What are "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.

Starting with a meetup to kick things off (view our Meetup.com calendar here), we then spend one or two months designing, prototyping, and building a solution. Community-inspired, community-funded, and community-driven, these projects teach us a lot about how to design and build for Nairobi.

Precious Plastic Shredder -- the First Step in Plastic Recycling


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.

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).

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.

Our first meetup was held on August 13th. The next will happen on September 17th -- Sign up here.

Splashboard V2.0 -- IoT for Industrial Applications


Here at Gearbox, we've caught the IoT wave. Introducing the Splashboard -- an IoT device used to keep track of the quality of reagents used in the Splash Center, a machine for wet processing PCBs. Wet processing includes developing, etching, and tinning. This requires the use of reagents whose pH, conductivity, and color must be monitored since the chemicals wear off with consistent use, thereby diminishing their quality. The current Splash Center has no such functionality, hence the invention of the Splashboard. It collects data for processing and display which tells the user the current state of the etching, developing, and tinning chemicals. The data collected will enable the user to ensure that the reagents are always in tiptop condition.

We kicked this project off with a meetup on Sept. 3rd to define the design requirements of a second iteration of the Splashboard. We haven't yet scheduled the next one (where we'll hopefully build the actual device), but you can join in on the forum to find out when!

Pro-Carve Hybrid CNC Router and Plasma Cutter

The machine on display at TICAD VI.

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!