This article originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Water Quality Products magazine as "More Than Water."
The newest class of trendy water dispensers offers features, such as flavoring options, carbonation and advanced heating and cooling systems. While luxury water appliances offer opportunities to capture more market share in the water and beverage service industry, the increased complexity of dispensers leads to new contamination and service risks that are not always adequately addressed during the design and implementation process as manufacturers are eager to get their products to market. Ultimately, this puts water safety in jeopardy as consumers generally are more focused on the variety of added features rather than the more functional features, such as disinfection.
As water quality becomes a lesser priority in appliance design, the heightened risk of contamination is too dangerous to ignore. In order to design products that meet both consumer demands and safety standards, manufacturers must prioritize disinfection technology in product development.
New Trends in Water Appliances
With brands like Spindrift, La Croix and Hint disrupting the traditional packaged water market, companies are focused on delivering new product designs and enhanced capabilities to reach the modern consumer. For instance, many offices have installed all-in-one water dispensers such as Bevi that deliver still, sparkling and flavored water on demand. Similarly, multi-functional coffee machines, such as Chungho Nais’ Whi Caffe II coffee system, offer a vast array of options from drip coffee to hot or iced tea to other specialty beverages, such as lattes and espresso drinks.
In addition to functional upgrades, trends in the outward design of appliances are shifting to accommodate preferences in size, style and convenience. Buyers are leaning toward sleeker designs with smaller footprints to accommodate smaller retail spaces and tiny homes. Products like these are small and sleek in appearance but still pack the full range of water options into a small counter footprint. As manufacturers plan the blueprints of these slimmer products, prioritizing add-ons and extra components can be difficult, and disinfection may take a back seat to an additional water enhancement feature.
Consumer preferences around the water appliance features and design aesthetic create new opportunities for innovation but also new risks around contamination and safety that engineers may not be aware of. This means as new, more advanced systems begin to gain traction in the market, product manufacturers have an opportunity to uphold the integrity of a water system without sacrificing design, creativity and innovation.
Heightened Risks of Contamination
It is the responsibility of appliance manufacturers to ensure the appropriate purification methods are in place in any water system, regardless of the other features they are looking to incorporate. As luxury features such as carbonation and flavoring are added into the engineering of the appliance, there are new risks for contamination and bacteria growth. For context, once water is treated at a treatment center, chlorine is traditionally added to act as the first line of defense to mitigate the growth of microorganisms in the water as it leaves and travels away from the treatment center. For this reason, most water systems have carbon filters in place to remove the chlorine from the water to eliminate the unpleasant odor or taste that is unappealing to consumers.
At this point, the water typically sits in a storage tank until it is dispensed. Depending on the system, there could be multiple points where water is stored. For example, there may be separate hot and cold tanks.
Here, water may remain stagnant for hours, days or even weeks until the equipment is turned on again. In an office setting, consider how long water remains static in a water cooler over the weekend or a long holiday break. This scenario creates an ideal breeding ground for dangerous bacteria and waterborne pathogens. Stagnant, uncontrolled water can rise to ambient temperature, creating an environment to form biofilm which can host a range of bacteria, algae and other microorganisms after the treatment process has been completed.
There are several risks to be aware of that can cause contamination. Aging infrastructure can result in cracked or burst pipes that allow dirt and dangerous contaminants into the water. Old or unchanged filters can lose effectiveness and harbor bacteria. Finally, surface contamination on a tap can potentially spread to contaminate an entire system. With these risks in mind, the most common points of vulnerability within a system are inlet water, inlet filters, hot/cold storage tanks and spigots or taps. Any given system can have multiple vulnerabilities that can lead to unsafe water, but manufacturers can mitigate these risks with proper disinfection technology.
Solving for Purification in Today’s Water Appliances
The increased contamination risks of water within highly complex appliances continues to be a problem, and manufacturers must address these concerns upfront in order to offer consumers a fool-proof water solution. As the water market continues to innovate new features, the disinfection market is also evolving with more advanced treatment options varying in intensity, scale and size. The process of choosing the right disinfection method requires a new kind of thinking that focuses on disinfection at the exact water access point. With this approach to design, manufacturers can begin to create the next generation of water treatment in appliances.
One method for point-of-dispense disinfection is an ultraviolet (UV) system, which is built to provide disinfection on-demand for all kinds of water appliances. An advanced point-of-use system, like a UVC LED reactor, relies on deep UV light to address and eliminate microbial threats from bacteria, viruses and cysts. UV systems have historically relied on mercury lamps, which can be difficult to incorporate into existing products because they often are bulky and dominate space within an appliance, along with requiring costly annual lamp replacements.
In recent years, technology has accelerated new methods of disinfection like UVC LEDs that offer a smaller footprint, leaving engineers more flexibility with a plug-and-play solution that allows space for components that enable other features. With a smaller product footprint, a UVC reactor typically is three to four times smaller than a lamp-based reactor. This technology allows product engineers to design more freely without the restraints of a bulky disinfection system. As a result, LED reactors can be implemented into tanks or taps closer to the point of dispense.
Water purification is vital in water appliance design in order to strengthen product safety guarantees. On-demand disinfection technology is a proven tool to eliminate contamination at the last step of treatment in order to provide safe water for consumers in their homes, offices or anywhere they access their water. Advancements in disinfection technology are giving engineers the flexibility to innovate and create new water and coffee solutions for a wide range of scales or applications, helping manufacturers meet consumer demands without sacrificing safety.