Smart technology for the bathtub

The engineering research team at Niagara College has helped a leading plumbing products manufacturer and distributor further its innovative smart-drain prototype. Once commercialized, the bathtub device will allow users to close and open the drain – for filling and emptying – using smart technology.

For this device, the market is primarily for seniors or people with mobility limitations and their support workers. “The need comes from people with mobility issues as well as caregivers to provide an easier way for them to open and close the drain,” explains the company’s general manager. “Imagine having to do that manually while the bather is still in the tub. This provides more dignity.”

Given that their expertise is in plumbing drainage, the business sought out help with the electronic/software engineering capabilities to develop a home integration system.

The Research & Innovation team at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre involved students from various programs, including Mechanical Engineering Technology, Electrical Engineering Technology, and Computer Programming, all with the expert help of an experienced Research Lead.

The research team at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre discusses the combination of mechanical, electronic, and software solutions for the smart technology bathtub drain. (from left) Allan Spence, PhD, Research Lead;  Students/Research Assistants: Tyler Winger, Lington Diego Gomes Maia, Samantha Jemison, and Curtis Plante.

“It was like having a small research division of our company,” says the industry partner. “This has been a great learning experience for us and has improved our knowledge base.”

The device will be targeted to the bath manufacturers, but installed by a licensed plumber, notes the company.

“For the industry partner, we were uniquely able to advance their software and electronics direction that is outside their everyday business scope,” says Research Lead Allan Spence, PhD. “The special combination of mechanical, electronic, and software is the core of Internet of Things.”

For Mechanical Engineering Student Samantha Jemison, she says working on this project brought her a new perspective that has changed the way she will analyze projects going forward.

“As we continued, more small ideas, realizations, and setback slowly modified the project in ways we could never have predicted,” she says. “This project has also taught me that to make something that is user friendly, safe, and affordable, there is going to be a lot of engineering involved.”

With the prototype in hand, the company’s next goal is to review with the certification body for technical standard compliance. This will be followed by a review with potential clients.

“The College provided much-needed expertise and man hours in order to advance this project,” the general manager adds. “We could not have done it without them.”

The applied research project was funded by the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI).

To read about other innovative projects at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre, check out the website.