Recently, a team from RIT’s ESW chapter won $2,000 from Autodesk in their Cradle-to-Cradle Product Design Challenge. The team made up of six students under the name “Sweeping the Nation with Change”, has been featured on numerous sites, such as Engineering.com, Bustler, Sustainable Brands, and Sustainable Manufacturer Network. Nicole Swimline and Chris Kratzer from the team spoke to ESW-HQ about the project.
The team chose to design an aluminum broom with replaceable biodegradable bristles made of wheat straw. The challenge ran from September until December 2015. Of those three months, the team spent three weeks coming up with a concept to design. At first, they were considering some sort of paper product and then possibly some sort of water gauge for showerheads, but then they started circling around the idea of brooms and how entire brooms frequently are discarded because the bristles wear down.
It took another three weeks to decide on wheat straw as the bristle material. Wheat straw is an agricultural byproduct, cheap, easy for machines to work with, and has good stiffness and flexibility. The team found many examples of handmade wheat straw brooms, but could not find examples of industrially made ones, making the idea more unique. As a biodegradable product, there is the possibility of the wheat straw breaking down over time due to the act of sweeping. Because of the compostability of the straw and its cheapness due to the ease of manufacture and byproduct status, this was not too much of a concern. In addition, this was still a much more cost effective and environmentally friendly alternative to throwing out an entire cheap broom, especially due to the mix of materials making recycling difficult.
In addition to wheat straw, the team also considered bamboo and corn as main contenders for the bristle material. The team opted against bamboo mainly because it needs to be industrially softened for bristle purposes and tends to be hand processed even in factory settings. The team opted against corn because its roughness was not optimal for bristle purposes. In addition to the replaceable bristle innovation, the team also designed the broom so that the head could adjust to three angles: 0, 45, and 90 degrees.
Before the team could submit their design, they had to come up with a name for themselves, quickly coming up with “Sweeping the Nation with Change”. In a team vote, this won handedly over the second place title, “Broom Project”. Unfortunately, the team does not have the capabilities of following the next steps and bringing the design out of the computer model world and into the physical one. They would love to have someone take their idea and turn it into a viable prototype and eventually manufacture it as a product. When asked what they were going to use the prize money for, Nichole and Chris said that the $2,000 would go towards the RIT ESW chapter. Most likely, the cash would go towards funding a vertical wind turbine project that the team is developing.