Design programs for the plumbing industry


With the advent of 3D animation, design programs have revolutionised the field of design as a whole. The Autodesk suite is a collection that reaches towards the forefront of design capabilities. Plumbing Africa looks into Autodesk Fusion 360 and how it was used for the Community Plumbing Challenge.

Autodesk Fusion 360 can be described as AutoCAD 3D reinvented. Fusion 360 is a cloud-based 3D computer assisted design (CAD), computer aided manufacturing (CAM), and computer aided engineering (CAE) platform for product development. It replaces manual drafting.

AutoCAD, part of the Autodesk suite, was the first program of its kind to be invented and is still the most widely used. Fusion 360 combines industrial and mechanical design, as well as simulation and machining in a single package. It can also be set-up so collaborators can access the program from anywhere in the world to work on and update a particular design. The tools enable fast exploration of ideas and are written for both Apple Mac computers and PCs. Newcomers agree: it makes design faster and simpler than ever before.

In July, the Community Plumbing Challenge took place in the impoverished township Diepsloot, in the north-west of Johannesburg, where several communal toilets were removed from their settings, revamped using local materials, and reinstalled. In this challenge, four teams compete from around the world, each typically made up of four members including plumbers, metal fabricators and architects, all younger than 28. This challenge enabled the multidisciplinary teams from the US, India, Australia, and South Africa to work together. Each team came up with their own design, and then worked on another toilet stall alongside members of other teams to derive the most benefit from cross-pollinating skills and experience. It was a high-pressure exercise, as teams had to build eight toilet cubicles all together and in less than a week.

Intensive training
Six weeks before the event took place, the Autodesk team of Student Expert designers started preparing for the challenge by receiving intensive training from Autodesk partner Modena over the six-week period. The Student Experts were then divided into groups to design the toilets together with the international teams. They collaborated with local Diepsloot residents on toilet designs by using Fusion 360 to supplement the revamp of essential communal toilet and sanitation equipment. The group of Student Experts was chosen from the Universities of Johannesburg and Witwatersrand.

Autodesk Fusion 360 Student Expert Michael Maloto was of the opinion that the concept of using a toilet brush to clean a toilet was not customary in the township. For this reason, he designed a toilet spray that uses a jet of water to clean a toilet. Maloto said he had developed a spray that was both user-friendly and could be used by a child. He added that he had used so many design programs before, such as Adobe and AutoCAD, but preferred Fusion 360 because it was so advanced.

Student Expert Abel Moedi is passionate about design. He said his CAD skills have improved substantially, and that working with Fusion 360 has enabled him to be more innovative. “It makes everything easier and I found that it took me only two days to learn. I designed a water filter to be attached to a hose that can be inserted into a tap to clean the water.” Working alongside Moedi was Wits student Korana Mokae. She said the experience has taught her that you don’t need a degree to learn these sophisticated skills — you just need exposure.

“For my first design, we designed a toilet for the Indian team. We used a different concrete pipe for the toilet. The toilet has a slab and the floor is made of concrete. It also has water meters. Now I am designing a filter for the tap so that the potable water is always clean,” said Wits School of Mechanical Engineering student Roy Rakubela.

In early September (after the challenge had been completed), Plumbing Africa spoke to Matthew Bell, global strategic partnerships manager for Autodesk Education Experiences. “The response from everyone to the community challenge has been incredibly positive. The amount of feedback I got from Autodesk training partners was overwhelming. They want to get involved in the next Community Plumbing Challenge,” said Bell.

Water monitoring
Bell explained that the monitoring is taking place via the community organisation, Water, Amenities, and Sanitation Services Upgrading Program (Wassup) and that this information is being communicated to the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO).

“Autodesk BIM 360™ Field enabled the connection between what’s happening out in the field and the central monitoring. It has the functionality where you could have monitoring systems out on site, say, in a township or a factory. Recordings from those monitors can feed to a central location and, for example, maintenance teams could be notified of a water leak or a shortage somewhere via a text message on a mobile phone or via an app. This helps to plan the maintenance procedures and it can also identify where there are breakages.”

Bell explained that the Community Plumbing Challenge team presented the concept to Joburg Water in July, and showed those who attended the software’s potential. The entire Diepsloot township could be drone scanned and it is possible to map out the location of water supplies, drainage, as well as toilets and their watering monitoring systems.

The challenge was framed as a ‘competition’, but all teams were announced winners, as the entire project succeeded in uplifting the community. The aim was also to identify which materials are most robust, so that an eclectic design or prototype could ultimately be assembled using the best elements of each design. The intention is that a government agency latches on to the design and implements the prototype. The project also proved that 3D design software doesn’t just ease the design of world-class and award-winning architecture, but can further the aims of grassroots projects.

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