Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ghana Food Processing -- Mah Krow from Ghana!

Day 12:

Today started early at the SMS Guest House. We packed up all of the tools and parts we will be bringing back to Boston, along with some old machines for archiving, and started the 3 hour van ride back to Accra. We stopped along the way to visit and check in with two customers.

Drying grated cassava with an older QueenTech press

Getting ready to toast some gari

In the evening we met up with an importation agent that had been recommended to us by a friend of the venture. We had a productive conversation, and we are very optimistic that he will be able to help us resolve problems we have been facing with getting our grater motors from China to Ghana. Since this is a supply chain issue that could seriously impact our production schedule it is a huge relief to have made forward progress, especially as our time in Ghana winds down.


We have two more days in Accra before we leave for Boston on Sunday, which we will be spending finishing up trip documentation, identifying and prioritizing tasks for next semester, and getting to see some of the city.

Thank you for joining us on this exciting journey and continuing to support the ADE program. See you in May!


This goat posting sanctioned by Ben Linder

Friday, January 13, 2017

India - Child Education - Learning Through Experiencing

Our first observation of the Brightbox was in a class conducted at Agastya. Students from a nearby school came to campus for an hour long lesson on light using Brightbox. A group of about thirty 14 year old girls with matching braids walked into the physics teaching lab at Agastya. We waited in anticipation at the back of the classroom while their teacher divided them into groups and demonstrated the Brightbox. As each exercise was handed out students worked intently. The students were so focused on finishing the exercise that they rarely spent time just exploring or playing with the Brightbox. Now we have observed three class sessions and noticed this as a fairly common thread. We were expecting much more discovery time and play with the Brightbox to help spark the children’s curiosity beyond the initial lesson.

However, we found a different experience when visiting a night school program called Operation Vacenta. The goal of Operation Vacenta is to provide village children a place to learn, do homework, and explore new subjects while their parents work in the evenings. While the Agastya classes took place on the clean, fresh campus, the night schools were typically one room or open-air classrooms in the hearts of local villages. The smells of food, nature, and other things were all around us, and the students were very different than those we met in class. These students ranged in age from four to sixteen, and did not have the educational experience of some of the students on campus. On our first visit to night school, students demonstrated the different activities they do there, performing songs, dances, and dramas. Of course, we had to reciprocate the act, and performed several of our own numbers, such as “itsy bitsy spider” and “head, shoulders, knees and toes.” We learned that the environment at night school was not as structured, especially because there were young adult volunteers rather than formal teachers. The leader of the local night schools, Madame Jayama, invited us to bring Brightbox to night schools the next day.          

We started our lesson off by giving each group of students time to explore and play with the different lenses, prisms, and mirrors included in the Brightbox optics kit. Each group was given flexibility to take as much time as they wanted. This was very important in allowing each group to understand some of the principles of the lenses. By giving each group a mentor who could answer questions and encourage exploration, children were able to understand and explore more than in a strongly structured routine. After some time, each group started and finished a new exercise we developed. They seemed to have a lot of fun doing it including lots of giggles and creating their own puzzles. We thought it was really great that the teams did not seem to get bored, but instead kept playing once the lesson was done. We considered the night a success, as the curriculum we had worked, and left the kids interested and excited.

When we realized that we would be conducting our next lesson at the night school with the same group of students, we struggled to create new curriculum in the hours before. None of our demos were working and we went to the night school with a list of short exercises rather than a coherent lesson plan. We were prepared for the lesson to be chaotic, however halfway through the lesson we realized that our lack of preparation was the most serendipitous mistake we could have made. 
Because we divided the groups by age, some of the groups worked at very different paces. The group of eighth graders had long since finished the first exercise by the time the youngest students successfully finished. After the oldest students solved the puzzle they began exploring other ways to play with the Brightbox, coming up with activities that were much more interesting and creative than what we could have thought of in a classroom at Olin. For example, the students working with Nick focused the elephant image to a point so that it could be passed through a slit, then diverged the point to project the elephant onto a sheet of paper. I guess they figured out how to pass a giraffe through a needle’s eye! Students at the other night school noticed that they could project the light onto the ceiling and soon created their own activities making the elephant images dance and compete with each other. Meanwhile, the younger students had the time and intrinsic motivation to continue working on the first exercise until they were fully satisfied with a solution. This is the kind of grit that the latest pedagogical theory has only just started to recognize the importance of.

While a lack of structured instruction allowed the students to become immersed in the experience, one night school volunteer made us realize the importance of some lecture. He walked over to a group of students who had just solved a difficult puzzle. Although they were giddy with their victory, the real transformational moment happened when their teacher explained why their solution worked using optics concepts. When he pulled in examples like movie projectors and rearview mirrors, the room was filled with “ohhh!”s The Brightbox set the stage for insights, but the teacher led them to the “aha” moment.

Having the opportunity to observe some of Agastya’s many use cases for Brightbox gave us insight into what kinds of environments do and do not suit Brightbox. We realized that the lack of structure in the night school allows for the kind of exploration that makes Brightbox fun. Based on what we learned, we plan to adjust the curriculum of the Brightbox to build in exploration time and an explanation at the end of the lesson even in the more traditional class setting.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ghana Food Processing -- Closing Up Shop

Day 11:

Today was a very hectic but immensely satisfying day. It being our last day at ITTU, we knew we would have to scramble to finish everything we wanted to get done. After an intensely busy 10 hours in the shop, we hit our mark.

Working around the herd of electricians that has become a fixture at the shop, the team split up to conduct our remaining trainings. This involved cutting and bending all of the sheet metal parts of the grater and using our newly-designed jigs and fixtures to assemble parts quickly and accurately. Using our friend’s electricity again, we were able to keep our spot welder and chop saw online for the entire day. The ITTU fabricators picked everything up quite quickly, asking salient questions and making suggestions along the way.

Moving the chop saw in search of electricity

Welding a grater handle using a jig

Checking the fit on the new anvil

ITTU fabricators working on a new plunger

One benefit of running so many trainings is that we were able to produce a full grater in a single day. This new machine, built almost entirely by the ITTU fabricators and dubbed “the best grater we’ve ever made” by the team, will be kept in the shop as a reference. All new components that are produced will be checked against this machine, meaning that we will create parts that are interchangeable between machines. This hugely simplifies any service we may need to perform on deployed machines, and is a very important step forward for the pilot study. Instead of making a few machines at a time, we are moving quickly towards a more sustainable and scalable production model that will allow the venture to grow in the coming months and years.

Welding the legs onto the grater

Final assembly and transmission alignment

We owe a huge thank you to our partners at ITTU for their patience during these past few chaotic days and their willingness to go the extra mile, working into darkness today to finish our last few tasks. We will be sad to say goodbye to Kumasi tomorrow as we head back to Accra, but are looking forward to tackling some critical business challenges in the next few days that have so far taken a backseat to technical work.


The completed reference machine

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ghana Food Processing -- Back Online!

Day 10:

Today more than made up for all of the frustrations of yesterday. Getting to ITTU a little late in the morning due to traffic, we immediately set about finding a new location for our spot welder. A friend of the venture who also has a shop in Suame Magazine graciously agreed to let us use his power for the day, and we were off and running.

Making a plunger in our temporary spot welding location

Because we have made several design changes to the grater over the course of the past semester, we knew we needed to run some quick training sessions with the ITTU fabricators to go over how parts and production techniques have changed. Working with ITTU’s shop manager, we figured out which fabricators would be responsible for creating which parts of the machine and what we would need to go over with them.

Planning trainings with the shop manager

While we waited for everyone to be free for trainings, we were able to make a huge amount of progress on our design tests. In fact, we reached definitive answers on all five avenues of investigation we had begun two days ago, and have clear action items moving forward.

The new, simplified head design prototype



Because tomorrow is our last day at ITTU, we spent some time cleaning up our workspace. We also went through every failed machine part (which have been carefully kept over the years) to determine the causes of failure and alter our design and processes to prevent future issues.

A failed bearing assembly, caked in dried cassava paste

Flight testing an outdated grater chute

By this time, the ITTU fabricators were ready to begin our walkthroughs. We started with the grater chute, a relatively complex part that we altered significantly this semester. The trial went faster than expected, and very soon they had produced the best new chute we have seen to date. We ended the day on this high note, with a day packed full of more training sessions coming tomorrow. We only have one day left in Suame Magazine, but we’re moving at full speed and our to-do list is shrinking quickly!       


Walking through folding a chute

Fabricators finishing a chute front

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Ghana Food Processing -- Powering Through

Day 9:

Today was an exercise in patience and adaptation. Arriving at ITTU in the morning as usual, we picked up working where we had left off. The power outage yesterday meant that we weren’t able to complete the assembly of a number of welded sheet metal parts, and we had them lined up and ready to go as soon as we got in. However, despite the other electric devices in the shop working, our spot welder would not. We then began a painful debugging process that took most of the day and involved two electricians, an analog multimeter, and several calls to support centers in the US. After ruling out all other options, we were able to determine that ITTU’s already-suspect power (which tends to range from 220 to 250V, depending on which socket you use) had been thrown further out of whack during the outage and was simply not enough to support the welding operations we were trying to accomplish. We identified some other shops that would let us use their power, but by then the day was ending and we had to close up.

Probing for clues inside the spot welder

As we worked on getting the critical spot welder back up and running, we were able to accomplish a number of other tasks (sans electricity, while the electricians tinkered) that have been on our docket. First, we spent some time cleaning and organizing the venture’s inventory at ITTU. This meant tossing outdated drawings, updating hardware and miscellaneous parts, and finding a home for any parts that are no longer used in our machines. It was great to reduce the clutter in our storage space and remove any possible confusion between machine configurations.

Next, we put in some time configuring commercial, off-the-shelf parts to create the bearing assemblies that hold the head shaft in the grater. Many hands made light work and we quickly processed all of the components we had, enough to make another 20 graters.

Pressing together bearing assemblies

With the welder still down, we moved on to dealing with some machines which were unsellable due to large manufacturing errors. These we sorted and processed, salvaging what we could and learning a great deal about how we can improve our production processes and avoid mistakes in the future.

Removing an improperly welded chute

Prototyping alternate fabrication techniques

After we had finished with the machines, we ended the day with a very productive meeting to plan out the next few days before we return to Boston, as well as tasks we will complete when we get home to support our teammates in Kumasi.

While today certainly included its share of frustrations, we are happy to have a clear path forward and a significant amount of time left to work in Ghana.


Monday, January 9, 2017

Ghana Food Processing -- Back In the Shop

Day 8:


Today was another long day at the shop. After saying goodbye to two of our teammates who had to leave the trip early, we headed to ITTU to get started. We spent the first part of the day unpacking from our weekend trip and organizing our tools and parts to make sure we can work as efficiently as possible in the time we have left.


Inspecting and sorting inventory machines


Most of the rest of the day was spent prototyping new design ideas for various parts of the grater. We are focusing mostly on making parts cheaper, faster, and more easy to assemble. Today we began parallel design experiments on nearly every component of the machine, including:

  • Simplifying the grating head 
  • Stiffening the plunger
  • Simplifying the foot joint
  • Improving chute fabrication
  • Altering the handle to simplify fabrication

The QueenTech grater, for reference

Our fearless leader testing handle strength

Deborah and a Ghana National Service person working on a new head design


A freshly bent chute prototype

In an effort to speed up manufacturing, we also made flat pattern templates of all eight sheet metal parts in the grater. While fabricators had previously laid out each part by hand with squares and scribes, they can now simply trace the templates and start cutting and bending immediately.

A finished anvil (left) and plunger (right) with their respective templates

Despite being somewhat hampered by a power outage for part of the afternoon, we had a very productive day overall. The next few days will still be a mad scramble to finish everything before we head back to Boston, but we are optimistic about how much we will be able to accomplish!  

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ghana Food Processing -- Meet the Users!

Day 6:

Today was the first day of our overnight trip to the villages. We got up bright and early to drive out of Kumasi, picking up Deborah along the way. After a few brief stops along the road to pick up food and two friends of the venture, Joe and Jerry (who were along for the weekend), we made our way to our first user visit in Domeabra. While seeing our customers is always exciting, this visit was particularly so because our meetings in Domeabra were with women who purchased the first two machines produced entirely by ITTU and sold by our project manager and sales representative in Ghana, all without any input or assistance from our team in Boston. This is a critical milestone in our pilot study, and a huge learning opportunity for our team.

On the road to Domeabra

We found our first user* hard at work toasting up some freshly grated and pressed cassava to make gari. Since she has only had QueenTech (the name of our venture) machines for about three weeks, we were very curious to hear about her experience. Our business team engaged her in a productive conversation, learning all about her processing business and how the machines are changing the way she works. During this time the tech team inspected the grater and press, tweaking some parts and updating hardware to make sure that we left our customer with the most robust and current machine possible. We were also able to identify and record a few production errors, so we can make sure to address them as we work to make manufacturing and assembly easier for our partners at ITTU.

One of our users cooking gari

Next, we met with another woman in Domeabra who had recently purchased QueenTech machines. She greeted us at her door after hearing her dog growling to protect her newborns as we approached. As she signaled for us to enter, we heard Deborah send out a shout after seeing a potential sales representative hire (with whom we had spoken earlier in the week) standing in the living room. We had not heard from him earlier in the morning and it was a surprise to see him at our client’s house.


After a quick inspection and touch-up of our user’s machines, we took advantage of the fact that our potential sales representative hire was with us. We put together a quick meeting to get to know him, finding out he is a local Agricultural Extension Officer, and had a good discussion about what the potential role with QueenTech would entail. We decided to follow up later as we had a schedule to keep to and were running behind. As the venture scales and production increases, we will be looking for more sales reps with knowledge, networks, and most importantly a passion for our mission of helping grow women’s small businesses.


After finishing up our meetings, we headed over to our lodgings for the night in Pekyerekye. The tech team set up shop in a courtyard, racing the sun to complete the assembly of our prototype machine. After putting on the finishing touches, we had time to grate some cassava to make sure it was performing up to our standards.


The freshly assembled grater, ready for testing

While the tech team stayed at the lodgings to work on the machine, the business team headed out to have a meeting with the chief of the village and meet more of our users. We met with the chief of the village to let him know of our presence and purpose for being there, bringing him a gift to show our gratitude.

IMG_2082.JPG
Offering our gift at the chief's meeting

As soon as the meeting ended we were taken to the homes of two of our users, and learned a great deal from the wear the machines have incurred, while getting to meet their entire families.


We regrouped at our lodgings, where we enjoyed a home-cooked meal and set up our mosquito nets, then settled down for bed ahead of another full day.


*Because the villages we work in are so small, we avoid using our operator’s names to preserve their privacy.


Day 7:

Getting up early to pack up and move out, we started our second day in the villages. Our first visit, also in Pekyerekye, was to one of our long-time customers who is also our first sales rep. She has owned a grater and press for a year, and has been helping us test a prototype grater at the same time. The tech team updated and tuned her machines while she and the business team engaged in co-design around our new sales rep contract, which will be critical as we move forward and expand our sales network.

IMG_2172.JPG
Discussing terms of the sales rep contract

We were also, for the first time, able to leave a brand new grater and press with our representative. This means that she has inventory on hand to sell as soon as she finds an interested and qualified buyer, instead of having to delay a sale to wait for machines to be produced.  

IMG_2165.JPG
Peeling cassava for the grater

Having learned so much in just two short days and having seen the impact of our venture, we can't wait to get back to the shop at ITTU tomorrow. We'll get to work helping our manufacturing partners create machines faster and more efficiently so we can get more graters and presses in the hands of the women who want them.