Small tweaks and a big passion to save water

Could a little plastic doohickey change our water habits? We talked to Antony about the work with the water saving nozzle, trials and errors and what one dry summer in Sweden taught him about how water is distributed around the world.

Antony is holding five small plastic pieces in his hand. If you put them together, you have the water nozzle MISTELN. At least what the nozzle looks like at the moment, because it is still in development. He recently brought the plastic pieces back with him from the development supplier where they had made some more small adjustments.

Antony Smith, product development engineer at IKEA, have worked together with the Swedish innovation company Altered on this little device for more than a year now. By applying IKEA design thinking to Altered’s already existing technology, the nozzle can reduce water use by more than 90 percent. And it will work with almost all taps in the world since it comes with an adaptor kit.

Right now the team is working on the final steps before they have a fully functioning and tested solution. During the last visit with the development supplier they made small adjustments to make the switch between the mist and spray functions more durable, for example.

“It looks like a very simple product, but to mass produce this product is another game. It is a little bit of science and innovation, and then some trial and error. We are quite passionate about getting this nozzle spot on,” says Antony.

Left: Prototype tooling for the tap adaptors, with the adaptors in place. Right: Antony and a supplier engineer test the latest samples for the first time.      

Is it a challenge to make the nozzle out of plastic?

“Yes, for sure. We are stretching what is possible when we make this both small and out of plastic— partly of recycled plastic— which is why this takes a little longer than we first thought. By choosing plastic, we hope to reach many more and we aim to sell this for less than 5 EUR. I strongly believe that it is going to be worth all efforts it in the end,” says Antony.

There is a collective passion for getting the nozzle spot on. The teams from IKEA and Altered together with the supplier agree that collaboration is the way to do it.

“This is really a collaborative work. With Altereds’ support, we send the updated drawings to the supplier, agree with them the changes we want to make, get a new adjusted version back and try the samples again here at IKEA and at Altered, and together agree on what to do next.”

The product engineer explains the tooling split lines which have proved to be a key area in the development.  

Water solutions for our homes are hardly anything new to Antony. He started working with taps and showers in England almost twenty years ago and came to Sweden to develop the tap and shower range. Six years later he joined the Extreme Water Saving project and immediately experienced something that made him want to learn even more about how water is distributed around the world.

“We live in the forest and we get our water from a well. One summer, at the same time as we started this water saving project, we ran out of water at home and had to drive into town with a big container on a trailer. Sweden is not the first country you think of when you talk about water scarcity. In Australia, South Africa and California, for example, it has been a real issue for decades.”

There is a lot of knowledge on how to save water, but what drives Antony is to find a solution to reduce the use of water in a low-cost way.

“If you live in Cape Town, where you are limited to 50 liters per person a day compared to western Europe where we use approximately 140 liters per day, a water saving solution like MISTELN can make a big impact on your life. With our reach at IKEA we can certainly make a difference, and if we can start making a change, others will follow.”

Left: An insert from the tool that makes the filter. Notice the tiny details with a dimensional tolerance of +/-0.05mm, about the thickness of human hair. Right: Antony Smith, product development engineer at IKEA.

How do you collaborate with IKEA customers on this project?

“When MISTELN works the way we want, we are going to produce a thousand and give them to customers in Spain, USA, Australia and a couple of other countries with water challenges. Hopefully, we will learn more from the customers on how they use it, if they use it, what is good about it, what is bad about it.”

What have you learned so far that IKEA can use for future products?

“Many of our future products will be similar, with collaborations. We want to bring innovation into IKEA with speed, and one thing we have learned is that we need to be even more efficient and collaborative like we do with MISTELN.”

Any kind of product you wish to work on in the future?

“The utopia for us is to make a household water positive. A home where you close the loop and the fresh water comes from the water you already have or from rainwater. The technology is available, it is the cost and the habits we have to work on. What we do now with MISTELN is one first trial step in the right direction!”

When can I buy a MISTELN?

“It would be awesome if we can have it in our stores early 2020, but we still have some work to do to prove the innovative solution reliable,” says Antony.