Now it’s time to take a look at a small but competitive business making a difference for the Korean economy.
What do you think is the best invention of all time? The airplane? The computer? The Internet? No doubt, these are all wonderful inventions. Another item, namely, a flush toilet, could join this list. The toilet was first invented in England in 1596 to solve the sanitary problem caused by discarding human waste. In 1775, a flush toilet designed to run water from a cistern to clear out waste became more common. Thanks to the convenient and clean flush toilet, people were freed from bad smells and the danger of infectious diseases. A company has taken this invention a step further with an innovative idea. Let’s hear from Hyun Don, head of YM Tech.
The principle of operating a toilet involves an S-shaped pipe. The pipe is filled with water to siphon the excrement from a bowl. But my company changed the S-shape pipe to a changeable pipe or outlet. When water fills the toilet bowl, the pipe falls due to the weight of water. Simply put, it moves like a seesaw. Toilets in houses have a cistern. Water pressure in houses is rather weak and inconsistent, so water should be saved in the tank and released at a time, otherwise water cannot fill the entire pipe. This structure uses a lot of water. But the changeable outlet uses the displacement of the center of gravity, and it is always operational as long as water is provided, whether it trickles down or runs at a time.
A toilet has an S-shaped pipe, with water inside it draining into the sewer. Water is stored in the pipe to prevent filthy odors from flowing backward from the sewer. This system is convenient but uses a large amount of water and often causes clogging. YM Tech created a changeable outlet to replace the S-shaped pipe, which has been used for 240 years. Using the principle of a waterwheel, the outlet stands vertically in the standby phase to store water. When the user presses the flush button, it tilts to one side to flush the excrement and water down to the sewer. In other words, the outlet in the flushing phase changes its position horizontally using the weight of water as gravity. The new system remedied the shortcomings of the conventional toilet.
This flushing system uses much less water. The outlet’s diameter is big enough to contain a tennis ball. That’s why the toilet flushes properly. That’s something that existing manufacturers could not improve. Most toilets would clog when there was not enough water. But our new product reduced clogging by more than 90 percent, compared to existing toilets, even though it uses only a small amount of water. This is a great advantage. A toilet at home usually stores water that could fill 6 two-liter plastic bottles, and the whole amount is used at a time. By comparison, our product only uses water that fills 2 two-liter bottles.
The flush volume of YM Tech’s water-saving toilet is 4.5 liters, which is 65 percent less than that of existing ones, which use an average of 13 liters of water. Also, the diameter of the new pipe increased to 70 millimeters from the existing 53 millimeters, minimizing clogging and enhancing washing capacity. With its excellent water saving flushing technology, YM Tech won first prize at the Taipei International Invention Show and the Seoul International Invention Fair in 2014. Its product gained recognition as a New Excellent Technology certified by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. How did Mr. Hyun float this new, innovative idea?
I worked as a construction designer, and I often worked overtime at night. One day, my girlfriend, now my wife, came to clean my house. She broke the water tank of my toilet by mistake. I was so busy that I couldn’t fix it for weeks. I wondered what would happen if I got rid of the water tank altogether. So I designed a toilet without a cistern and studied it through a simulation. It was amazingly efficient. I began to work on it. In fact, it took less than a year to design and make the new toilet. But it took a lot of time to actually commercialize it.
Hyun majored in engineering in university and worked as a construction designer. After his toilet was broken, he came up with a new toilet that defies conventional principles. When he was still a student, he patented a water-saving flushing method. Based on the experience, he began to develop a water-saving toilet in 2011. Everything went smoothly at first, as he made a new product in just a year. But commercialization was a different matter. For a new product using a different principle to gain people’s trust, it should be more solid and simpler than existing ones. Hyun decreased the number of components for the toilet to a mere three. He conducted more than 300-thousand experiments and proved that the product could be used semi-permanently. After five years of efforts and earning five patents for its inventions, YM Tech was able to introduce its toilets to the market. But it was challenging to actually sell them.
People are generally reluctant to change what they have already been using, although a new product is considered excellent. They feel somewhat uneasy about something they haven’t seen before. That was a stumbling block on our way. So we chose to install the toilets in some restrooms at traditional markets in local provinces, subway stations and universities. About a year later, the toilets drew a positive response from the users, as they found that the toilets were never broken and were rarely clogged. From a long-term perspective, I think I made the right choice. My company was able to win the market’s trust before actually selling the products.
In 2015, YM Tech built its toilets in various places, despite losses. But its bold challenge proved to be successful. As time went by, the benefits of the company’s technology were clear to see. The products have fared well in the market, with sales on the rise.
In 2015, sales remained in the 70-million won range. That means we simply built toilets, without being able to sell them well. But from the second half of last year, the sales have improved. Now, we deliver our products to 22 schools, including Seoul National University, and provide them to pilot programs of local governments. More than 30 public restrooms on expressways are using our products. The Environment Ministry is running a water-related pilot project joined by major companies like Samsung, LG and Woongjin. My company was selected as one of the 10 toilet-related participants. The ministry has introduced us to overseas markets as well. Our product was also selected for HIT 500, which is a business project that supports promising goods chosen by the Small and Medium Business Corporation. It is little wonder that our brand awareness has improved significantly. We have recently sent export samples to some countries, and discussion is underway to make contracts. We have already inked a business agreement in technology with a Chinese company.
YM Tech has garnered due recognition, as it takes part in the state project that is mostly joined by large companies. It has expanded its market from public institutions and construction companies in Korea into China, Japan and India. Its sales are projected to reach 4 billion won, which is roughly 3.6 million US dollars this year and 9 billion won or about 8.2 million dollars next year. YM stands for yeomyeong, which means “daybreak” in Korean. As its name indicates, YM Tech is heralding a new dawn in innovative technology and has a promising future ahead.