Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mitticool - A refrigerator that runs without electricity...

Former President APJ Abdul Kalam called him a 'true scientist'. Mitticool, a clay refrigerator that works without electricity had turned the world's attention to its creator Mansukhbhai Prajapati, a craftsman based in Gujarat.


Presenting the national award to Mansukhbhai in 2009, President Pratibha Patil appreciated his work and asked him for a Mitticool.

Scientists and journalists from across the world have visited his unit to see how he makes eco-friendly products at a low cost.


His only regret is that because of poor marketing his products are not reaching out to many people. He, however, makes it a point to parcel products to people who are willing to deposit money in his bank account.

The business...

It was a great beginning. "I also made a clay mixing machine. Till then, clay used to be missed with the legs. This machine also reduced the workload and improved the efficiency."

By 1995, he realised the need to build a water filter. The market had steel filters which were not very efficient. After months of research and hard work, he built a water filter.

Luck favoured him too. "A person who had settled in Nairobi heard about my project and approached me for 500 units. I was excited. I sold it making Rs 100,000 on the first sale. It was a good start. The product I developed was sold in Nairobi even before it sold in India," he says. The water filters priced at Rs 350 to 400 are quite popular.

Later in 2005, he started the non-stick tava (pan) business. "My wife could not buy a non-stick tava as it was costly. So I thought many people would be facing the same problem.

That's when I designed the non-stick tavas, priced between Rs 50-100." It took him an year to research and experiment -- testing the material for the non stick coating etc. The food grade test for the pan was done by Tata Chemicals in Mumbai.

Mansukhbhai has sold more than 50,000 tavas. He had to make thousands of tavas before he made the perfect one.

He thanks the Gujarat Grassroots Innovation Network and professors at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and the National Innovation Foundation, who extended their help in the form of grant and guidance for getting the patent, making the packing box and lab testing of products.



"When a foreign delegation came to meet me, we cooked food in clay vessels and served them in clay plates. They were very impressed and happy with our healthy approach."

In 2009, he made the clay pressure cooker. "It comes with a whistle too," he remarks. About 500 cookers have been sold so far.


The idea behind Mitticool....

During the 2001 earthquake, all earthen pots were broken. Some people told me the poor people's refrigerators are broken. They referred to the 'matkas'(pots) as refrigerators.

It struck me then that I must try to make a fridge for those who cannot afford to buy a fridge. The patent winning Mitticool has been the most challenging product for him. It needed a lot of experimenting. He started work on it in 2001, the product was finally ready by 2004.

It took him almost four years of hard labour and an investment of about Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million). An engineer who saw the fridge asked him to make 100 units. This was a great morale booster.

He had to take a loan of about Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million) for the Mitticool project. He is still repaying the debt.

It takes 10 people to make a fridge in one day. Made from clay, the refrigerator can store water, fruits, vegetables for 8 days and milk for one day.

The upper part of the refrigerator stores water, while the bottom unit has space for fruits, vegetables and milk.
At present, he sells the clay fridges at Rs 2,500,(in 2010) at his unit. Most of the sales outside Gujarat are done during exhibitions.

In Mumbai and Pune, some of his products are available. Every year he takes part at the international trade fair in New Delhi in a bid to popularise the products.



"I have also been getting lot of calls from the US. It is amazing to see so much interest from abroad," he says happily.

Mitticool was showcased at a conference organised by the Centre for India and Global Business, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, UK in May 2009. Bosch and Siemens Hausger te (BSH), Germany, has also showed interest in Mitticool.

About 20 units of Mitticool have been exported to the UK, Africa and Nairobi. He has now been invited to Africa to set up a unit there. "I have not committed anything but the most important thing is the soil. Gujarat has the best soil for pottery," he points out.