Q & A Franziska Wülker IN CONVERSATION WITH...

As part of our celebration of the women helping to drive the KBB industry forward, Rebecca Nottingham speaks to Franciska Wülker about her role as a development engineer at Duravit and how she designed a space toilet for NASA

Q: What made you pursue a career in engineering? And, what made you bring that expertise to the bathroom industry? A: As a child I loved taking things apart to fi nd out how they worked and how they looked from the inside. I liked to reassemble them – which, I admit, didn’t always work out – or building something new with the parts. I was interested in maths and physics so mechanical engineering fi t the bill.

What I like about bringing my engineering skills to Duravit – and the bathroom industry as a whole – is that I work to develop products that people really need and use every day. It’s great that we connect the practical with comfort and design. Furthermore, as an engineer in the bathroom industry, my work is very varied and has an impact on the whole product, not just a small aspect of it. It’s a great incentive to push yourself when you know your role makes a real difference to the end product.

Q: Can you explain how your role at Duravit helps bring products to market? A: Our ambition at Duravit is to always offer the best designs. That’s why we always try to be one step ahead and also think sustainably. I work

in research and

development and my main responsibility is the development and optimisation of our fl ushing


technology. Or to be a little more direct: I make sure that our toilets fl ush properly. That might sound easy, but it really isn’t. There is a variety of norm criteria that you have to meet so that you can sell a product – and this can change from market to market. In addition to meeting the norm criteria, as a brand we obviously want our toilets to perform as well as possible every day. For example, we want to avoid that you have to fl ush twice. To achieve an optimal fl ushing performance, I use computational fl uid dynamics. That means that I fl ush the toilet digitally, to ascertain that our toilet bowls have the best possible geometry for fl ushing while also considering the design.

strength. That is just one obvious example but there are a lot more. In my opinion, it is always good to have mixed teams in order to make great products.

Men and women, young and old, have different needs. A mixed team is more likely to bring all those needs together and create a product that is great for everyone

Q: How do you feel the bathroom industry benefi t from having more women in engineering and product design roles? A: It would increase diversity which, in turn, would help create better pr oducts. Especially when you think about the bathroom, men and women, young and old, will

have different needs. A mixed team is more likely to bring all those needs together and create a product that is great for everyone. A man will probably have diffi culties desiging a product specifi cally for women and vice versa.

Q: Engineering and the bathroom industry itself are both very male- orientated, what do you feel you bring to the role as a female? A: I see problems from a different perspective. I might fi nd a task which requires a lot of physical strength more diffi cult to perform. As a consequence, I am more likely to think about a solution as to how this task can be solved using less

Q: Do you feel you have a role to play in encouraging more women to pursue this career? A: Yes, absolutely. One point that I think is important is visibility. This applies to all ‘typically-male’ and ‘typically-female’ jobs. If you are a girl and only know of male engineers, you are less likely to even consider becoming an engineer. The same

goes for men looking to work in industries dominated by women.

Q: What advice would you give to women who are aiming for similar roles in the industry? A: Don’t be intimidated by discouraging comments and team up with your colleagues. They have been new to the role and the industry at some point and will probably understand the challenges you face.

Q: What has been your biggest achievement during your time at Duravit? A: My most special achievement so far has been that I came third – out of 20,000 applications – in NASA’s recent ‘Lunar Loo challenge’. The task was to develop a toilet that would work both in weightlessness and in lunar gravity (which is about a sixth of the gravity of the earth). This was an extremely challenging task as you can’t simply fl ush the toilet as you normally do. Water is a much too precious resource to be used for fl ushing in space and in weightlessness a gravitational fl ush would not work at all. Therefore, I had to rethink everything I know about fl ush technology. I specifi cally designed my toilet design so it’s comfortable for male and female astronauts to use. It uses air suction to remove excretions directly from the astronaut’s body and a centrifuge to transport them to a tank where they can be stored safely.

· March 2021

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