(File pix) International Islamic University Malaysia Mechanical-Automotive Engineering final year students Mohamad Subhi Bakhir (left) Muhamad Izzat Mohtar (centre) and Muhammad Faris Mazida, who won the national-level James Dyson Award 2017. Pix by Nurul Syazana Rose Razman

WHEN Muhammad Faris Mazida, 24, was growing up in Alor Star, Kedah, he witnessed the struggles of his grandfather and uncles who worked in the padi fields.

They are among the 133,000 small padi farmers with less than two hectares of land in the northwestern part of Peninsular Malaysia, who are constantly faced with water-supply problems in their padi lots.

“Normally, they rely on rain and the water reservoir, when it’s full, as the source of water irrigation. However, during drought season, the water supply is low and to make things worse, the canals and ditches were poorly maintained and, thus, they cannot get water supply to their planting area.

“Due to the irrigation problem, farmers are unable to cultivate their padi fields, which is the main source of their income,” said the final-year Mechanical-Automotive Engineering student at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in Gombak, Selangor .

The irrigation problem inspired Faris and three of his coursemates to come up with a solution.

In their Integrated Design Project (IDP) class, they invented the Portable Mechanical Centrifugal (Pumeca) Pump, which subsequently won them the top prize at the national-level James Dyson Award 2017 competition earlier this month, beating 26 other competitors.

Centrifugal pumps are used to transport fluids by the conversion of rotational kinetic energy to the hydrodynamic energy of the fluid flow. The rotational energy typically comes from an engine or electric motor.

At the start of the project, Faris, team leader Muhamad Izzat Mohtar and two other group members, Mohamad Subhi Bakhir and Suhaili Hanani Bahaudin, visited the padi farming community in Merbok, Kedah, to find out the finer details of the predicament.

“We observed that the padi farmers do not have conventional water pumps to get adequate water supply since it is expensive to own. The pumps are also heavy and not portable enough to be handled by one person,” said Izzat.

After a few brainstorming sessions with the farmers and their supervisor Assistant Professor Dr Nabilah Ramli, the four decided to design a water pump that can be operated using a power source accessible to most of the small padi farmers — a motorcycle, their daily means of transportation.

“There were several criteria that needed to be fulfilled: the water pump must come with a low price tag, be portable and does not need technical skills to be operated,” said Izzat.

The group’s design idea was translated into a simple design sketch and they identified the main components required. Izzat was entrusted with the role of project manager, while Faris and Subhi formed the technical team and Suhaili handled research and documentation.

“Detailed analyses were carried out using CAD (computer-aided design) software and our engineering knowledge. We came out with the technical specification for each component. The technical analysis was crucial to validate our idea.

“After we were satisfied with the analysis and validation process, we built the first prototype of Pumeca Pump for testing purpose. It took us about 13 weeks to complete the design process and build the prototype,” said Izzat.

The device can pump in water from reservoir or water source to padi lots up to a distance of 54m, targeting small padi farmers who own lots with area less than two hectares, said Subhi.

“The principle on which it works is that the simple water pump runs on the rotation of the rear wheel of a motorcycle. The device will be attached to the rear of a motorcycle. As the rear wheel rotates, a roller from the device will also rotate, thus, supplying a mechanical energy that will run the pump. The pump will gain power and suck water from the reservoir and channel it to the padi field,” he explained.

“It is cheap, portable and lightweight, as well as easy to assemble and disassemble. Conventional water pump requires a diesel engine to operate, which is bulky, expensive and too heavy to be managed single-handedly,” he added.

He highlighted that the Pumeca Pump can supply water at a flow rate almost similar to that of a conventional water pumps.

“It is designed to be suited to a wide variety of motorcycles and can be adapted to other use, like siphoning water out of a flooded area.”

The team received RM400 in funding from IIUM for the project.

The next step for the team is to test out the prototype’s efficiency in a padi lot, said Izzat.

“A farmer in Sabak Bernam has expressed his willingness to test it out. From there, further research and improvement will be conducted to increase the feasibility and sustainability of the Pumeca Pump. We hope to make the pump really affordable and get it commercialised so that padi farmers can benefit from it,” he said.

And on the groups win at the national level of the James Dyson Award 2017, Izzat said the next stage would be competing at the international level, where results would be announced at the end of October.

“Dyson engineers will be shortlisting from the list of winners and runners-up from 23 countries at the end of this month. I think this has been very good exposure for Izzat and his friends. Many students come up with very good projects in the IDP class. It has been an incredible experience for the group and I hope this will motivate other students as well,” said Nabilah.

The James Dyson Award is a contest open to university-level students and recent graduates studying product design, industrial design and engineering. The award encourages ideas that challenge convention, lean engineering (less is more) and design with the environment in mind. The best inventions are simple and practical yet provide a solution to a real world problem. A national winner is selected for every country the award runs in, before going through to the final phase, where the international winner is chosen by James Dyson.

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