Design

Engineering a more efficient and sustainable future

30th September 2022
Paige West

The Washing Machine Project is an organisation providing displaced and low-income communities with an accessible, off-grid washing solution. Electronic Specifier’s Paige West spoke with Navjot Sawhney, Founder of The Washing Machine Project about the inspiration behind the organisation’s foundation and the impact the machines have had on lives, worldwide.

This article originally appeared in the August'22 magazine issue of Electronic Specifier Design – see ES's Magazine Archives for more featured publications.

Taking inspiration from his father, an aerospace engineer, Navjot has always been obsessed with new and innovative things from a very young age. He studied aerospace engineering at Queen Mary University of London and went on to join one of the world’s key graduate programmes at a global technology company, making vacuum cleaners.

Three years on, Navjot felt his engineering innovations could be put to a bigger, more positive use. So, he applied for an International Placement Programme at Engineers Without Borders UK – a charity that sends engineers around the world to work on social projects. He landed a role in India, making efficient cookstoves with an Engineering a more efficient and sustainable future organisation called Prakti.

Whilst working on this project, Navjot lived in a very rural village. Water was only switched on twice a day, once at 6am and again at 6pm – and that was only for about 15 minutes which meant there was a mad dash to fill every available utensil before it was switched off again. It was here that Navjot noticed his neighbour, Divya, perform the back-breaking work of hand washing clothes because she couldn’t afford an electric washing machine.

Did you know that 70% of the world’s population lack access to an electric washing machine?

Handwashing clothes sounds like a simple task, but it is such an inefficient way of performing this kind of everyday, mundane, relatively unproductive task and it’s often taken for granted. Not only that, but it also affects the well-being and livelihood of women worldwide – in that it is so time consuming and unpaid, so it limits the capacity for them to do paid work.

This is when Navjot had his lightbulb moment – maybe he could make a washing machine.

Navjot comments: “The art of washing clothes has been around for centuries, and electric machines have been around for years so we’re not doing anything new, we’re just making it accessible for the vast majority of the world’s population who are absolutely on the poverty line or are refugees.

“To begin with, we spent a lot of time and effort trying to do as much research as possible on washing habits. In the last three years, we’ve interviewed about 3,500 families on washing habits, across 17 different countries. What it gave us was a very good indication of how big the drum size needs to be, how much weight people are comfortable carrying, where they normally wash their clothes, how much they spend on detergent, etc. and we designed around that.”

The Divya 1.5 is a manual, off-the-grid washer-dryer machine. Inspired by a salad spinner, it saves up to 75% of the water and 50% of the time compared to handwashing, thanks to powerful and intelligent components. It weighs 35kg, has a load capacity of 5kg, spins around 500 revolutions per minute and has one to five gearing ratios. The target cost is £50, and it comes with a two-year warranty.

The Washing Machine Project designs, manufactures and distributes these machines to dozens of villages around the world. Not only that, but the machines have been distributed to people in refugee camps globally as a means to give them access to clean clothes. The first batch of 30 machines were sent to a camp in northern Iraq back in 2021 and more recently, in June 2022, the machines were sent to Ukrainians displaced by the Russian invasion.

Navjot travelled to Poland to meet with groups supporting Ukrainian refugees and, at the time of writing, he was in Lebanon also offering his support.

By 2023, the plan is to have at least 7,500 machines available to disadvantaged families and communities in 10 countries, providing relief to around 100,000 people. But to continue the good work, the project requires essential funding and support.

Already, the project partners with agencies to provide aid and opportunities to their beneficiaries as well as corporate organisations and universities to provide outreach opportunities to students. One such corporate organisation is RS Components, who chose The Washing Machine Project as its first global charity partner, pledging to support the project for three years. With an innovative engineering solution at its heart, the mission of The Washing Machine Project resonated with Electrocomponents’ own, as both organisations share the ambition of creating DESIGN: INNOVATIONS a more sustainable world.

The project also has the support of organisations such as The United Nations and Oxfam and have featured on platforms like the BBC and in The Guardian.

Navjot continues: “The project isn’t just me now. We have seven full-time staff and around 20 volunteers from around the world.”

By providing refugees and indigent citizens with an alternative to handwashing, Navjot and his team are saving communities time, water, and energy as well as mitigating the associated health risks.

In a world were climate change (as clearly highlighted recently with the heat wave in Europe), water and fuel shortages are fast becoming critical in many areas, Navjot and his team require considerable R&D support, financial backing, and distribution assistance so if you, your company, financial institution or charity can provide any assistance at all, please contact hello@thewashingmachineproject.org or karen@kmpr.co.uk.

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