January 12, 2017, by Emma Lowry
Student design could solve African grain wastage problem
A product design and manufacture graduate at The University of Nottingham recently received a major design award for his low-cost grain storage unit which aims to help prevent post-harvest crop losses on small African farms.
Anthony Brown, 22, from Walton-on-Thames, near London, won the “Waste Not, Want Not” challenge in the RSA Student Awards 2016; a category for designs that minimise food wastage.
With a 500kg maize grain capacity, his winning concept, the Si-Low, could help many smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who currently lack storage facilities to keep their harvested grain pest- and disease-free.
Made from High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) plastic, the Si-Low uses a hermetic seal to prevent moisture and air from entering or leaving the unit so the grain lasts longer. The Si-Low is power-free so has no running costs and can be set up in any location.
While there are existing grain stores on the market, none offer the storage at such an affordable price. One current solution, a hand-made metal silo, costs more than $200. This is too expensive for many of the small holdings that need them. By comparison, the Si-Low would cost $20-40 for farmers to buy.
The Si-Low uses a simple, mass-produced design; it is rotationally-moulded as just one manufactured part which is cut into two – the base and the top – which affords easier stacking during transportation. The top part simply slots into the base and a tube of sealant is used to fix it in place and seal the gap. The inlet and outlet caps are then screwed on and the Si-Low is assembled and ready to use.
As just one mould is needed in its production, there is a significant cost-saving because mould tooling costs are the biggest price contributor on manufacturing plastic products. As Si-Low is stackable, more could be fitted into each lorry, allowing for a more sustainable, lower-cost, transportation process.
Anthony, who graduated summer 2016, plans to take year’s ‘break’ before embarking on a full-time career in industrial design. In the meantime, he will combine work, with travel and advancing the Si-Low.
His next step is to make prototypes to test the function of the Si-Low design and also to meet with experts and organisations that will help him progress the project further. Anthony is also investigating potential funding to commercialise the project. Industrial backing, he thinks, could help to fund design development as well as distribution and marketing.
“Many organisations look for ways to improve the world with their investments, and backing a product like this, with so many charitable benefits, would definitely fulfil a company’s corporate social responsibilities.”
Every year the Product Design and Manufacture MEng course, based in Nottingham’s Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering department, runs a coursework project for third- and fourth- year students around the RSA Design Awards. The best projects are entered into the Awards by the University and this year Si-Low was among those submitted.
From initial ideas generation to the design process, Anthony believes his course tutors were a huge help making Si-Low the award-winner it is today. The course too, he says, is structured to give students maximum one-on-one time with tutors, which provides valuable guidance for its budding designers.
“Using function to develop an aesthetic is a vital part of design,” says Anthony, whose outlook is influenced by Sir Jonathon Ive at Apple Inc., who incidentally won two RSA awards as a student. “Form and function should not be mutually exclusive. On the course we learnt to design products which are realistic and can be applied in the real world; it is a skill which sets us up perfectly for future careers in the industry. As a designer, I have a rare opportunity to improve people’s lives through my work. That inspires me every day,” adds Anthony.