Why a Makerspace?

The term “makerspace” captures the core of what Gearbox is — a space for people who design and make things — but it is not a term that sits easily even within Gearbox’s own community. To many of the designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs who have passed through Gearbox Lite over the last two years, the term “maker” implies a hobbyist or tinkerer, and generally holds a connotation of unprofessionalism.

Outside of Kenya, the word “makerspace” often gets conflated with related terms like “Fab Lab” or “hackerspace.” For the uninitiated, Gui Cavalcanti wrote a helpful description of the differences between these kinds of spaces in Make Magazine, although his definitions are still far from universally applied. In the US, places called makerspaces are popping up in schools, libraries, youth centers, and corporate headquarters, and can range from a small room in an elementary school with a 3D printer and papercraft tools, to a space like First Build in Louisville, Kentucky, with 35,000 sq. ft. of advanced prototyping and low-volume manufacturing space.

 

First Build’s shop floor in Louisville, KY.

First Build’s shop floor in Louisville, KY.

What most of these spaces have in common is that they are open to the public, and they provide tools for making physical things. By being open to the general public, Gearbox has seen people with a tremendous variety of backgrounds pass through its doors. Students and lecturers have collaborated on business models growing out of shared research; local business owners have come to seek out talented designers and engineers; Kenyans from “up country” have traveled hours to use the machines to make tools or parts they can’t find elsewhere. By providing access to tools, space, and skills that are hard to find in Kenya, Gearbox has seen projects that range from medical equipment (Sato’s foetal heart rate monitor), to novel water treatment systems (Usafi Comfort), to tools for preventing human/wildlife conflict (#Innovate4Wildlife), to agricultural technology (a low-cost chicken brooder that alerts farmers to problems via their mobile phones).

Building Makerspaces for the 4th Industrial Revolution

The list of the continent’s woes rattled off in the executive briefing may sound familiar: Africa has the youngest population in the world (60% are under 25); 15–20 million new youth are set to join the workforce every year for the next 30 years; despite being better educated than ever (52% are expected to have a secondary education by 2030), there is a huge mismatch between the skills employers are seeking and those possessed by young graduates.

In addition to these familiar (and daunting) challenges, the report focuses on a striking and relatively new concern — that many African economies are more exposed to disruption by new technologies than many realize.

Richard prepares his job shop’s CNC router in Nairobi for a contract from Gearbox.

Richard prepares his job shop’s CNC router in Nairobi for a contract from Gearbox.

Concern about Africans’ uptake of technology is certainly not new, but the report hits on two aspects that are noteworthy: 1) the sheer scale of the demographic challenge — half a billion new 18 year-olds looking for work by 2050, and 2) the nature of the work they’re likely to find. Last century’s transformations across Southeast Asia had a similar theme as the first industrial revolution in Europe in the 1800s, shifting large numbers of agricultural workers towards wage labor in factories. The future of Africa’s industrialization is unlikely to follow the same path.

Demand for the kind of low-skilled, labor intensive manufacturing that reshaped much of Asia is not set to grow at the same pace as the world’s workforce. New manufacturing technologies created an explosion in global productivity per worker over the last fifty years, with the result that fewer people are needed to make things than ever before.

The promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not going to be more manufacturing jobs like the factory lines of decades past. The rapidly decreasing cost, ever increasing ease of use, and widespread availability of fabrication technologies like CNC machines and 3D printers are transforming the way the world designs and makes things. In the most optimistic point of view, using these tools just about anyone, just about anywhere, can learn enough (thanks to the internet) to make just about anything.

How easy that is to do in practice is debatable, and it does not mean that what they make is necessarily going to translate into economic impact. New business models that take advantage of these trends are only just beginning to be developed, and how they will play out is far from certain (see Exploring the Maker-Industrial Revolution: Will the Future of Production be Local? by Anna Waldman-Brown). But at least in Kenya, a dramatic shift in who is able to design and make commercial products is causing a corresponding shift in whom these products are designed for. Young Kenyan entrepreneurs are focused as much on designing novel products tailored to local needs as on selling imports or exporting to larger markets.

Gearbox — From “Shop in a Box” to Industrial-Scale Makerspace

By Paul Birkelo

In this latest industrial revolution, the work of making things is less about rote manual labor, and value is created by designing new things that can be tailor-made for the people who use them. In the world of work soon to be populated by 500 million new young Africans, the makers of things best placed to benefit are likely to be those who can build a business model around the distributed manufacture, rapid iteration, and localized appeal of their designs. In other words, new African jobs will come from Africans designing and making products in Africa, for sale to other Africans.

The first Gearbox workshop in a shipping container

The first Gearbox workshop in a shipping container

This is radically different from the export-led growth model that powered Asia’s boom, and supporting it requires a radically different approach.

One model for doing so is a makerspace. In 2009, the University of Nairobi Fab Lab became one of the first places in Kenya where anyone could go to learn about and use the latest in fabrication technology, from 3D printers to laser cutters and CNC machines. In 2010, the iHub was founded as a gathering space for Nairobi’s tech community, bringing together designers, coders, entrepreneurs, makers, hackers, and global investors. In 2013, the iHub was given a shipping container full of tools (a “shop in a box” including welders and a CNC plasma cutter), and working with the Nairobi Fab Lab and several local companies, launched Kenya’s first makerspace — Gearbox.

From day one, Gearbox has aimed to be Kenya’s “open space for design and rapid prototyping.” Having started from a shipping container, in 2015 it grew into a dedicated 2,500 square-foot space called Gearbox Lite (see featured image). Now, Gearbox is kicking off a new chapter as a 20,000 square-foot makerspace in the heart of Nairobi’s Industrial Area. When fully built out (renovations started in March), Gearbox Industrial will host 9,000 square feet of private office spaces, 6,000 square feet of shared coworking, design lab, classroom, and event spaces, and 5,000 square feet of shared workshops featuring industrial grade equipment for working with wood, metal, plastics, electronics, and digital fabrication.

The ground floor workshop under construction at Gearbox in Industrial area

The ground floor workshop under construction at Gearbox in Industrial area

Bringing Designs to Life

The reception table

The reception table

The metal design on CAD

The metal design on CAD

Our interns have exciting learning experiences during their internship program with us as they get opportunities to  see and have their ideas and designs come to life. They also get a chance to contribute to some of the ongoing project at the work space and workshop.

One of the ongoing projects is the reception at our new offices at Avon Centre, Enterprise Road. Joy Muli, a design intern had the thrilling experience of using the plasma cutter after making the reception door design on CAD. The design is an Adinkra symbol for wisdom, ingenuity, intelligence and piece.

Plasma cutter

Plasma cutter

IMG_20171006_130131.jpg

Write here...

The Juakaliscope

With deep interest in 3D printed products, Karl Heinz has revolutionized the health and education sector by making the Juakaliscope – a 3D printed microscope which is portable, locally available and accessible at a cheaper price.

The Juakaliscope

The Juakaliscope

After completion of his higher education as a mechanical engineer, he used his knowledge and skills to venture into business. In two years, he has built and distributed his own 3D printers and subsequently started a mass production of Juakaliscopes.

Karl Heinz makes two types of microscopes: the student kit and medical kit, which vary in magnification. He prototypes the microscopes at Gearbox and tests them before mass production.

These microscopes can be used to conduct water tests, medical and livestock diagnosis.

Unlike typical microscopes, the Juakaliscope uses a USB cable to connect to a phone or PC. The specimen is viewed on the screen and preferably sent to a doctor for review or projected for study.

Karl working on the Juakaliscope

Karl working on the Juakaliscope

A spicemen on the Juakaliscope

A spicemen on the Juakaliscope

Karl has been working with Sidai Africa to revolutionize the provision of livestock and veterinary services to farmers in Kenya with the aim of creating a more sustainable service delivery. With this device, farmers can now send their specimen to vets for diagnostic review from the comfort of their farms. Karl aims to extend his reach to Central Africa in the near future.

Changing gears for the fourth Industrial Revolution

Dr. Kamau Gachigi on how makerspaces can catch the fourth industrial revolution wave

In November 2016, I attended a two-day series of meetings of the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on the Future of Production, held in Dubai. At the meeting, Vishal Sikka, the CEO of global giant, Infosys Corporation, said, “Things have never changed so fast in world history and, conversely, will likely never be this slow again”. The changes he was referring to constitute what is described by the World Economic Forum as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

Just what exactly is the 4IR? It is characterized by the convergence of the physical, biological and cyber worlds through massive connectivity and massive automation. The previous revolutions brought us steam, electricity and ICT respectively, over a period of about 300 years.

So what does this mean for Africa? At first glance, the broad signs are not good. Africa’s economy is still somewhere amidst the first three industrial revolutions, often closer to the first. Our portion of global trade is said to have dropped to 2% in 2013, from about 3% in the 1970s. There are low levels of skills amongst the working population, and poverty remains widespread. Globalization means that we will be sucked into the effects of the 4IR whether we like it or not, and indeed this is already happening. Jim Yong Kim, the President of the World Bank, gave a speech last year in which he said that the Bank anticipates the loss of up to 85% jobs in countries like Kenya due to automation and the effects of the 4IR.

What averaged statistics about Africa’s economic status don’t tell you is about the specific activities at the far right of the bell curve, only observable at a more granular level, that portend better things.

Gearbox is a space around which a supportive ecosystem for hardware entrepreneurs has been successfully piloted, creating a pipeline of innovators and invention-based businesses by removing the key constraints to developing innovative hardware products in Kenya.

The main constraint from our perspective is the difficulty that most innovators in African countries face in creating high-quality prototypes with which to demonstrate the market value of the hardware innovation through a pilot. Removal of this constraint by providing access to modern fabrication tools on a shared basis can lead to investment opportunities, thereby addressing another significant impediment. A further constraint is the dearth of contract manufacturing facilities. This means that every innovator needs to establish his/her own manufacturing facility in order to meet market demand, which often results in lower competitiveness. There are also significant constraints found further upstream in the production value network. These begin with the creative process itself, with many would-be innovators not having much of an understanding of human-centred design. Even assuming one has mastered that, there are other barriers to competitiveness, such as poor product design that doesn’t lend itself to available manufacturing processes.

Gearbox-second2.jpg

At centres like Gearbox, often called makerspaces, innovators are taught all such methodologies. What’s additionally exciting about makerspaces is that they make modern methods and technologies available not only to engineers, but also to the class of people called makers.

We in Africa are very familiar with people who have engineering in their blood, making all manner of things out of recycled bits and pieces. Many such people can be converted into makers, and this happens when they are taught to use a range of tools that are highly empowering because the engineering capacity is designed into them. Tools such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi enable amateurs, without electronics training or understanding, to make sophisticated prototypes without needing to understand in depth how the innards work. This includes coding, which pervades the electronics underlying much of what makes the 4IR work. Makers only need to understand coding peripherally in order to make powerful and marketable products, such as those used in internet-of-things devices.

I have been really thrilled as I have watched engineers and makers transcend the gaps between a variety of types of productive impotence to produce very presentable working prototypes. A couple of them are enjoying significant revenues from their products already, though mass production in each case still takes place in China.

We have people designing and prototyping speed governor and car-tracking devices, point-of-sale devices, all manner of control systems, and even computer numerical controlled (CNC) machines, such as 3D printers, plasma cutters and routers. The latter machines epitomize digital fabrication in which computer-generated designs are sent to the machine which rapidly and precisely converts them into products. Indeed, we are on the verge of launching our very own made-in-Kenya CNC plasma cutters and wood router into the jua-kali (informal) sector. Imagine that, untrained craftsmen, currently producing crude products, raising their productivity by orders of magnitude through digital fabrication.

Centres such as Gearbox and the FabLabs, disruptive centres of all the types of learning I mention above, should be replicated across Africa. They should be seen by governments as having as much importance as building roads, laying power lines, and building information infrastructure.

We shouldn’t wait for tech transfer via foreign direct investment (FDI), which I see as an unreliable form of trickle-down industrialization (unless very carefully embedded win-win terms are employed). We shouldn’t wait for the few engineers that our funds-constrained governments can educate to translate their knowledge into factories making what we need. Instead, it makes more sense to transform significant swathes of our populations into makers through flexible and abbreviated instruction at makerspaces, which then feed centres of high-level prototyping and eventual contract manufacture.

TEDGlobal: Africa needs more engineers and makers

Source; BBC NEWS

By Jane Wakefield, Technology reporter

Kamau Gachigi said there was a need for more engineers

Kamau Gachigi said there was a need for more engineers

Africa needs more engineers and makers, the head of Gearbox - Nairobi's leading maker-space - has told the TEDGlobal conference in Tanzania. Kamau Gachigi said that by 2050 Africa's population is projected to have doubled and needs to build economies to sustain that level of growth. Digital fabrications labs such as Gearbox are vital to this, he said. Such labs need to start building more Africa-specific hardware, he added.

"These labs help people become more practical and more productive. We need many more people to develop their potential and contribute to the society." He spoke about how young engineer Simon Wachira had used the lab to create a robotic tool that could cut both metal and wood, which is now creating parts for car giant General Motors.

Another project saw 24-year-old Esther help design sanitary towel dispensers which can be put up in schools to avoid the issue of girls missing school when they have their period.

And a third saw a pharmacy student design 3D models of CT scans that surgeons can use to practise operations before they operate on real tumours. "He is making money selling these models to surgeons. It saves up to 60% of operation time and that means insurance companies are interested. He now has a business and doesn't need to go back to university," said Mr Gachigi. 

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-41080479?ocid

Control Systems for Usafi Comfort's Johkasou System

One of the projects Gearbox has handled is the fabrication of Controls Systems for Usafi's Johkasou systems that were being installed in several areas in Nairobi.

The Johkasou System in Karen

The Johkasou System in Karen

Control system in progress

Control system in progress

These control systems were needed for blowers for the Johkasou system, which according to Nia, the Partnership Manager  at Usafi  Comfort, happens to be better than what their manufacturer can produce and therefore is ideal for them.

The sites included Park Villas in Karen, Liza Heights in Kinoo and a single residential in Runda.

The Johkasou system in Kinoo is the biggest project Usafi has handled as it is the biggest of its kind in Kenya. It's a 60m3 system which requires a number of blowers, in this case five blowers.

The Esvendo Project

Esther Mwangi is the founder of Esvendo, a social enterprise that aims at increasing access to sanitary towels through vending machines. Approximately 3 million school days are lost each month due to lack of sanitary towels; these machines tackle this problem by enabling girls purchase sanitary towels via these vending machines. 

During the pilot phase, Esvendo used three kiosk outlets in Kibera and was able to serve 500 users. By introducing custom made vending machines and working with the safe spaces, they expect to reach at least 18,000 girls over one year and sell over 5000 vending machines in two years.

A PURCHASE DEMO

A PURCHASE DEMO

During the pilot phase, Esvendo used three kiosk outlets in Kibera and was able to serve 500 users. By introducing custom made vending machines and working with the safe spaces, they expect to reach at least 18,000 girls over one year and sell over 5000 vending machines in two years.

The Esvendo machine provides sanitary towels to girls  at a low price. With a ten shilling coin, any girl can purchase a sanitary towel.

Esther has already placed an Esvendo machine at Binti Pamoja in Kibera, a community center for young girls. She aims to install another at Darajani near Kibera Girls Soccer Academy and more of them over time.

Esvendo is targeting rural and urban settlement areas that don’t have access to shopping centers, hospitals and schools.Esther aims to promote accessibility of sanitary towels without limitation.

A PURCHASE DEMO

A PURCHASE DEMO

Health Innovations! Makernet Event

From left, Makernet team Anna Lowe, Andrew Lamb, Michael Gathongo, Jessica Berlin & Gearbox Executive Director Dr. Kamau Gachigi

From left, Makernet team Anna Lowe, Andrew Lamb, Michael Gathongo, Jessica Berlin & Gearbox Executive Director Dr. Kamau Gachigi

Some of the devices they have successfully created include kidney trays, fetal scopes, centrifugal tubes, to name a few. These devices have already been tested out in the field.
St.Patrick Health Care Centre in Kayole and Amua Family Health Clinic in Kajiado have been beneficiaries of this initiative.

Sato, a mechanical engineer, explains how his fetal heart-rate monitor device works during the Makernet event

Sato, a mechanical engineer, explains how his fetal heart-rate monitor device works during the Makernet event

Makers in the Health Sector converged at the Gearbox offices on the evening of February 10th to share their inventions which have helped combat some of the issues facing the Health industry in Kenya.
The event was organized by Makernet, a consortium whose main focus is to link makers and maker-spaces to the market.The purpose of the event was to introduce the just-concluded 4-month pilot project whose highlights included making health devices that could be utilized locally. A similar project is already in operation in Nepal.

MAKERNET TEAM MEMBER MICHAEL GATHOGO DEMONSTRATES HOW HE MAKES COPIES OF THE KIDNEY TRAYS USING ACRYLIC MATERIAL. (DEMO)

MAKERNET TEAM MEMBER MICHAEL GATHOGO DEMONSTRATES HOW HE MAKES COPIES OF THE KIDNEY TRAYS USING ACRYLIC MATERIAL. (DEMO)

GEARBOX AT THE 4TH PASET FORUM

The fourth Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET) forum took place in Nairobi. The forum was focused on building and strengthtening the capacity for scientific and technical skills in Africa.  HTTP://WWW.WORLDBANK.ORG/EN/PROGRAMS/PASET . The challenges of science and technology in Africa is highlighted by research which shows that programs remain too expensive in most regions making it hard for parents, institutions and governments to invest in facilities, infrastructure and equipment essential for learning and growth. 

The forum brought together representatives from government, and private sector as well as development partners who have been investing in Africa to maximise investments in key sectors.  GEARBOX who is at the center stage of creating an environment that fosters technological innovation actively participated in the forum by showcasing some of the locally manufactured machines and skills of creators, makers and engineers in the Country.  

New Space: Even Better Designs

In a bid to upgrade the skills of the Jua Kali sector, we decided to demonstrate how computer aided design software can be applied to produce everyday products.  The technique improves and ensures consistency on quality of finished products owing to accuracy in assembly of parts  (modular assembly) . It also saves on time spent in production. The sheet metal drawings were done in Inventor and produced on a plasma cutting machine and a sheet metal bender.

This is the beauty of applying CAD and CAM in manufacturing  because we got to work on our final product exactly how we designed it and at our convenience.

Esther and Anastacia (Product Designer) Assembling the table.

Esther and Anastacia (Product Designer) Assembling the table.

wooden parts cut to precision by a CNC Router

wooden parts cut to precision by a CNC Router

After fixing the wooden parts and the wooden table top.

After fixing the wooden parts and the wooden table top.

Complete and functional co working space table .

Complete and functional co working space table .