Case Study – How Frugal Engineering helped solve water distribution in Villa Gonzalo

Case Study – How Frugal Engineering helped solve water distribution in Villa Gonzalo

This week we take a look at a crowdsourcing engineering success story with a social goal.

Frugal Engineering has emerged as a way to adapt existing products and make them viable in developing countries.

Engineers working on “Frugal Innovation” or “Frugal Engineering” projects aim to reduce the complexity of a product so it becomes more affordable. They do this by simplifying functionalities, materials and even the manufacturing process.

In a Born to Engineer first, we take a deep dive into the work carried out by Fundación ICAI para el Desarrollo and the open innovation platform, ennomotive.

How Frugal Engineering was able to solve water distribution in Villa Gonzalo

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Every year ennomotive launch one or two projects to help low-budget foundations, universities or companies. This year they have successfully completed a social project to develop a water distribution solution in the Wampis community, in the Amazonian forest in Peru.

While it is common to assume that everybody has access to drinkable water, the reality is there are many places in the world where it is very difficult to access it. These places are normally remote or there a serious lack of natural resources.

This is the case of the Wampis community in Peru, whose quality of life was significantly improved thanks to Fundación ICAI, a Spanish engineering association.

What were the Engineering Challenges

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The challenge stems from the project carried out in the Amazonian community of Villa Gonzalo, located north of the Amazon department, next to the Santiago River.

This town’s situation had serious issues accessing drinkable water.

Before this project started, the community used contaminated water which was not suitable for human consumption.

To solve this issue, the foundation talked to the community authorities and agreed that the best possible solution was rainwater harvesting. A simple, quick and low-cost option.

While construction of harvesting systems and tanks was straightforward the team need to think about how to distribute water among the members of the community to make the project viable.

How to create a fair water distribution system

Once the foundation identified the need to create a fair water distribution system, they talked to the engineering platform ennomotive to launch a collaborative challenge to find a suitable solution that solved this problem.

This challenge was joined by 55 engineers from different countries like Australia, Chile, Argentina, Korea, Iran, United Kingdom, Romania, Belgium, Norway, Denmark.

After two months a solution from Amir Shahar, an Israeli engineer living in Denmark was selected.

Amir’s solution is an unloading system similar to a toilet tank that measures the amount flushed in every unloading, combined with access control through a coin mechanism similar to the supermarket lockers’, that collects the coins inside a closed box.

Alongside Amir’s entry, another robust solution was identified. Antonio J. Sarmiento and Antonio Gasca, the founders of 2GS ingeniería created a proposal focused on the development of a purely mechanical system capable of measuring the flow of a pipe. Their system can stop the water flow once the established volume limit has been reached.


This system – called an isolator flowmeter – would be installed in every house and every collecting tank would have 15 isolator flowmeters.

The isolator flowmeter is made from three elements: a mechanical flowmeter, a flap valve (backflow installed), and an outlet valve (a common irrigation valve).


The set is then be protected inside a box with a lock to limit its use. Only the person in charge of the whole installation would have a key.

In the next image, the handle flow rotation in conjunction can be seen when the fluid goes through the body. As observed in the picture, it has a nipple in the outside part. This nipple must act on the flap valve once the handle has completed a whole spin.


Once the handle has spun enough times to allow the flow of the established volume, the axis of the flap valve will reach the limit of support on said handle and close the flap valve with the aid of a spring installed on the axis.

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Looking at these solutions, it is fascinating to see how people from different countries organized and worked selflessly to design a system that is now crucial to the lives of the people in this Amazonian community.

This post was written by Enrique Ramírez

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