Kohler enlists Industrial Molds to contribute to clean water program

Produced molds for Kohler Clarity water filtration system
April 19, 2016

Clean water is a growing concern among many of the world’s populations. World class mold manufacturer Industrial Molds Inc. (Rockford, IL) was recently selected by Kohler Co. (Kohler, WI) to oversee the manufacture of six molds used to produce the Kohler Clarity water filtration system, a stand-alone, non-electric, gravity-fed system that is being distributed in parts of the world where clean water is not readily available.

When Industrial Molds VP Tim Peterson heard that Kohler planned to manufacture and distribute the Clarity systems at cost to NGOs, he agreed to further the cause by overseeing the mold builds at cost. “When I learned of Kohler’s plans I wanted to follow their lead,” says Peterson. “We decided to oversee the tooling project at no cost to Kohler. We are honored to have been involved in a project that has such significant global implications.”

According to Tim White, Business Development Manager—Water Technologies, Kohler has for a number of years organized projects through the company’s stewardship program—Innovation for Good. “It’s a team of about 100 Kohler associates who are passionate about helping others and to use their skill sets to impact important issues—particularly those that affect our Kohler associates,” White explains.      

In October of 2013, Kohler learned of water quality and availability issues some of the Company’s associates in India were experiencing due to a drought in that country. “The Innovations for Good participants began thinking about what we could do to help our own associates get clean drinking water as there were not a lot of solutions for them during this time,” says White. “We put our minds together to figure out a better product—a beautiful product they’d be proud to have in their homes. That’s something we at Kohler do well with our innovative focus on product design to make beautiful products that work really well.”

The result was the Kohler Clarity, an innovative produce with a ceramic filtration system that will help 1.8 billion people in remote regions to access safe, reliable drinking water. Kohler is working with humanitarian organizations such as World Vision, International Development Enterprises (iDE), Water Mission and others to get the Clarity water system to people in need.

Designed following global health leader PATH’s C1 filter guidelines, Kohler Clarity is simple to use and works on gravity alone, with no electricity or water infrastructure needed. The filter holds 11 liters (2.9 gallons) of dirty water that flows into a 12-liter (3.1-gallon) reservoir, where the clean water is stored to avoid recontamination. The system is designed to provide a family of four with the potable water they need for the day, removing over 99% of bacteria and protozoa to meet the World Health Organization’s interim-level water quality guidelines.

Mike Radloff, Senior Project Manager—Water Technologies for Kohler, said, “Our goal with Kohler Clarity is to provide a filter extremely efficient at creating safe drinking water that also becomes a fixture of convenience and dignity in a home. Kohler engineers and designers love a challenge and have high standards.”

Since the product would be manufactured using plastic, getting the molds made by a Kohler partner known for their engineering expertise in mold design and build was critical to the success of the project. However, White explains, that because this program was implemented with a different business model than usual, Kohler needed to find partners to contribute molds at their cost. As a current, proven vendor for Kohler, the Company approached Industrial Molds’ VP Tim Peterson about participating in this endeavor.

“It did not take much convincing to get them to participate,” White said. “The leadership team at Industrial was very gracious and agreed to do everything at cost. They didn’t want anything more other than the ability to publicize the program.”   

Industrial Molds managed the process of building the molds in China using a trusted partner with which Industrial had built a relationship. Industrial’s Account Manager Joe Hansen was brought in as he manages the relationship with the China vendor for Industrial and is experienced in that arena.

The Clarity project required a great deal of collaboration between Kohler, Industrial and the Chinese mold manufacturer. Radloff noted that one of the first calls he made to Industrial Molds on the program was to review tooling drawings. “We had regular phone calls to review the molds and exchange input,” said Radloff. “Industrial provided good suggestions on part thicknesses to avoid sink and advice on gate location, as well as program scheduling. We asked for some atypical things but Industrial Molds responded quickly to our requests for answers. We found that response time very amazing.”

The tooling package consisted of six molds: the lid, the upper chamber, a lower chamber that collects the clean water, the stand, filter holder to hold the ceramic filter, and a nut to secure the filter. The spigot is purchased. The upper and lower chambers are molded in virgin clarified PP. Because Kohler needed robust parts, the wall thickness was increased, but that resulted the part being cloudy. Kohler needed transparency so that users could see the water dripping into the collection (lower) chamber. At the last minute, a surface texture was added at Industrial’s suggestion in order to help improve transparency.

Joe Hansen and Wes Stephens, Industrial Account Manager, went to China with Kohler’s Radloff and a tooling engineer, to oversee mold tryouts. They did a small-lot run of 150 parts and shipped them to Industrial Molds for a quality check as Kohler needed samples for a show. Other Clarity systems went to Kohler in India where Kohler personnel performed beta testing on the Clarity system.

“We set up a lot of extra out-of-the-norm activities such as getting the sample parts made in China to have parts in hand,” said Radloff. “We had Industrial do a lot of extra work in setting everything up with the Chinese mold vendor, but they were always there to help us when needed. I was amazed how smooth everything went in China. Everything we asked for came out exactly as it was supposed to. Industrial Molds’ people were professional. It was one of my most enjoyable trips to China. It was quick; we got in and got things done within the timeline we needed.”

The molds were then shipped to Industrial for the breakdown, inspection, cleaning and final checks prior to being shipped to the Kohler molding facility in Sheridan, Arkansas, where production was scheduled to begin at the end of January.

Tim White expressed his satisfaction for the project and the entire group that made the Kohler Clarity a success. “We didn’t realize that this could become a whole new business for our company,” White comments. “Both for the amount of good it can do in society, and the good it has cone for our associates, we feel proud of this achievement.”

David Kohler, CEO of the privately-held company, notes in the video the company created about the project that for 142 years, Kohler has been active in water: “Using our capabilities to help people in this world who need it most is truly something we’re proud of. We’re passionate about leaving the world a better place.”

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