Thursday, July 30, 2015

Manufacturing Begins

A new phase for the bicycle maize sheller started this Monday. We’re shifting from hammering out one prototype at a time in the workshop to sending out designs for medium-scale manufacturing. Unusually long and frequent power outages have thrown a wrench into the plan for the past two weeks, but we had electricity almost all day today. It was refreshing to hear the workshop fill up with happy grinding and welding sounds as everyone worked extra hard to make up for lost time.

The maize shellers that we sell will be made by hired technicians, or mafundi. There are two workshops to choose from just on either side of Twende. Hiring a fundi here is a little different from hiring a machine shop. Instead of making carefully triple-checked drawings and sending them off, I started by walking over to the shop next door with a sample of the part I wanted. After a brief negotiation over price, they gave us a quote. I gave them a jig, a verbal explanation of the details, and a sketch on graph paper in case of any questions. The fundi seemed a little bemused by my insistence that he keep the sketch. Now, if the power stays on, they’ll be making one unit then bringing it by for us to quality check. If everything looks good, we’ll order a larger batch.

I’m not saying there aren’t large machine shops here. Some of my coworkers have gotten jobs done at shops with mills, lathes and all the tools we’re accustomed to. But for the maize sheller, all I really need is a drill, a welder, and a grinder—or a hacksaw if the power’s out and you’re desperate. 

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