Adding Value by Design

Corporate design culture inspires the process, products, brands and workplace of global leader in UF membrane technology

Comments Off on Adding Value by Design November 4, 2008
by Arlene Gould

GE’s Z-Box stand-alone water filtration unit was enhanced by Toronto-based industrial engineer, Miles Keller, to be more efficient and user-centric as well as easier to assemble and ship.

In 1980, Andrew Benedek, a professor of water chemistry in the chemical engineering department at McMaster University in Hamilton, set out to realize his dream. He wanted to use his research capabilities to make a difference, and he decided to focus on a solution to protect one of the world’s most basic and most precious commodities: water.

He started work on commercializing his research from a small lab set up in the basement of his Hamilton home. In June 1980, he left his university post to found the company originally called Zenon Environmental. By May 1983, Zenon had moved to a larger research and production facility in Burlington, Ont. In the same year, the company founded the Zenon Environmental Laboratory and began to manufacture its first generation of tubular microfiltration and ultrafiltration (UF) membranes.

Today, as GE Water & Process Technologies, the company has become a market leader in the manufacture of advanced membrane products. It has a strong corporate culture and a dedicated staff of highly trained engineering, technology and marketing professionals. Approximately 400 people currently work at its Oakville, Ont., headquarters.

While the company is best known for its cutting-edge filtration technology, a strong design culture pervades all segments of the business, from its technology and product design to the branding and office environment. The result has been a better product with higher market visibility and motivated employees who takes pride in their work.

GE Water & Process Technologies’ UF membrane filtration technology, ZeeWeed, is based on biomimicry design principles.

How Does Membrane Filtration Work?
Membrane filtration is based on the principles of biomimicry, or copying the ways of nature. Biomimicry has become a hot trend for designers and manufacturers ever since biologist Janine Benyus wrote her seminal book of that title in 1997. However, Zenon Environmental had been innovating with UF membrane technology since the early ’80s. The company’s ZeeWeed membranes resemble long strands of hollowed-out spaghetti. The membrane walls are made from a polymer composite with billions of microscopic pores. The pores are smaller than common solid contaminants, bacteria and viruses, so they are blocked while clean water passes through. The process guarantees exceptional water quality and clarity on a continuous basis. Only a slight vacuum is required to draw the water through the membrane. The water is both filtered and disinfected in one step.