High Achiever: Innovation Mastery: Magnet Product Design & Development

A non-profit organization helps to fund and develop an innovative replacement part for toilet tanks with the potential to save millions of gallons of water.

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Posted on Sep 03, 2009

A few years ago, Walter Berry got a big surprise when he opened the water bill for his small vacation home in Arizona. Although no one had used the house for several months, the bill was $500. Berry’s home had sprung a leak. Specifically, the toilet had been leaking due to a failed flapper, the piece of rubber that normally holds water in the tank. How many other homeowners have faced a similar surprise, Berry wondered. It turns out, a lot. Conventional rubber flappers can fail in as little as three years, thanks to cleaning chemicals and other factors. Studies have estimated that, with some 222 million residential toilets out there, silent leaks due to failed flappers waste up to 11 million gallons of water per day. In water-starved places such as Arizona and California, that’s a big environmental impact. So Berry, a former insurance professional and a self-described serial innovator, decided to see if he could develop and sell a better flapper. Low on investment capital, Berry learned about Magnet Product Design & Development, a non-profit organization in Cleveland that provides innovation consulting to manufacturers, is funded by the Ohio Department of Development, and oversees a public loan fund program that helps small manufacturers develop innovative new products. Magnet decided to help fund Berry’s idea, which, two years later, became Siphon Flush, a toilet flapper replacement that uses an air barrier to block the unwanted flow of water from a toilet tank. Magnet’s team, led by Senior Design Engineer Dave Pierson, developed the product for just $130,000, 65% under the project’s initial budget. For this, Magnet was selected as the Progressive Manufacturing Award High Achiever in the Innovation Mastery category for 2009. Key to its quick, low-cost development of the Siphon Flush was Magnet’s use of the Goldfire product innovation software from Invention Machine Corp. The tool allowed Pierson to trace the historical evolution of the traditional flapper and to quickly evaluate and test a variety of new options for radically improving on the design. Production of the Siphon Flush began earlier this summer and, although Berry has not yet launched a major marketing effort, his company already has more than 17,000 orders for the device, many of them from water districts.

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