By Jassi Bedi
Heritage Minute video
Many developing nations still suffer from a lack of clean drinking water but an invention in 1978 lessened this problem to some degree.
Professors Alan Plumtree and Alfred Rudin designed a hand operated water pump at the University of Waterloo, called the Waterloo Pump. The project was requested of them by the International Development Research Centre and it took only six months to design.
They got their inspiration from the Mennonites of southwestern Ontario and the simplicity of the pumps they used in their communities. Plumtree and Rudin sought to create a pump that was versatile, intuitive and easily repaired.
The Waterloo Pump simulated a piston much like that of a combustion engine. Standard pumps at the time were made of steel or iron, which is rather expensive to smelt. These pumps would rust easily and break down within a year. Given how complex the machinery is they’re really difficult and expensive to repair as well.
Plumtree and Rodin’s solution to these problems was to substitute metal for plastic, especially since many developing countries have very few steel foundries. Molding technology, however, is common and relatively inexpensive. So the team settled on the use of polyvinylchloride (PVC) plastic since it’s inexpensive, non-corrosive and could easily be produced within the country that needs the pump.
The simple design also meant it’s easy to fix and parts can be glued together rather than welded. Some countries found ways to circumvent the need for certain new parts. While standard metal pumps can last up to a year without a repair the Waterloo Pump has a lifespan of eight years.
The Waterloo Pump not only remains relevant but is also still being iterated on. The most popular of these redesigns is the UNIMADE model, created by the University of Malaya, and is used in 13 countries.