Water droplets on a teal background

Engineering students earn honors for digital design that could provide clean drinking water

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A group of three Grand Valley engineering students received second place in the prestigious SME Digital Manufacturing Challenge for designing a device that could be used to harvest fog to provide clean drinking water in places where it is needed. 

The team, captain Noah Bollo, Taylor Hepler and Matthew Fontana, developed a device that uses a mix of hydrophilic and hydrophobic materials to collect tiny droplets of water that are suspended in the air in certain climates. 

The device’s design has small holes that allow air to pass through, and hydrophilic dimples collect water droplets until the droplet is big enough to drip. Once that happens, it follows hydrophobic channels to a collection tray that drains into a spigot for collection.

“We saw first-hand how developing technologies, such as additive manufacturing, can be used in innovative ways to help populations in need,” Bollo said. “I enjoyed applying problem-solving skills learned in the classroom to take a creative approach and propose a viable solution for addressing the widespread issue of clean water scarcity.”

The design of the fog catcher was “favorably evaluated” by a group of additive manufacturing industry experts, according to the SME award notice committee. 

Bollo said the students had to study additive manufacturing, design principles and analyze properties of materials that could be used. He said the fog catcher could be produced and used in areas suffering from natural disasters, drought, or other natural calamities. 

Engineering professor Sanjivan Manoharan said the contest entry was driven entirely by the students, adding he was proud of the hard work that went into the research and design.

“The team — Noah, Taylor and Matthew — worked very hard for this competition despite being in a co-op full time,” Manoharan said. “This was the first time we took part in the SME competition and we are pleased that we were able to place second. This gives us belief that we can win future competitions. The three of them have set the standard and created a platform for future ASME students.”

Bollo said, “The SME challenge provided me with an opportunity to further develop my design and engineering skills with fellow students outside the classroom.”

Illustration of the Modular Fog Collector. The example shown has two square panels mounted to pieces at the side that hold it up. There are small circles in a grid, and small channels.

The modular fog collector

The modular fog collector was designed by Grand Valley engineering students Noah Bollo, Taylor Hepler and Matthew Fontana. The modular fog collector can be scaled based on consumer needs. The design is able to withstand moderate gale speeds.

(A) Hydrophilic dimple attracts water from fog

(B) Hydrophobic channels repel collected water