working on a couple of other technologies which we are looking to patent during 2011.
Finally, what would you say to any companies reluctant to nominate a design engineer for the British Engineering Excellence Awards 2011?
The award demonstrates very clearly to our customers that we have developed something really rather special – an innovation which is out of the ordinary and makes our customers and potential customers see us as a provider of the leading technology in our sector. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend other companies to nominate for the award.
If you would like to submit an entry for the 2011 BEEAs, you only have until 31st July 2011. Go to BEEAs entry page