While additive manufacturing techniques can be used for ambitious, large-scale projects like establishing colonies on Mars, using smart digital design and 3D printing can also make a tremendous difference when it’s being used on a smaller scale, but for no less ambitious, and no less impactful a cause.
The nonprofit KickStart International, a winner of last year’s Autodesk Manufacturing Excellence Award, in the “Making a Better World” category, proves that with their line of low-cost, solar powered pumps, which they sell to small scale farmers in Africa, giving them the ability to increase their revenue and by translation, improve the quality of life in these rural communities.
Alan Spybey was until recently KickStart International’s Director for Product Intelligence and Development. Currently he is the COO of MoneyMaker Ltd, a consultancy which maintains strong links with KickStart. He explained KickStart’s model, stating: “Using pumps gives farmers the ability to stagger growing seasons, allowing harvesting at times of higher crops prices, unlocking the profitability of small farms.”
Moreover, there is never really a final model of their product because the KickStart creatives are always working to improve upon their design, and to better adapt their tools to the conditions that small scale farmers (SSFs) face in their fields. To answer those challenges Alan shared with us how the KickStart team, with the limited resources of a nonprofit, utilize the power of digital design software and 3D printing as they continue to improve their product to better help communities that are so often overlooked.
Read on below to learn more.
GovDesignHub (GDH): Tell us about KickStart. What prompted the foundation of the organization?
Alan Spybey: KickStart’s founding vision was to take millions of people out of poverty sustainably.
Despite the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been spent providing aid or assistance in sub-Saharan Africa, there has been little sustainable return on those investments. Securing enough food and money to meet basic human needs remains a daily, all-consuming struggle for hundreds of millions of people that live there.
KickStart founders, Dr. Martin Fisher and Nick Moon, believed that the way to make the greatest impact was to create innovative uses of technology and harness the entrepreneurial spirit of rural African farmers by disseminating novel tools of production to local businesses that increase their incomes, all at an affordable price.
GDH: How did KickStart arrive at the conclusion that low-cost pumps could be a keystone solution? What critical problem do they solve?
Alan Spybey: They solve a climate-driven market anomaly. Rain tends to happen in a seasonal manner – in Kenya, there are two rainy seasons per year. This encourages planting and harvests in synchrony with the natural rainfall cycles, which in turn leads to most crops being available on the market in a short time window, thus driving crop prices down.
Using irrigation pumps enables farmers to stagger growing seasons, allowing harvests at times of higher crops prices and unlocking the profitability of small farms. This effect is in addition to the fact that irrigation mitigates irregular rains and also allows the growing of more sensitive and higher value crops.
GDH: Tell us about the MoneyMaker Solar Pump. Why is it such a step forward from previous pump models?
Alan Spybey: Solar pumps have been around for decades, but they were developed for larger commercial farms where overall profits could afford higher equipment costs. The technology in these pumps is high quality but expensive – out of the reach of small scale farmers (SSFs). Over the same period, smaller low-cost pumps have been developed for more domestic functions like ornamental fountains. These pumps are designed to operate with clean filtered water, and are not suitable as produced for use in the frequently dirty water available to SSFs. Kickstart’s job has been to look at the more appropriate features of these development streams and put together a system that has the more appropriate features for SSF use: low cost, high efficiency, and durability.
GDH: Were there any particular design challenges that came up during its inception?
Alan Spybey: One cannot say that there is ever a final model, as the intention is always to look for product improvement. However there have been challenges in many areas: sensitivity to low irradiance, dry-run protection, impeller wear, body integrity, and motor durability.
GDH: As one tackles such a challenging problem set, what tools are used to design and prototype solutions?
Alan Spybey: The workshop does not have access to the full range of advanced manufacturing techniques. What is available at the moment is excellent software, and a small SLA printer. What would help KickStart improve design is a CNC mill/lathe for making molds for plastic injection.
However, production is currently done in China, so prototyping is done using existing machinery knowing that more sophisticated methods will be used at the manufacturing stage.
GDH: KickStart International is also an Autodesk Foundation grantee, in addition to being an Autodesk Manufacturing Excellence Award winner. What benefits has it realized from the partnership?
Alan Spybey: It is difficult to imagine how KickStart would have got through the last few years without the help of Autodesk. The provision of the software suite is the foundation of that assistance, both in design and virtual testing through solid and fluids simulation. Since it is so difficult to get funding for R&D – most donors are only interested in the final product – that makes no more sense than loving babies, but banning pregnancies. KickStart staff have also learned a lot through participation in Autodesk University and pro-bono interactions.
To learn more about KickStart International, click HERE.
Featured image provided by KickStart International. Source: GIZ/Böthling