M3 Fruit Fly Bait Station, Environmentally sound fruit fly control

by Christo Botes on May 31, 2010

Product: The M3 Fruit Fly Bait Station is an environmentally safe, cost effective way to control fruit fly populations in orchards.

Client: Green Trading cc

Brief: Redesign the existing M3 Fruit Fly Bait Station to be less expensive to use than conventional crop spraying.

Product Description: The M3 Fruit Fly Bait Station was developed about 15 years ago as an alternative method of controlling fruit fly populations in mainly citrus orchards. South Africa has a large citrus fruit industry, mostly for export. Damage to fruit caused by fruit fly results in the loss of a large percentage of every years crop.

Traditionally, insecticides are sprayed onto fruit trees using a tractor drawn sprayer. As environmental and human rights consciousness developed over time, it became evident that these methods will not be acceptable in the future. Damage to the health of farm workers, and the surrounding echo systems has always been an unacceptable consequence of the use of insecticide.

The M3 Fruit Fly Bait Station is a compromise between organic farming and the selective use of insecticides. The product eliminates the need to spray insecticides completely. Farm workers’ health is protected, and the environment is not contaminated.

The M3 Fruit Fly Bait Station consists of five components:

A clip (to secure the product to a tree branch), a body (which houses the foam insert), a grate (that secures the foam insert to the body), and the insecticide impregnated into the foam insert. The foam insert is protected from the environment by the body.

The Insecticide consists of a broad spectrum insecticide, and a pheromone luring agent. This is where the M3 Fruit Fly Bait Station differs from every other pest control method on the market. Although the insecticide is a broad spectrum insecticide, the luring agent is extremely specific. So specific that it only lure the males of two fruit fly subspecies, controlling the fruit fly population by preventing reproduction. As fruit flies have a two week life cycle, an entire orchard can be fruit fly free within fourteen days.

Farm workers place the M3 Fruit Fly Bait Station into the tree at a rate of 400 units per hectare at the beginning of the season. The units are left in the orchard for the rest of the year. Insecticide mixture is protein based and active for up to four months. It degrades completely in about six months. As the next season begins the old units removed are replaced by new ones.

For a full description of the M3 Fruit Fly Bait Station, a copy of a research article published in the SA Fruit Journal can be downloaded from www.vivo.blog.co.za.

Defining the brief: The brief focused on reducing costs, not only to the manufacturer, but also to the end user. The product was already established in the market and its effectiveness was proven, but it was twice as expensive as conventional methods. The following areas where considered to have cost saving potential: Material selection, the amount of material used, transportation costs, and assembly methods.

Design Process: Every aspect of the original design was revisited to evaluate if that aspect was still relevant. Any changes to the product were tested before implementation. Several batches of the proposed changes were manufactured by hand and by rapid prototyping. Prototypes underwent simulated environmental conditions to evaluate the efficacy of the changes. Later customer feedback refined the product even further as real world feedback revealed some of the exceptions to the controlled tests such as extreme temperatures, higher than normal wind speeds and comments from farm workers.

Material Selection: Only virgin Polyethylene is used in the manufacture of the products. It was found that recycled plastic does not have the ability to withstand the intense UV radiation in the South African climate for more than six months. The risk for product failure increases to unacceptable levels as a result.

The use of biodegradable plastic was abandoned due to cost and evidence that the soil conditions in the orchards did not typically support the effective degradation of biodegradable plastic.

Currently the product can survive two seasons before degrading to the point of needing replacement.

Material Usage: By changing the shape of the unit from round to square, it was possible to keep the same foam insert surface area while reducing the overall size of the unit. By reducing the height of the unit the overall volume was reduced. These changes reducedthe amount of material used by 15%.

Transportation Costs: As a result of the reduction in overall volume, around 50% in total, transport costs were almost cut in half. This also had a profound impact on the products environmental impact. The transportation pollutioncaused by each unit was almost halved.

Assembly Methods: The M3 Fruit Fly Bait Stations had always been assembled by hand, it had been planned to switch over to an automated assembly system. After careful consideration, the manual assembly method was kept. Manual assembly uses no electricity. Electricity supply in South Africa is under enormous pressure and the reliability of the supply is not always guaranteed. The cost of electricity is also set to triple in the near future.

The South African climate allows for assembly under an open roof structure year round, eliminating the need for lighting al together. No electrical equipment is required accept for the vacuum impregnation of the foam inserts. Keeping the electricity consumption down, reduced the unit cost by only 1%. It also reduces the carbon footprint of the product slightly.

The most pressing reason for keeping the manual assembly method was the impact it has on the 30 workers employed to assemble the units. Workers are drawn from an informal settlement close to the factory. The social and economic impact on the settlement outweighed the savings potential of automation.

Recycling: Old units can then be refurbished with fresh foam inserts to be reused. Currently about 30% of the farmers choose to reuse the units. Old units can also be sent back to the factory to be processed into regrind plastic to be used in other products. Efforts are under way to increase the number of farmers reusing the units by issuing a credit to the farmer for returning the used units to the factory.

Result: The M3 Fruit Fly Bait Station redesign project resulted in a product that is not only effective in controlling fruit flies, but also safe to use and limits the impact of pest control on the environment. It helps delivers superior quality fruit, with out adverse health impacts on the end user as well as the workers on the farms. The cost of using the product was halved, making it a very attractive alternative to spraying. In 2010, over one million units were sold in South Africa and Spain. Trials are underway in Morocco and Kenya.

More importantly, 30 families in an extremely poor community have an income, even if it is a small one. Green Trading cc is able to further assist the community by supplying water to some of the community. They also support the community church to provide a daycare facility to 150 children in the community.

Knowing this makes product design worth getting up for in the morning!

Lessons Learned:

  1. Seemingly simple changes to a product can have far reaching effects and consequences, on the environment and people.
  2. Reducing the carbon foot print of a product dies not automatically happen when you switch to biodegradable alternatives for plastic.
  3. In Africa, recycling is an ideal, not reality. Designing products to be recyclable does not mean they get recycled. The claim to lower the carbon foot print of a product by making it recyclable is only valid if you can prove that it is recycled responsibly.
  4. Do not under estimate the effect of transport on a products cost and carbon footprint.
  5. Automation is not always the answer. Sometimes more good is done by dealing with the issues and cost of a larger workforce.
  6. A product designer influences the lives of everyone involved in the lifecycle of a product, as well as the planet. My choices in material, production processes, and assembly methods must be made with this in mind.

Christo Botes is the owner of VIVO Tech, a small South African design consultancy. He currently is involved in projects ranging from consumer products to military products. See more of his work on www.vivo.blog.co.za

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