Partner: Proximity Designs
ReFrame developed a new tripod frame to house IDE’s treadle pump. The new design lowered the cost of the frame while retaining much of the convenience and simplicity of the current off-the-shelf solution. When the pump hit store shelves, the response was overwhelmingly positive. 4,500 pumps were sold in the first six months. That year, the tripod pump became the most popular selling pump in Myanmar. As of May 2008, over 15,000 pumps with tripod frames have been sold.
Make a better and cheaper frame for existing pumps
Will Croisettier (biomechanical engineering), Sarah Stein Greenberg (business), Gustavo Romero (business), Jin Tsubota (product design)
For smallholder farmers in Myanmar during the dry season, irrigation makes all the difference in the world. The number of crops a farmer can irrigate determines the income she will generate. International Development Enterprises Myanmar (IDE|M) saw the clear need for a pump with enough water output to irrigate crops during the dry season, and successfully marketed a foot-powered treadle pump to farmers in Myanmar. The pump itself worked great.
The problem was with the pump’s frame.
The pump’s frame keeps the pump (and the pump operator) upright and steady during operation, and includes the treadles that the operator stands on. When customers bought the pump, they typically had two options when it came to frames: They could buy the pump head only—without any frame—and then take the pump head to a carpenter, who would build them a wooden frame. This option was usually cheapest, but it took a week (which often meant a second long trip into town), and if the carpenter didn’t get the geometries exactly right, the pump lost a lot of efficiency.
The other option was to buy the pump with a factory-installed metal frame and treadles. Although this guaranteed proper functioning of the pump and was ready-to-go after purchase, it almost doubled the cost of the pump, from around $15 to a bit under $30.
The design team realized that the sweet spot lay between the two existing options. They used a small amount of metal to fix the critical geometries (e.g. to position the axle) but made it easy for farmers to attach whatever wood or bamboo they already had on their farm to complete the frame. This way, they could get the best of both worlds: a high-performance, low-cost pump that could be set up without hiring a carpenter.
The team also realized that a triangular base was the most stable configuration on uneven terrain, and the pump head itself could serve as one leg of the tripod—saving even more on cost, and earning the frame its “tripod” name.
After three months of student work at Stanford and another few months of user testing and refinements in Myanmar, the design was ready to launch. The minimal metal frame fixed the location of the axle and the pistons with respect to the pump, but allowed farmers to add their own bamboo or wood legs and treadles. Farmers no longer needed a carpenter to build them a frame, and could install the pumps the same day they bought them. Because the tripod frame was much smaller and lighter than the original metal frames, shipping costs were reduced. With bamboo legs inserted into the tripod frame, the pump could be worn like a backpack and carried by foot back to farms several miles away. And because the tripod frame used minimal amounts of metal, it only added three dollars to the retail cost of the pump.
When the pump hit store shelves, the response was overwhelmingly positive. 4,500 pumps sold in the first six months. That year, the tripod pump became the most popular selling pump in Myanmar. As of May 2008, over 15,000 pumps with tripod frames have been sold. As other pump models have been developed by IDE|M, the tripod frame has been adapted to these models, and can now be seen on several kinds of IDE|M pumps.