Our customers include events management companies and entrepreneurs who want to run air-conditioning hiring businesses much like the model that is used by mobile fridge hire businesses. But our end user who will be experiencing our product is the general public such as guests at a wedding or birthday party and dignitaries at government functions.
Mobi-Air is a hybrid system which uses thermal energy storage as its medium of cooling. Water or a liquid substance is frozen to a set temperature using a refrigeration condensing unit with a single-phase plug (normal domestic power that we use in our households) at night, when electricity is at its cheapest. The energy stored in that liquid substance will be used to cool the tent or marquee during the day for a given number of hours, without any electrical connection. This results in huge energy savings and convenience for the user.
The interview with Mpumzi Swana took place at their (SAMAC Engineering's) head office, where we got to see previous iterations of their innovation as well as the final product.
What problem/s are you trying to address with your innovation?
We noticed that many events hosted in structures such as marquees and tents tend to become very hot and there are no cost-effective mobile air-cooling solutions to address this challenge, as mobile air conditioners currently on the market require three-phase generators which make them expensive.
What has been the toughest challenge/s to overcome in your innovation journey?
Our toughest challenge has been to secure commercialisation funding for the manufacturing of the product. The funding/financing models that currently exist create a barrier for new products which are trying to enter the market for commercialisation. Funding for commercialisation favours enterprises that are already up and running as they are able to generate projections based on sales history. For future innovations, we intend to build in commercialisation aspects during the product design phase in order to accelerate and make the transition to commercialisation considerably easier.
Where do you see yourself and your innovation in 5 years’ time?
In 5 years time we will be manufacturing mobile air conditioning units for the African continent, and will also have launched our household mobile unit. We will also have a fully fledged R&D division within the company that is dedicated to new product development.
What has been the biggest lesson so far?
SAMAC notes that there are a lot of resources, time and support required when developing a certain technology and as an innovator you need to be prepared to make sacrifices. These are sacrifices of time with your family and also sacrificing financial stability because in some cases you do not receive an income for months on end and this has implications for your life and those who are dependent on you. They also note that it would have been beneficial for them to know more about commercialisation from the onset, in order to factor it into product design. Requirements for commercialisation include certification and industry standards for example.
Mpumzi Swana and his team have received support from a number of organisations and institutions in various forms. Invotech and the Technology Innovation Agency facilitated the development of Mobi-Air from concept to product development, through seed and prototype funding. Institutions such as the Durban Chamber of Commerce, Small Enterprise Development Agency, and eThekwini Municipality’s Business Support Unit have supported SAMAC Engineering in terms of improving business practices and connections to the private sector. The relationship with Mangosuthu University of Technology has given SAMAC Engineering a channel within which to test their prototype for commercial buildings.