1996 Associate Laureate, Applied Technology
South Africa, 1942-2013
Hans Hendrikse was a comfortable 50-year-old architect with his own business when he began work on developing a rollable water container with his younger brother Pieter, a civil engineer.
All around them they saw the problems caused by the shortage of clean, piped water. "At present water is mainly fetched by adult women in discarded plastic containers carried on their heads," notes Hendrikse. "Bear in mind that in some cases these containers have an unstable weight, when filled, of 10 kilograms. The long-term result is invariably damage to the neck vertebrae."
A Simple Solution
The Hendrikses set out to design an easy-to-move container that could be manufactured economically. It needed to be "as simple, repairable and replaceable as possible" so that it could be used in rural areas, and should not have to be lifted at all.
Combining their architectural and engineering skills, they came up with a drum with a doughnut hole that can be pulled using a rope run through the hole. "The principle of a durable cylindrical container rolled along the ground and pulled by a person walking as normally as possible appealed to us," explains Hendrikse.
The drum can also be turned on its end and stacked. The bung hole has been made large enough for an adult to be able to reach inside and draw water with a mug. It comes in both 50 and 70 litre sizes, reducing the time spent in fetching water. In parts of South Africa, women walk up to 30 kilometres a day to collect water for their family.
Testing the Q-drum
Conceiving the design was relatively easy. But seeing the project through to production, manufacture and distribution has proved time-consuming, expensive and frustrating. "My brother and I had to largely finance this project ourselves, to a point where we were almost financially exhausted," he says. One of the biggest challenges was to find a material which was sufficiently strong for daily use and yet affordable. Another was to find an industrial moulder: they contacted 17 moulders before they found one willing to make tests for the Q-Drum.
For two years, they worked with manufacturers to learn by trial and error how to adapt their design to practical reality. "The first trials were a dismal failure," Hendrikse reports. After alterations, Hendrikse and his brother ordered production of 30 containers for on-the-spot testing. They distributed the containers among users north of Pietersburg and areas of KwaZulu, and the results have been very encouraging. "To date all these containers are in daily use with many years of useful life left," Hendrikse says. They made more adjustments to the container design before ordering another test run.
So far most promotion of the Q-Drum has been through direct contacts. A number were made available locally for US$30 each. "We managed to sell about 200," notes Hendrikse, even though the cost represents "a small fortune" to poor people. Currently, efforts are under way to bring the price down even further. A second run of 300 Q-Drums is being distributed through various organizations, including humanitarian agencies. Getting investors interested has been harder, though the design is patented in more than 40 countries.
"After evaluating a drum that has been in use daily for 20 months, we calculated that it travelled a distance of 12,000 kilometres, made seven million revolutions, and provided 13 people with 120,000 litres of household water," Hendrikse declares proudly.
"Our initial marketing drive was to aid organizations, but we have come to the realisation that if the distribution of our product is exclusively dependent on charity, the project will not be sustainable. Our Q-drum has to be priced so that the consumer can afford to purchase it. We do realise that there are some people in the world who will always find the product too expensive, and in these instances the aid organizations will have to step in the breach," he says.
Published in 1996