Saturday, January 31, 2015

Goodbye Ghana!

Let’s recap.

January 3, we entered Ghana with 500 pounds of luggage in 10 different bags. We’ve left with 8 mostly empty bags and one fewer teammate. Don’t worry though; as much as we’ll miss him here in the USA, we’re very excited for BenCh to start his work with Burn Design Labs in Kenya. And he’s going to help us continue to improve the project this spring semester.

But what happened to all of that luggage in the two weeks in Ghana? Well. We built seven functional graters and deployed six. One returned home so the new team knows exactly what they’re working with. We built two new presses and modified an older one. All three were deployed, and one was sold. Some materials were left at ITTU for future work, a few old machines were brought home, and the existing jigs were also returned home for redesign.

 We spent four days co-designing in PKK and visiting other villages. The remaining seven days in Kumasi were spent at ITTU in Suame Magazine testing and manufacturing. Two days at the beginning of the week were spent traveling, and finally we had three days to relax and fly home.

We arrived at IDE in Accra on Thursday evening around dinner time, and the following morning we visited a potential motor supplier. After that visit, a little driving took us to Ashesi University (on the hill in the picture below). Students and faculty from Ashesi visited us during the week, and we were given the opportunity to visit their university in return.

Finally, on Saturday morning, we hit the beach and did some shopping before it was time for us to board our flight home. But as you must know from my previous blog post, flights were never a simple matter for this team. We spent nearly three hours on the tarmac (I watched a full length movie with plenty of time to spare). There was a problem with the refueling panel of the plane. So after an hour or so of trouble shooting, it was decided that we would power cycle the plane to see if that fixed the problem. We were told over the intercom that this was a technique often used in “computeristics”. That’s correct. The plane was turned off and back on again. Tragically, when the plane was turned back on the problem was not fixed, so the panel was disconnected and we were told “it is possible we can still fly to Amsterdam”. And fly we did. We even kept some time from our original five hour layover.

And now we’re back. And the trip was a wild success. Rezzy and I will be continuing with ADE this semester, and we’re sad to see Carly, Bench, Ndungu, Roy, and Tyler go. We’ve picked up a new team of eleven people, and we’re full steam ahead into the project. The ADE space has been cleaned, the site manager chosen, subteams assigned, snack days set, luggage unpacked, and we’re ready to go. Wish us luck for the new semester.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

We're here!

Afehyia paaa!
We’ve finally here on our long awaited trip to Ghana. After an eventful journey consisting of:

         ·    Five flight delays
         ·    One changed flight
         ·    One “Ice Storm”
         ·    500 pounds of checked luggage
         ·    Two lost bags
         ·    Seven TSA checked bag notices
         ·    Two turbulent flights
         ·    One turbulent car ride
         ·    One million pot holes
         ·    And 24 hours later

      we’ve made it to KNUST, just outside of Kumasi. We began work right away on Monday morning, bright and early, leaving around 9:30 am. Maybe that wasn’t so bright and early, but since then we’ve been up and running by 7:00 am. And we’ve done a lot of work too. We’ve assembled three beautifully functioning graters complete with new coats of paint. With these machines we’ve been able to grate and press over 100lbs of cassava fresh from the market. And when I say fresh, I mean fresh. Farmed and sold in the same morning.

This Thursday, we brought two of these new machines to PKK to replace previously functional graters. Two of our customers and invaluable codesigners, Auntie Akosua and Auntie Ama, were ecstatic to begin grating cassava again. Auntie Akosua’s previous grater became dysfunctional a few months ago and Auntie Ama’s grater shocked her three days ago (though it’s not clear what caused this). As soon as Auntie Ama’s new grater was running she grated an entire bowl of cassava in about 10 minutes.

We’ve also greatly improved our ratchet strap press with a new ratchet that is larger than life. The ratchet strap press uses a ratchet to squeeze two wooden boards together with a bag of cassava sandwiched in between. The press was tested out last semester, but after some work here in Ghana, we’ve finally proven it a plausible design. On top of this we’ve built a new double lead screw design with lead screws and a board that rotate out of the users way to prevent them from being placed on the ground.

We’ve received a lot of help with the new press designs from Aunite Ama and Auntie Akosua. Both designs still have their flaws, but we’re one step closer to the end goal. For example, releasing the ratchet strap press makes a noise like a small gunshot. Auntie Akosua said the sound alone could kill a person…. We’ll need to look into this further.

 In the coming week, we’re hoping to build a brand new press and ideally assemble a few more graters. We’re running a tight schedule too. A new press and grater will need to be sold this Thursday. Cross your fingers that the power stays on for us!

Wish us luck and check back later for our next post!

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Final Day

And on the 11th day, the ADE Ghana team rested. We spent the first half of the day at the beach, eating and goofing around. From there we went to the market and put our negotiation skills to the test. Satisfied with our findings, we returned to the IDE offices and kicked back, and that night we made curry and ate our last meal together as we planned our journeys to the airport.

With that our trip drew to a close. Since arriving 11 days ago, we sold a grater of the new design, refurbished one already deployed, expanded our contact book of potential buyers, and co-designed press interaction with our users. We also thoroughly tested and validated the name of the grater, defined more clearly the grater’s role in chop bars, and investigated the possibility of mobile money payments and franchise modeling.

Looking ahead, we really need to finish deploying the grater venture, so that we can focus on the press more. To do so, the next team must focus more on sourcing, quality control, and larger scale manufacture and distribution. Regarding the press, we gained a lot of information that will be applied to the next iteration of the press, so that we’ll definitely have one for Auntie Akosua next trip.
Jianhan enjoying the beach

The team (minus Ben)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Off to the Villages Once More

Team ready to deliver grater to eagerly awaiting owners
It’s time for our second and final village trip. Early in the morning we peeled some (now rotting) cassava and fed it into the two finished graters. Fortunately both graters performed as expected, rendering them ready to ship. We had our last breakfast at the guest house and set off. Our first stop was the village in Odumase to deliver our first new grater to Samuel and company. We were able to meet more of the gari processors as we delivered and demonstrated the machine. The meeting was short, since we needed to be in PKK soon afterward, so we exchanged contact information, took pictures, and said goodbye until January.

Ben and Auntie Akosua lifting a 60 lb rock off of fermenting cassava
When we arrived at PKK, we found Auntie Akosua and the rest of her family preparing mounds of cassava in anticipation of her new and improved grater. She approved of the changes we made and soon began grating as we all waited for Tsikata and his wife, a couple in a neighboring village who wanted a machine after seeing Auntie Akosua’s. Since we could only get one new machine working, we were planning to explain that they were our top priority for next time and would receive one no later than January. Though after meeting them, we conversed and found that they had no access to electricity currently, and would be looking to move into a village on the grid soon. Consequently we exchanged contact information in hopes that they would become future grater owners. As the team waited for Irene and Anna to return from repairing Auntie Ama’s grater, Auntie Akosuadispleased with our distinct lack of a press this time aroundordered Ben to lift the pressing rocks with her, so that he remembers to “come quickly” with her press next time.

When the team regrouped, it was time to say all our goodbyes: First to the wonderful people of PKK, then to our fantastic partners Joe and Jerry, and finally to the whole Ashanti Region as we made our way to Accra in the evening. Exhausted by the rush of the past week, many of us slept as bus traversed across Ghana, finally reaching the IDE offices in Accra as night approached.
Glamour shots of our graters before delivery
Many gather for the new grater demonstration in Odumase
Auntie Akosua studying the performance of her refurbished grater

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Last Minute Woes

Ben and Anna discussing how to fix the grater
Having spread out all our tools and materials in the backyard of the guest house, we hoped that today everything would come together, but we ran into a big problem: there wasn’t enough interaction between the head and the shaft, which caused the new graters to rattle significantly. After discovering the problem in the morning, we spent the rest of the day trying to devise a fix with whatever we had available. As the hours went by, hopes were fading, but thankfully we found a working combination of parts that we could use for a non-chattering machine. By the end of the night, we had the sealant drying and the grater ready to go. Contrary to its successor, Auntie Akosua’s grater gave us no problem as we finished its repairs. Before leaving for the follow-up village trip, we will grate some cassava to break in the two machines.

Jianhan filing down the head
Unexpected design consideration: After applying shea butter to lubricate the chute, dozens of ants swarmed to investigate, yet a few hours later they left without a trace. 
We created a makeshift yet effective grater head level and used it to determine where the head needed more weight.

Race to the Finish

It’s Friday, a.k.a. the last day the ITTU workshop is open before we return to the villages. The whole team has been running around getting last minute repairs and fabrication done before testing. The new graters are coming together, but there is still a lot to be finished. Ideally we’d like to spend tomorrow grating so that we are confident about the new design before shipping it. Auntie Akosua’s repairs are also underway and will likely be ready to grate tomorrow as well.

Also, last night we met with George Obeng, a KNUST Director with whom we’ve been working, and informed him of growing demand for the graters as well as its well testing new name. George seemed pleased with the work done and looked forward to the expansion of production. 
Irene working on grater assembly.
Graters leaving the workshop 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Shop Time

Sorry I’ve been quite for so long. The last three days have been one long continuation of discussion, fabrication, and data gathering. Over the nights we've been debriefing from our village trip. To recap, we did the following:
  • Officially sold one grater to Samuel and gained knowledge of more potential customers
  • Took Auntie Akosua’s grater for servicing
  • Co-designed on a press with our three grater owners
List of tasks for the week at ITTU
Samuel’s grater purchase meant it was now imperative that we have a working version of the new design. On top of that, Auntie Akosua advertised the grater to 2 or 3 more prospective customers, so we’d like to have at least one extra machine to potentially sell. With the constant help of the whole team, Irene and I have been working day in and out at ITTU to complete the new machines. We took a brief break on Tuesday to check out a metal workshop called Obeng Engineering in Suame Magazine with Ben. There we met Nana, the very busy supervisor of the plant, who gave us a tour of the extensive facilities. They had many interesting capabilities that we will consider as we plan to scale up. Otherwise the tech team has remained in the shop.

Business team learns how local fufu producers use their grater
On the other hand, the business team has been all over Kumasi testing assumptions about the market segmentation and business model. Particularly, Julian, Anna, and Jianhan have been visiting chop bars (high volume restaurants) to get an idea about the business and the need for a grater. They have also been investigating the usage of mobile money payments in Ghana and banking process for starting small businesses. There have been some promising leads for opening the market to chop bars. However, the team decided to wait on supplying a grater to a chop bar until we are more confident about the longevity of the design (especially since the grater is untested at this point).

The task of refurbishing Auntie Akosua’s grater also occupied the tech team’s time. When inspecting the machine on Monday, we noticed that her motor sounded worn out, and after further assessment, we decided to modify the whole grater. The changes we made were to stiffen the grater and balanced the head.

The press co-design gave us a wealth of information for the next iteration of the press and also a clearer vision of the women’s values. Early in the week we were hoping to deploy presses during this trip, but the grater quickly has become a fulltime commitment. We plan to take what we’ve got back to Needham and return in January with a press to deploy (possibly earlier if we send the materials to Asante). But for now, we have to get these graters working.
Meeting at Obeng Engineering to introduce the grater 
Julian grinding the chute plunger down to size