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LifePump: How DePuy Synthes is bringing fresh, clean water to Africa

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How many times today did you reach for a faucet and turn it on to get water for drinking, cleaning or cooking? Most of us do it without a second thought because we’re accustomed to having it always there on the other side of the tap. But for one in nine individuals worldwide, that’s not the case. More than 780 million people lack access to clean, safe water according to And that daily struggle to obtain one of life’s most basic needs motivated our DePuy Synthes colleagues to act. Thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers who put their problem-solving heads together to help others in need, there are now innovative deep-well water pumps humming in several African villages, providing clean, safe, convenient water to the families who live there. And more are on the way!

Seeds of innovation

Since 2010, Warsaw-based DePuy Synthes Staff Engineer Abe Wright has spearheaded a humanitarian effort that has brought clean water to 12 African villages to date. During mission trips to the Central African Republic (CAR), Abe saw first-hand the dire circumstances caused by lack of potable water. He explained, “In many regions in Africa, water is located very deep underground. Traditional pumps either don’t reach deep enough or break quickly because they aren’t designed for such depths.”

Struck by watching people carry buckets for miles to access clean water when he could simply walk to the sink, Abe rallied engineer contacts from around the United States including colleagues from DePuy Synthes. Their goal: develop a better pump that would surpass the limitations of hand pumps, which typically stop working past 100-150 feet. The team formed a collaborative “think tank,” convening for hundreds of hours around brown bag lunches to design a progressive cavity pump (PCP) with the potential to source water from depths up to 500 feet.

A simple design, unprecedented results

In 2011, the team launched the first PCP prototype in a CAR village. Since then, the pump’s design has been improved to optimize efficacy and reduce production costs. The LifePump, as it is known, functions like a crank and can easily be used, even by children. Instead of moving up and down like a typical hand pump, the LifePump utilizes a helical shape that acts like an auger, creating and pushing up pockets of water. The design allows a larger amount of water to rise more quickly and with less effort.


Uniting forces for good

Abe and his colleagues didn’t stop there. LifePump inspired Abe and Greg Bixler from Ohio State University to co-found Design Outreach, a non-profit which aims to create life-transforming solutions for developing countries. Today, Design Outreach has about 80 volunteers, including engineers, scientists, and professionals from across DePuy Synthes and partner organizations, who run all operational aspects from R&D to fundraising to promotion. Teams travel two to three times a year to visit prospective pump sites and train villagers and community members on installation and maintenance logistics.

The first LifePump was installed in Malawi in 2013, and shortly thereafter Design Outreach partnered with Christian humanitarian organization World Vision to deliver the pumps on a wider scale. Other manufacturing, testing and supply partners help to make installations a reality.

Hundred Pump Project

The Design Outreach/World Vision collaboration has established 10 functional pumps in four African nations, including Zambia, Kenya and Ethiopia, as part of a large-scale pilot program called the “Hundred Pump Project.

DePuy Synthes has committed to helping fundraise for this critical humanitarian effort. The goal is to send 100 LifePumps to Africa by raising $9,200 per pump to cover hardware and installation tools, training personnel on the ground, and enabling ongoing servicing and maintenance. By the end of the summer it is expected that an additional 10 pumps will be operating, with 26 more in queue. So far, employees have raised enough money to help two villages obtain LifePumps.

“Many colleagues across DePuy Synthes have poured their time into making the LifePump a successful reality,” said Abe. “Together, we’re really making a difference and the impact is truly transformational. It’s an amazing thing to provide fresh, clean water and renewed hope to African communities.”

To contribute to Design Outreach’s efforts, visit the Hundred Pump Project site.

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