Water is one of the vital components for sustenance and survival of life on earth. Water and culture are strongly interlinked and culture substantially determines a person’s “way of life.” For centuries sustainable water management has been a daily practice in many cultures, resulting in a delicate balance between water resources and the human society. Over the decades, we have engineered some of the ace components to control the entire water system in our homes, offices, etc. One such element is the faucet.
If we trace back, into 1700 B.C., Minoan Palace of Knossos in Crete (an island in Greece) used terra-cotta based piping to provide water for the faucets. Time marched forward, and new technologies have helped to shape the faucet industry. The latest in the technological impetus introduces:
- New materials, cleaning technology to deal with the scales /calcium deposits in faucets, safety and mechanisms
- Electronics to control the temperature and flow
- Manufacturing process for fair market value, ease of assembly and quicker launch at the market
With continuous expansion, the industry has also introduced new rules and regulations to safeguard the environment and for the customer safety. Some of the key requirements include water usage (i.e. number of liters per minute), materials used for the products and also the coating on the products. The regulations are launched and monitored by major regulatory boards across the globe:
- EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in the U.S.
- German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water (DVGW) in Germany
- Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WRAS) in Great Britain
- Certificate of Sanitation Conformity (ACS) in France
However, several countries and their states have their self-defined regulations that get implemented in and around their jurisdiction. So, studying various geo-legal permutations is a must before starting to work on a product for the region. A few of the states in the U.S. have their stringent requirements when it comes to water usage — in California the water usage law is stricter than the national ones. EPA regulations for lavatory faucet specification sets the maximum flow rate of bathroom faucets and faucet accessories at 1.5 gallons per minute (GPM) tested at a flowing pressure of 60 pounds per square inch (psi).
As part of a highly regulated and competitive industry, the manufacturers have to understand all the rules and regulations before launching a product. To secure the certifications, the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) have to go through a rigorous three-week testing sequence, where the following parameters are tested:
New Materials, Cleaning Technology and Safety
- Specified standards of water flow: The temperature (-20 degree C up to 70 degree C) and water pressure (from 0.5bar to 6bar, tested up to 12bar) plays a crucial role in shaping the industry. Significant advances have been made to improvise material to control the temperature, pressure and also to monitor the lead content in water.
- Lead content: Brass used to be a unanimous choice among most of the OEMs until 1970. Post that most of the European nations have banned lead in any form of food. The ban has come little later to the U.S. (1986). In early 2014, a faucet could contain as much as 8 percent lead and still call itself lead-free. But EPA has revised the rules and now the maximum lead content in a faucet is 0.25 percent (1/4 of 1 percent).
Today's brass faucets use additives like malleability, to comply with the new restrictions on lead. Usage of plastics has become more common today to avoid lead, especially when water comes in contact with the faucets. PSU, PEX are some materials used in the industry today with high reliability.
From the time of the invention of the screw mechanism (1845), the modest globe valve/tap has come a long way. In earlier days, valves came with rubber seals to stop the water leakage. The rubber seals would wear out quickly resulting in water leakage. The industry has now moved to ceramic discs that terminated the leakage problem in taps. The valves that are used to mix hot and cold water have now given way to mixers. In the recent times, mixers/faucets use ceramic discs for their high durability (some tested to 500,000 cycles). Mixers are prevalent for getting the right mix of hot and cold water. A patent also exists for the ceramic valves which exfoliate the layer of salt deposits in the disc. With the technological advancements in materials and the manufacturing process, even the shower heads which would have the ports blocked due to salt deposits, today use a part made of LSR (Liquid Silicone Rubber) for ease of cleaning. Swipe the thumb over the shower head and your shower head is spick and span.
The introduction of the thermostatic mixing valve (TMV) into the mixers improved the security measures for users. TMV prevents scalding when the water pressure varies between hot and cold due to other water loads (like toilet flush).
Due to the recent regulation changes in Europe, the plumbing industry is forced to use a seal where the faucets and drains are connected to the walls and floors. It replaces the currently used parts to attach the products like the connector tubes and the escutcheon. EASi has the experience in looking into the details of the regulation of the products and other matters pertaining to the law.
Electronics to Control Temperature Flow
Usage of electronics has become a standard practice in the industry. Proximity sensors are used with the thermostatic valves to open or close. It eases out the use and also reduces the wastage of water. The latest trends are embedded display of temperature in faucets, hand showers, etc., for efficient utilization of water, usage of aerators. When we talk about introducing electronics in our day to day lives, the industry has seen a quantum leap from the previous decade. Today, there is an all new range of faucets like heated toilet seats with mood lighting; bidet operated electronic toilet seat with soft close etc.
Manufacturing Processes Reduce Time-to-Market
Latest in the manufacturing process is to reduce the lead time taken by the product to get to the market and also to use the volume production with casting technology and over-molding plastic with zinc. It helps manufacturers to avoid the existing brass casting and also use lighter and cost effective plastic to meet the lead-free regulatory requirements. OEMs are slowly moving away from the gravity/investment casting to a much faster “pressure die casting” for the shell and modular plastic interiors where the water flows. There are some existing patents for cores made of plastic and over molded with zinc for the shell. Also, few of them are manufacturing faucets with modular plastic interiors. This is held within a zinc shell which is over molded to the finished product in another cavity to complete the whole process. This is significantly faster than the traditionally method.
As a design and engineering partner, EASi is always compliant while working on projects to stick to the rules and regulations, quality standards, safety standards etc. Our panel of technical experts have spent years to understand the various aspects of faucet industry and are successful in exceeding clients’ expectations. We work with customers to provide faster go to market product by research, conceptualizing, prototype designing and testing. We also provide value added services to look into the current design and see if it can be optimized for performance or cost.
Want to learn more? Contact EASi now.