Community Projects
At Gearbox

We love to build things (obviously). More importantly, we love to build things together. Community projects at Gearbox are one of our favorite ways to do that. For each project, we pick a challenge based on what interests us, what interests our members, and what problems we see around Nairobi that we think we might just be able to solve.
The machine on display at TICAD-VI.


Gearbox Lite is a very small space. At the same time, we wanted to make it as powerful as possible for our members. As a space specifically designed for electronics fabrication and prototyping, we knew we needed a CNC router (to shape wooden forms to be pulled on the vacuum former for enclosures, for example), but we also really wanted a CNC plasma cutter, too.


Sheet metal is great for prototyping electronics enclosures cheaply and easily. With the right finishing techniques, you can create professional looking, custom enclosures in no time, if you can cut it well. Next to a water jet machine (which is sadly too big and messy to work in Gearbox Lite), a CNC plasma cutter is hands down the best way to do so. But we didn’t have room for both a CNC router and a plasma cutter. What to do?


Lucky for us, Simon, our Head of Engineering, happens to specialize in the design and building of CNC machines. Tasked with designing a machine specifically to fit the needs of Gearbox Lite — it had to have a 4′ x 4′ cutting area, be reasonably affordable, and work as both a CNC router and plasma cutter — he opted to make the entire design process a collaborative learning experience. Over the last eight months, a group of Gearbox staff, interns, and community members have learned the ins and outs of sheet metal design and fabrication (for the frame), assembling the electronics, where to go to get the enclosure for the custom control unit made, and much more.


Very soon, we’ll be firing it up for the first time. It’s been an amazing process to participate in, and we can’t wait to make this powerful and unique machine available to our members!


There’s plenty of waste plastic around Nairobi, and Kenya in general. In fact, shortly after our first meetup, we came across people already collecting, cleaning, and sorting plastics with an eye to recycle them into usable materials. We also met people using (or eager to use) recycled plastic to make interlocking bricks for low-cost construction and 3D printing affordable prosthetics for children (who tend to outgrow traditionally fabricated prosthetics far too fast).


The Precious Plastic project is a collection of open-source designs for easy and cheap to build machines for recycling plastic. The first of these is a shredder that takes plastic waste (already cleaned and sorted) in the form of bottles, bags, or anything else, and shreds it into small chips that can be mixed, melted down, and pressed into a form using any of the three other machines — an extrusion machine, a manual injection molder, and a compression molder.

With all this interest around recycling plastic into useful and valuable new products, we thought building one of these machines would be a great way to bring everyone together, learn how to use the tools and resources available at Gearbox, and possibly inspire a new movement in local recycling. A huge thanks to Dave Hakkens, the Dutch designer who started the Precious Plastic project and shared all of the designs and drawings online!


Want to get involved in building this machine? Join the discussion here — Visit the project’s forum page.