Ashok Kumar Dhiman (21), a native of Firozepur, Haryana has had a keen interest in science from his early childhood. While studying in sixth standard, he made a photo enhancement system in which on a reel of 35mm, one could take 44 photos instead of the usual 36. By the time he was in the tenth standard, he was the proud innovator of a pair of binoculars, a number based locker, and an automatic curfew siren. After his tenth standard he underwent ITI training (1999 – 2001).
The responsibility of making tea for his ailing mother often fell to Ashok and he found this a tedious process, essentially because there was no LPG or kerosene stove in the home. He had to use wood in the conventional chulas to cook food. Preparing two cups of tea meant that he had to go through the entire process of lighting the wood fire. Also, if nothing else needed to be cooked then, the wood which had already been lit would be wasted. This forced him to think of a solution which could prepare tea using electricity. He didn’t use the conventional electric heater as it consumed too much electricity and thought of a creative new solution. He took four months to develop the prototype. The initial prototype had cost him about Rs.8000 but he maintains that with a degree of redesigning and refinement the cost can be brought down to Rs.3000.
This machine facilitates the Indian method of making tea by separately pumping in water, adding tea-leaves and sugar, heating, adding milk, boiling and filtering, and dispensing the tea automatically into cups in pre-assigned proportions. Each user can set these proportions according to his/her taste. Apart from putting the cups and setting the number to deliver up to four cups, the entire tea making process is automatic and the cups are laid out on a sliding tray once the tea is ready. It produces four cups of tea in five minutes and can be used as many times in a day as required.
In this machine, the water, tea leaves, sugar and liquid milk are taken automatically from different containers within the machine and are boiled in a vessel equipped with a heater. The water is collected from the container in this heating vessel with the help of a pump. After the water boils for some time, tea leaves and sugar are added from their respective chambers (placed just above the heating vessel) with the help of a motor operated mechanism. This mixture is boiled for some time and thereafter liquid milk is added from the milk container with the help of a motor operated pump. This whole mixture is then boiled for about 30seconds to one minute and the tea is ready. The tea is then poured into cups with the help of an outlet tube and motorized pump. The boiling time at each stage and the timing of the operation is controlled with the help of a mechanical timer. This mechanical timer will be replaced with an electronic timer in future versions.
This device has the capacity to store tea-leaves and sugar for a month and milk and water have to be filled only once a day. There is even a provision for personalising the taste of the tea by varying the proportion of tea-leaves and sugar. Since processing happens in a closed system, contamination or evaporation of milk is minimized. By circulating hot water in the system, the entire unit can be cleaned effectively. The heater being of low capacity, the machine can also be run with the help of an inverter during power black-outs. This machine is easy to build and operate, and requires minimal maintenance.
Various other tea-making machines are available in the market, made by different companies but each has its disadvantages. First, they are not suitable for preparing the tea as per the process followed in India. In the existing machines premix powder or tea-bags are used, and the water is boiled in one container and added to tea leaves in another container and thereafter black tea is collected in cups. But in the machine developed by Dhiman, all the materials for preparing tea are collected in steps in a single vessel from their respective containers and the mixture is boiled there. Further the devices available in the market are rather complicated and they are very costly with the cheapest model costing Rs.15, 000 as compared to Rs.3000 required to make this machine. Cleaning is also difficult in such machines. As regards demand for such a product experts feel that it is a market waiting to be tapped with the main users being hostels, restaurants, offices/corporate and families. But thorough market research and test-marketing should be done before commercialisation. Some prototypes should be installed in selected localities for demonstration and for collecting direct feedback from users.
Initially the tea making machine had 18 motors and the structure was quite fragile. GIAN (N) took up the task of making modifications in the machine. One of the first objectives of the value addition process was to reduce mechanical moving parts and replace these with electronic parts so as to make the machine sturdier and easier to maintain. The cost would also have come down. Lesser moving parts were expected to lead to lesser weight and better efficiency. A student did a market survey and tried to assess the features that consumers wanted and additional price they were willing to pay. A focus group discussion was later organised to discuss with experts the best strategy to take the device forward. The modifications are still on and NIF is quite hopeful that once modified, the machine would change the way Indians make tea. It is a great pity that no machine in the market today offers choice to the consumers to change the constituents as per one’s choice. An amount of Rs. 37,500 has been sanctioned for prototype development of the machine under the Micro Venture Innovation Fund of NIF. Also, NIF has filed the patent for the machine and the patent number is 994/DEL/2004, 31/05/2004.
Triumph amidst adversity…
His first job was that of a turner-fitter in a local company where he worked for two years. He has recently found a job with a company. He earns around Rs.2500 p.m. and that is the sole income of the family. He recalls that, while making the device, he faced a lot of financial difficulties and regrets that he did not receive any support from his family. He was discouraged in his endeavours and there were even attempts to break his tea making machine. In spite of all this he never lost his zeal. This model has been tried successfully first at the innovator’s house and then at GIAN (North) and many other exhibitions. It was also featured in The Dainik Jagaran newspaper and a couple of other local newspapers. Ashok hopes to start a business of his own with this innovation. Even now he spends more than 50% of his meagre income on experiments, gadgets, scientific equipments, books etc. At present he is working on a water reactor which would produce electricity at minimal costs and for which he would require Rs.20, 000-25,000 to meet the initial construction costs. One salutes the indomitable spirit of this grass root innovator.