A University of Hertfordshire student who designed a fish cooler for street vendors is the runner-up in the UK’s prestigious New Designer of the Year competition. The New Designers exhibition, now in its 32nd year, features the work of top students from the UK’s leading design schools.
Kiran Sunil’s “Machhalee Basket” is essentially an EPS cooler equipped with phase change material. Judges described it as “a sensitively designed product – an example of bottom-up, frugal innovation, demonstrating genuine social impact and purpose.” The award includes a cash prize of £500.
Sunil, 22, was born and raised in the United Kingdom and is of South Indian descent. He recently earned a bachelor's degree in industrial design at Hertfordshire. He discussed details of his final-year project in an email interview.
Q: What does “Machhalee” mean?
A: "Machhalee" is a Hindi word for “fish.”
Q: How did you come up with the idea?
A: My family and I regularly travel to India usually every 2-3 years, so for me the sight of fish vendors on street corners and at local marketplaces was a common and familiar sight, as it is to native Indians. However it always occurred to me the huge contrast between our experience in places like the UK of buying fish in comparison to theirs. Often their platform was very makeshift, working from the ground unprotected in the baking hot sun and with little to no ice. Generally poor quality.
In conjunction for my dissertation I gained a deeper insight into what I wanted to do for my final project, when I began tackling issues between wealth divides and how this affects the designs that we consume and use. Inspired by the works of Victor Papanek and Emily Pilloton of designing for social change, I decided that for this project I wanted to design something for those less well off in developing countries, those who were in true need of good design. However it was important for me that I didn't want to create a product that revolved around aid. This was about empowerment and strengthening honest business, more importantly I wanted to create a product from the people and for the people.
Q: Did you talk with fish vendors as part of your research?
A: While I wasn’t able to talk directly to fish vendors in India due to the disconnect, I came pretty close. It was important that I design honestly and according to the needs of the vendors. I enlisted the help of many NGOs including the likes of the Selco Foundation in India as well as the National Association of Street Vendors of India, two huge players in my research. With their help I was able to identify all the key needs, patterns and processes in order to create the most appropriate design.
Q: How did you hear about phase change material?
A: One of my visiting lecturers, Ian Hunter from Material Council, mentioned its usage in cheap and effective cooling systems and so it piqued my interest. For a while we gained and lost interest in the idea while the designs developed before finally realizing it massive potential.
Q: How many PCM types did you try before settling on one?
A: I researched PCMs for a duration while doing the project. I moved from organic paraffin wax based ones to salt hydrates and so on. Ultimately I decided that using more environmentally friendly sources such as vegetable and animal fat PCMs would be better due to their stability, sustainability, re-use and wide temperature range. Also it occurred to me that it was possible for these PCMs to be locally manufactured and sourced by farmers, making it possible for them to benefit from the mix as well.
Q: Which PCM are you using and how is it contained?
A: After getting in contact with your associates at Entropy Solutions, I decided that PureTemp 8 from your range was the most appropriate due to it being agriculturally sourced and having a great heat storage capacity of 178J/g. It was also important that the PCMs be cooled passively at similar temperatures that ice are stored and manufactured in. In this case it was so that Ice vendors were still inclusive in process and could supply and recharge the PCM packs using their facilities at a fixed lease based price to the fish vendors. The fish vendors in turn would use the packs and return them in the evening for recharging, creating a harmonious cold chain.
I decided macroencapsulation was the best and most secure way to go using the plastic pouch method. On top of this the pouches [shown in yellow in cutaway drawing] would sit inside thin sheet metal aluminum containers, adding an extra layer of protection while still allowing for heat conduction.
Q: What if any insulation material is used in the cooler?
A: The majority of the insulation comes from the medium grade EPS that makes up the main body of the basket. This is a common and cheap material used in the fishing trade and so seemed appropriate. On top of this on the interior the fish sits inside a polyester tarpaulin bag and on the exterior the main body sits inside a secondary woven bamboo basket.
Q: How long did it take you to complete the project, from concept to prototype?
A: About 3½ months. It was part of our second semester and made up our final major project.
Q: What do you estimate the retail cost might be, when in full production?
A: I designed and planned the cooler in such a way for minimal cost with maximum effect. I truly made use of the fruits of India's economy when considering how to do this. All materials are locally sourced and in abundance either by methods of cheap manufacture or locally available materials making it easy to repair and easy/cheap to replace.
On top of this I took into consideration the consumption styles of vendors and realized that what might work best was a lease-based platform. In this case the vendors could buy the basket outright for a small price and were given the opportunity to lease/purchase the PCM packs and display assembly if they required it. All costs considered, I estimate the vendors expenses would be no more than 20 rupees a week.
Q: Do you have plans to commercialize the cooler?
A: A few companies have shown interest in commercializing the cooler. However while it shows great promise and practicality, for now it is just a concept and has room for development and improvement, if it is to be successfully implemented. I believe in an open sourcing philosophy, especially when it comes to the potential for my target audience that it could help.
Q: What do you plan to do with the £500 prize?
A: I plan on using it to re-invest in my career, however I’m not sure entirely how. I might purchase a new laptop, or I could possibly use it for a plane ticket if the opportunity to take my work elsewhere calls!