Water, the world’s most precious resource, is becoming more scarce. According to the World Economic Forum, the global demand for water is expected to outstrip supply by 40% in 2030 – the consequences of pollution, growing populations, heavy agricultural demands and climate change.
Over the last decade, California has dealt with an unprecedented drought by implementing tight water restrictions for residents and businesses. Meanwhile, America’s most populous state has outright banned all salt-based water softeners because they release salts back into the environment, which can be detrimental to crops when wastewater is repurposed for agriculture.
Highlighting California’s needs during the drought, water technology company Voltea is launching two new salt-free, chemical-free water softeners at the 2018 Pacific Coast Builders’ Conference in San Francisco. Voltea’s latest eco-friendly offerings are:
- DiUse – a point-of-use system installed where the water source is connected to equipment such as coffee makers and soda fountains. Aimed at hotels, restaurants and cafes.
- DiEntry – a point-of-entry system that offers water treatment for all the water softening requirements in an entire home or small business.
Founded in 2009, Voltea is a Netherlands-based company with offices in Amsterdam and Dallas, Texas. Named the “Breakthrough Water Technology Company of the Year” at the 2018 Global Water Awards, Voltea invented Membrane Capacitive Deionization (CapDI©) technology. CapDI not only removes negative ions (salt/hardness) from water using electricity, but also enables users to “tune” that water to their desired salinity regardless of any fluctuations in feed water characteristics.
Previously focusing on industrial applications, Voltea has now miniaturized its CapDI technology for homes and small businesses. “CapDI is a very scalable technology so we can shrink it down to a very small size for just making a glass of drinking water,” explains Voltea lead engineer Steven Whitacre. “Or we can scale it up to a very large industrial system that can feed a commercial laundry, a data center or a coolant tower.”
Onshape Boosts Collaboration and Saves Design Time
For the design of its new DiUse and DiEntry products, Voltea chose Onshape, a modern professional 3D CAD system that unites advanced modeling tools and design data management in a secure cloud workspace.
Now overseeing five engineers spread between the Dallas and Amsterdam offices, Whitacre chose to switch from SOLIDWORKS to Onshape back when his team was only two engineers and he needed to expand. Onshape’s ability to let multiple people simultaneously collaborate on the same model was especially appealing and he was looking for a file management solution that didn’t require an elaborate PDM system.
“Onshape helps us communicate better, even just within the same office because I don’t have to get up and look at my colleagues’ computer. I can just click on my screen to see what they're doing,” he says.
“Onshape also helps us track our designs better,” Whitacre adds. “We have a very comprehensive edit history of what's changed and what our design revisions are. In SOLIDWORKS, I would have to copy the design in our current/archived version. It was very manual and not very efficient. In Onshape, it just feels automated. I don’t have to worry about file management. I don’t have to do a lot of IT. Before, I used to devote at least 15% of my time doing file management.”
Overseeing an engineering team with fast product development cycles, Whitacre says he values the multiple ways that Onshape helps Voltea save time and be more efficient. He notes that the team previously risked overwriting each other’s work when sharing design files on Google Drive. “You’d work really hard on something and then you might lose four hours of work and there's nothing you can do about it. You just have to redo it. But that can't happen with Onshape.”
“In addition, we work with big assemblies and SOLIDWORKS would often crash. There was always some random little thing that would cause a crash, like if you changed to a certain display state or you opened the wrong configuration and the wrong files opened,” Whitacre recalls. “I haven't experienced crashes at all with Onshape. That alone probably saves us a half an hour a day.”
Branching and Merging Enables More Innovation
Onshape’s Branching and Merging feature also helps speed up Voltea’s product development timelines by enabling engineers to simultaneously explore alternative designs in separate branches without altering the master model.
“The Branching feature allows us to try out different ideas without having to copy files,” Whitacre says. “We can quickly try a different feature to see if we like it. If not, we can always go back to the original design and not have to worry about losing any work.”
Branching helps the engineering team more easily present ideas to Voltea executives and other departments during design review meetings. Alternative 3D models can be evaluated as a group and then the best elements can later be merged into one design.
Furthermore, Onshape’s Configurations feature makes it easier to quickly create variations of parametric models – particularly relevant to Voltea as it scales its CapDI technology for homes, businesses and municipalities. Whereas old file-based CAD systems require all configuration options to be represented in an enormous table that grows exponentially with complexity, Onshape makes it far more manageable for users by creating separate small tables for each set of independent configuration options.
With no sign of the world’s water crisis abating, Voltea knows that its products will be in even more demand in the future. Its desalination technology runs on far less electricity than competing systems and meets tough environmental guidelines for chemical-free treatment. Furthermore, the technology’s usefulness need not be related to a crisis at all. For example, Starbucks restaurants in Turkey (where the water has a very high mineral content) value the DiUse’s ability to fine-tune the salinity for the perfect cup of coffee.
Wherever Voltea applies its patented technologies next, it expects Onshape will remain invaluable for speeding up its design process and boosting innovation. Whitacre notes that as his own team is pressured to iterate quickly, Onshape continues to improve itself with automatic upgrades in the cloud every three weeks.
“I look forward to all the new features coming out, and Onshape’s customer support is very fast and responsive,” he says. “We’re often working around the world and now we don’t have to carry our big expensive computers around. We can access our data whenever and wherever we need it. Onshape’s freed up more time for us and is just a great fit for our team.”