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  • Engineering on tap: meet the company pioneering domestic fire extinguishers, from the kitchen sink

    James Dyson Award Revisited: Plumis (International winner, 2009)

     

JDA winner 2011 KwickScreen founder and CEO

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Our homes became nests over the past year. From baking to exercise, it’s all been about domestic activities. But after spending so much time indoors, have we become numb to the possible emergencies that could arise at home?

 

The 2009 James Dyson Award International winner, Yusuf Muhammad, wanted to make a difference in a domestic emergency, for a university project. Fast forward nearly 12 years, and this idea has grown into an inventive fire safety company, Plumis, specialising in at-home water mist solutions.

 

“I can say, without a doubt, the Award changed my life,” says Muhammad. In a recent conversation with him, we uncovered more about the commercialisation of his invention, the Award win and his curious encounter with the International Water Mist Association.

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    It’s been nearly 12 years since you won the James Dyson Award, tell us about how you started your invention.

     

    I entered the James Dyson Award in 2009 with my team’s invention called Automist. A kitchen tap mounted system that puts out house fires, using water mist to suppress the blaze. Today Automist is our product name, within our wider fire safety company called Plumis. Our mission is to reduce deaths and injuries from fire.

     

    It all started with my final year group project at InnovationRCA, the Royal College of Art’s centre for entrepreneurship. With a group of other engineers, we visited the London Fire Brigade and told them we’d like to make a difference in an emergency situation. So, we did a session with them to draw from their experiences going into burning buildings. It was amazing. They had all sorts of ideas, different things, like using smoke hoods and new evacuation procedures; we pretty much spent two or three days just picking their brains. And actually, the alarm went off in the middle of the session, so they had to go for a call. They were all running off as their names were called on the Tannoy system. I think some of them were quite pleased they didn’t have to continue in the session with us!

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    • Automist – kitchen sink

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      Automist – kitchen sink

  • Plumis fire trials

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    First tests of Automist’s technology


  • This was in the back garden of my parents’ place and I used this video in my entry to the James Dyson Award. We used a jet washer to show when you put enough water mist around the fire, the fire acts like a pump. Soon it just goes out because it’s so saturated with water, in and around. So, we started to get really, really interested in water mist, and developed the solution. The result was a tap mounted system and this concept, Automist, won me the James Dyson Award.

     

     

    “We loved that our idea was going to be judged by real-life engineers, who were thinking about the practicalities, as much as whether it was a neat, quirky design solution.”


  • Why did you enter the James Dyson Award?

    As part of my university course, we were assessed on the whole process of our projects. This really lent itself well to the James Dyson Award, because it’s so process driven in its application. We had all the evidence to show how we came to the idea of Automist technology. And I remember, we got a good mark in our project. My initial thought was, “Well, I can use this in my portfolio to get a job,”. But my tutors were saying, “One of the issues is that students come up with these great ideas, but it never actually goes anywhere, it never enters the world.”

    Our tutors helped us to nurture our ideas and they wanted to see us out there doing something with it. So they actually encouraged us to enter the James Dyson Award. The competition is run by an engineer that we all knew and respected, and we loved that our idea was going to be judged by real-life engineers, who were thinking about the practicalities, as much as whether it was a neat, quirky design solution. The competition isn’t gimmicky like some others.

     

    When you first came across the Award, what were your initial thoughts?

    Initially, I thought, “Well, look, let’s just throw some stuff in there”, because it’s an international competition, there’s people entering from all over the world. I don’t think, when you enter, you ever really have the confidence to believe you might actually win. But we knew we had a strong project, and we had our development process all evidenced, so we just thought, “You know what? Let’s package together our application and see what happens.”

     

     

     

“The Award never gave away the secret sauce to our invention, applicants retain all IP”

- Yusuf Muhammad, Plumis.

 

 

  • How did the Award help you and your invention?

    I can say, without a doubt, the Award changed my life. I would never in a million years have said I’d start – or be involved in – a fire protection company. Even after winning, that was still my view, to be honest. I was thinking, “Well, you know, we’ve got this money. Let’s go on holiday, I can pay off some of my student loan and buy some trainers that I’ve always wanted.” But my tutors said winning the James Dyson Award is validation that this is a credible idea. They encouraged us to enter a business plan competition to see where we could go with it. The prize money from the Award paid for all our initial patents. That was another great aspect. The Award never gave away the secret sauce to our invention, applicants retain all IP.

     

    We could pitch to investors and tell them this with confidence. It made a huge difference. And the other support that followed was the international PR, and the press, and the prestige. We were invited to ‘home of the future events’ and featured in national and industry publications. We could confidently show that we were engineers straight out of university, trying to make a change. And people paid attention to us. 

     

      • Media coverage following Automist’s win

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        Media coverage following Automist’s win


  • Where is the company now in 2021, compared to where it was after winning in 2009?

    So in 2009, we really just had an idea, and the Award’s prize money enabled us to enter a small business incubator. Here we filed our patents and one year later we secured our first investment. It probably took about three years of further research and development before we offered the first product to market. We had it tested at the BRE, back where the International Water Mist Association conference had originally taken place. We ended up going full circle, and before I knew it, I was presenting at the Association. And it was only a year after that that we saved our first life with Automist. Still today that is one of my proudest days, as an engineer, to know that the product had done what it was intended to do.

     

    Fast forward to now and we have 44 people who are employed by Plumis, loads of engineers in that mix. We have over 10,000 installations of our products up and down the UK. We have offices in the US too and we’re currently going through our UL listing. And the product itself has evolved from the tap mounted sprinkler, to a device which can operate even two minutes before a traditional sprinkler system. It offers a whole host of other benefits too, such as early fire warning, and we’re looking at adding sensing to really change the way people think about fire safety.

     

“When you look at your idols, or your heroes, in engineering or design, you don’t think of them when they were nervous or doubting their invention; you think about the finished article.”

- Yusuf Muhammad, Plumis.

 

 

 

  • Plumis HQ – images taken pre-Covid

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    Images from Yusuf’s James Dyson Award application

     

    What was your biggest learning from entering the Award?

    I think one of the hardest things to get, when you’re trying to go down a new path or enter a career, is confidence. You know? When you look at your idols, or your heroes, in engineering or design, you don’t think of them when they were nervous or doubting their invention; you think about the finished article. So for me, that was the biggest thing. It was somebody who I’ve admired throughout my career saying, “You know what? There’s something in that idea.” And this confidence and credibility gave me a springboard to take our invention places.

     

    I also want to add it still feels very much, on some levels, like I am that student still, with an idea, with a head full of concepts, and I’m still enjoying that journey. We still have business problems that we’re trying to solve, we still have solutions, we still think we can make an impact… a positive impact on the world, and I’m looking to progress that with Plumis.

     

    If you came across a student who was contemplating entering the Award this year, what advice would you give them?

    The reason that I became an engineer, and the reason that I find it so fascinating, is because engineering can change things in the world. I love this quote, where people say that everything around us was once an idea. Everything is considered. It’s deliberate why a chair looks as it does, for example. And the James Dyson Award, for me, really enabled me to have an impact on the world, or to bring an idea to life. So, if you’re passionate about your idea, if you’re passionate about the change that the idea can bring about, then the James Dyson Award is a potential vehicle for that change. And I think that’s invaluable. Because you can work hard and not have an impact or create change. The Award makes things happen.

    Find out more about Plumis via their website here.

     

Inventors of the future: Submit your idea to the James Dyson Award.

The 2021 James Dyson Award is now open for entries. Find out more about how to enter here.

Throughout this year’s Award, stay up to date with how past winners are engineering our futures on the James Dyson Award Instagram page and the Dyson Newsroom

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