UC Davis D-Lab: An Invitation to Design for the Other 90%.

By Paula Balbontin

UC Davis D-Lab connects students willing to create sustainable solutions that serve international community partners facing poverty and inequality challenges.

Challenge #1: How to Create an Adjustable PET Bottle Stripper?

Miguel Chavez, Director of the Innovation Center of Vila Nova Esperança (IC-VNE) and his team located in Sao Paulo, Brazil were running out of ideas. The PET Bottle Stripper, one of the existing technologies created to reuse plastic bottles in Sao Paulo and promote environmental and social sustainability, was not as productive as they expected. The main reason: The PET bottle stripper could not be adapted to different bottle sizes. Should they build multiple PET bottle strippers for each bottle size or may be go to the market and find a new one? The need to bring new ideas and knowledge to find solutions to this challenge moved Miguel to look for external support.

On Spring 2015, the case was presented to the UC Davis D-Lab II class, where students interested in learning about waste recycling technologies and willing to apply their knowledge to solve real world problems were invited to join the team. Two graduate students, Ryan Pang and Daniel Quinn accepted the challenge. How to adapt an existing PET bottle stripper and improve its performance while keeping costs as low as possible?

With the hope to find new ways to improve the PET Bottle Stripper at the Center, Miguel acted as a mentor and advisor while Professor Kurt Kornbluth and Jorge Espinosa assisted as D-Lab mentors, guiding the students through the design process and providing resources to pilot their designs at D-Lab.

Weekly meetings with Miguel, in-class mentorship, and guidance on benchmarking, prior art research, and evaluating ideas under a design criteria previously established, provided the students with the tools needed to create three designs piloted at D-Lab.

“The results were consistent, the design allowed different plastic strip sizes, accommodates different bottle sizes, ability to replace razor blades, and most importantly, it is safe to use”.     D-Lab Students, Spring 2015.