At the NASA-funded Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program, the staff is used to reassuring small business owners that the program really does solve technical challenges for free.

“People may think that SATOP sounds to good to be true, or that they can’t get something for nothing,” said SATOP project engineer Nick Gardner. “We don’t mind helping them overcome those preconceptions.”

Teri Mathis admits she was one of those doubters. Mathis, who founded Aeration Technologies Ltd. in 1991, decided to transfer technology for industrial wastewater treatment to consumer applications in 2000. As a result, she created “The Big Pitcher,” a small electric appliance that oxygenates and purifies drinking water. Her patented device diffuses air through the water, removing organic and inorganic solids, reducing hardness, and eliminating unpalatable tastes caused by chlorine, fluoride and sulfur gases.

Mathis was making great progress with The Big Pitcher, but had to overcome two technical issues: the lid did not fit snugly enough and would vibrate and rattle when the device was turned on, as well as fall out when water was poured.

“The lid fell out during a demonstration to Houston media personality Jeannette Harris, so that was quite unfortunate,” Mathis said. “What was fortunate was that Jeannette knew all about SATOP and recommended that I contact the program for help.”
SATOP provides free engineering assistance to small businesses with technical challenges through the expertise of the program’s Alliance Partners – 50 aerospace companies and universities involved in the U.S. Space Program.

Mathis had to overcome her initial fears that working with an outside entity might prove expensive or time consuming. “My philosophy is usually ‘if you want something done right, do it yourself,’” she explained. “But I’d tried everything I could to resolve the issues with the lid and nothing had worked, so it was time to give SATOP a try.”

Gardner and his counterpart in SATOP’s Florida center, Ryan Greenough, matched Mathis’ Request for Technical Assistance with David Hermanson, Jr. Industrial & Human Engineering Launch Ops Safety Lead at United Space Alliance, a SATOP Alliance Partner located at Cape Canaveral, Fla. United Space Alliance is NASA’s prime space shuttle contractor. Hermanson has solved numerous RTAs for SATOP and immediately began to look for a solution that would address both the vibration and fit of the lid.

His recommendation: a clear rubber band that would fit around the lip of the lid and prevent vibration and create a snug fit to avert spillage. The cost for the band: 10 cents each.

“I initially investigated O-rings for Teri, but the cost would have been an issue. I was glad to find such a cost effective and easy to implement solution,” Hermanson said.

Mathis is thrilled with Hermanson’s solution and details its benefits.

“The cost per unit is 90 percent lower than our parts budget allowed, the part is available off the shelf in the U.S., the time to install the part is only about 15 seconds, our aesthetics are maintained because the part is colorless, and it solves the issues of vibration and security of the lid. What more could I ask?” Mathis said.

With Hermanson’s solution in place, The Big Pitcher is now in production and Mathis is beginning a major launch campaign. The pitcher is available at the Web site www.GetThePitcher.com.

And Mathis’ opinion of SATOP?

“I could not be more pleased with this experience. SATOP is apparently superbly managed to accomplish its goal of technical outreach to small business. The SATOP team, from start to finish, was effective, efficient and intelligent,” she said. “I’m very glad I overcame my initial reservations because SATOP is an ideal resource for any small company that needs technical assistance.”