The story of our Compression machine starts in Helsinki, two weeks before our trip to Kampala. We found out about the Precious Plastic initiative during our investigation into finding possibilities for upcycling plastic. As one of our objectives is to support Makerere students to realize their ideas, we looked through the Precious Plastic machines and identified two machines that would be useful for the development of their LCB units: the Compression machine and the Shredder machine.
With limited time to make decisions, we looked for possibilities to build these two machines early on. According to Precious Plastic stories, we found out that there were several parts that might not be commonly found in some regions. We considered to prepare those parts in Finland and started to investigate our options. By this time, we only had less than a week to make preparations. All the options we found were either too time intensive or too costly. However, these investigations were not fruitless as we found some possible methods on how to acquire those parts locally in Kampala. Building the machines with all the parts gathered locally is also more sustainable, as the people there can maintain or replicate the machines themselves. Nonetheless, without those uncommon parts the possibility of finishing the machines during our trip was not guaranteed. Therefore, we aimed at only starting the machine building process and to leave the machines to be finished by the Makerere team.
Once in Kampala, things quickly fell into place though. Dr. Venny suggested to arrange our planned workspace at Makerere campus. Initially, we wanted some community to be engage with the workspace, and the location would have been in that selected community. When we actually saw the campus, we realized that the Makerere University is a community in itself. The suggestion by Dr. Venny was instantaneously agreed on in our team, and the campus tour that afternoon confirmed our decision.
The location of the workspace heavily affected how we would be able to build the machine. With the support of CEDAT (The College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology), we were able to request help from the Engineering department. This support included their staff and facilities. The Engineering department support changed our situation and we were able to fully collaborate with them, which meant that we reconsidered our plan and checked what they could offer for our project. They told us the speculated time for them to build the machines for us. It was then, that we saw the possibility of finishing those machines before leaving Kampala.
At this point, the Makerere team had been fully involved and we worked together as one team. We started our machine development by finding local prices for the parts we needed. Our budget was limited and this included every expense in our project. The more we could save on our machines, the more money we’d have to spend on other actions. We got the prices through the Mechanical Engineers and Electrical Engineers, since they know local prices through their works. Mr. Andrew from Mechanical Engineering was willing to give us some steel bars without any cost. However, the materials for making the Shredder machine blade, which consists of thick steel sheets, we would still have to pay for. For the electronic parts of the Compression Machine, Mr. Robinson gave us the prices of all parts, but there was one part that had to be ordered; a PID controller. The order time would take several weeks, which was not ideal. Nonetheless, Mr. Robinson suggested an alternative method for our machines, without using a PID controller. We then agreed with his recommendation for now.
In the next stage we faced a budget challenge. The thick steel sheets for the Shredder machine blade were very costly in Uganda. We would have to spend most of our budget on the Shredder machine, with the price that we were informed about. Therefore, we had to make a decision regarding our machines choice. The Shredder machine is used to shred plastic products into smaller pieces, so that they can be used in other machines. The Compression machine is the device that melts the plastic and reforms it into different shapes by making use of moulds. Considering the process of the LCB units, the Compression machine would be far more helpful for the Makerere team than the Shredder machine, as of now. The Compression machine allows Makerere students to melt plastics with precise temperature. The precise temperature is highly important for melting different type of plastic, since they all have different melting points. We realized that the Compression machine is mandatory for the Makerere students to develop their LCB units further, while plastic could still be manually cut without using the Shredder machine.
After we made a decision to build only the Compression machine, time was our next challenge. We had three and a half days to build the Compression machine, since we had already started the second week of our field trip. The actual machine building process started with getting the parts. We were introduced to Mr. Robert Gitta, an Electrical engineer, through Mr. Robinson. Mr. Robert suggested to drive us to town, where he would help us find the parts that we needed. Even though Mr. Robert’s involvement was not planned, we understood that his suggestions would greatly facilitate our process and we accepted his propositions. We manage to get a couple of crucial parts and proceeded with our machine building; the parts were an oven and a carjack.
After getting the machine parts on Monday, we initially wanted to build the machine without PID controller, which we had discussed with Mr. Robert and Mr. Robinson. However, an unexpected development came from Fimboo. Fimboo offered to give us all electronic parts form their unbuilt Compression machine, including the PID controller. Their donation would make the machine more reliable and also save some of our budget. Therefore, we decided to take their offer and immediately sent some of our team to Fimboo, located in Entebbe, that same afternoon. We were able to see that prolonging the process would greatly damage our machine progression. Even though there were several adjustments of plans and additional arrangements that had to be made, we managed to get all the electronic parts and finished a drawing for the Compression machine that day. There were still some additional parts left and Bruce and Jessica managed to acquire all of those parts before we started assembling the Compression machine.
The assembling process took two days, since we were constantly faced with challenges, for example, basic tools for cutting steel bars, electrical diagram took time to understand and limited amounts of welding staff. Nonetheless, we learned a lot from building the machine. We were all hands on with the machine building process, while being overseen and instructed by experts from both the Mechanical and Electrical Engineering department. Our team cut all the steel bars. Since none of us had experience or skills in welding, this process was done with the help of Babu Talik. This was also the case with electrical wirings; Mr. Edward, an employee of Mr. Robert, was commissioned to do all the wirings. Our team was assisting Mr. Edward and worked with other tasks that did not require electrical proficiencies. The control box was designed by us and we helped in many re-assembling processed of the oven that we used for the Compression Machine.
We were half a day late in our schedule and we missed the chance to test the machine before the Friday the 23rd event. Nonetheless, we managed to finish the machine in time for the event and we succeeded in making our first pure PET plastic prototype on Friday. The prototyping process in the event was not as smooth as we had hoped it to be. There were factors of time and temperature that we had to find out on the spot, which took the time of the entire event to discover. In the end, with some tips from Mr. Benjamin of Fimboo, our first prototype from the Compression machine was finished!
Building the Compression machine in less than five days would not have happened without contributions from the people we met in Uganda. We understand that knowing the right people is essential, always, and it was especially crucial to our machine building process and also our entire project. However, without our ability to seize those opportunities that emerged, we would not have been able to achieve what we did. We had to make constant changes of plans and a lot of improvisations. We had to always consider and reconsider options. Those actions can only happen in a team with good dynamics, and we were fortunate to have a great one.
BUT WE ARE NOT DONE!
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With Love and Hope for Plastic Free Future,
Anna from Up Plastic