Hardware Things: Batteries deserve second chances
Outside of Kickstarter, I spent a good amount of time last month reading about the Renault KWID project which spoke about the Renault-Nissan Alliance manufacturing a car in India the first time. Automobile design and manufacturing is very interesting because no one starts a car from scratch: you choose a (manufacturing) platform based on another car, an engine based on yet another and set an MRSP based on the entry point you want in the market.
Comparing that with all we’ve heard about Tesla recently, it’s almost funny to read about the mistakes they are making in automobile manufacturing itself. Tesla wasn’t intended by it’s actual founder (yes, Musk did not found Tesla) to make components in-house, just the powertrain (engine) as any automobile company would. This way it could fit into other platforms and use the well-oiled supply chain that the industry enjoys.
It’s June 2018, and disruption is overrated.
Things I Enjoyed Reading
In the age of mobile phones and low-carbon technologies, batteries are everything. But batteries (especially Lithium-based which is projected to be a $67bn market in 2022) can be quite susceptible to explosion and fire risk, making life cycle management extremely important in the energy sector. There are multiple angles to this: from safe extraction without child labour to responsible recycling; the Global Battery Alliance brings together public and private players to solve these issues. With a higher need for off-grid power in Africa, it is imperative that we take recycling more seriously to avert repeat scenarios like the one that poisoned a Kenyan village. I think therein lies the opportunity to set up recycling plants as batteries are highly reusable post recycling (Lead Acid batteries contain up to 70% reusable lead in them) and no one is close to offering a Power Wall soon.
Side note: if you’re designing with Li-ion batteries, you should check out PCH’s white paper.
In analyzing Africa’s path to development, we often draw parallels with the advancement of South East Asia. The truth however is we are are not improving our manufacturing capacity in the same way that they did, but are relying on services. Brahima Coulibaly makes a strong case for why this falls short and reiterates that we still need smokestacks to generate the 11m new jobs per year that Africa needs. The thing about services though is that it helps an economy be resistant to the threat of automation, but where is the line between how many jobs manufacturing provides and how many automation can replace?
An entire antithesis to that argument is presented by Zinox. The electronics producer announced plans to automate it’s factories in Nigeria as a path to increased efficiency. Should we be thinking about automation in the absence of jobs?
The single best thing I read last month was Lily Irani’s beautiful paper positing that design thinking is a brand of expertise within racialized understandings of global labour. She argues that in the rise of global design competence spreading over the world and particularly in Asia early in the 2000s, Silicon Valley (helped by IDEO and Stanford) positioned design thinking as empathic reason to make products in order to emphasize creativity as superior to manufacturing know-how and retain patronage. Her paper reminded me of how careful marketing can influence the public’s perception of products designed in a certain place or products that look a certain way. Nothing is more convincing of this than the case of diamond, which even though conceived as a precious metal and a requirement for an engagement proposal is all a product of careful marketing and is not precious at all.
Slightly Off topic Things
It’s not uncommon to see aid projects have no impact on the community the project was set up for and the reasons for that often glaring. Peter Di Campo is documenting abandoned aid projects as a way to highlight the importance of community engagement prior to such funding efforts.
Where do you draw the line on testing your product? Tarek Loubani is a doctor and founder of Glia that has been developing open source medical equipment for war torn regions, in particular Gaza. Testing their tourniquet, they have recorded casualties that, in an ironic way, have put their tests at it’s limits - something everyone wants. [Warning: some of the pictures might be graphic].
SCRUM for Hardware? Yes.
GrabCAD is finally launching Groups, but in their defense they’ve had Workbench forever.
Autodesk’s Pier 9 workshops are all available on Instructables.
Tweet of the Month
Shacks are not uncommon in many semi-urban communities in South Africa and these have been responsible for fires which start largely due to the cooking, lighting and heating methods used by people living in these settlements. Lumkani developed an early-warning system to reduce the damage and destruction caused by the spread of these fires in the form of smart centralized devices, which gather information about the detector mesh network. These devices constantly check the health of the system and in the event of fire, store GPS coordinates and simultaneously send text-message warnings to members of the affected community.
Seyram Avle and I wrote about making hardware in Ghana and Nigeria for Africa is A Country. We think that there are three kinds of people who get involved in hardware and posit business models that could align to improve the success of hardware companies in both countries.
Big thanks to Chris and Paul who reached out when I asked about visiting New Lab in my last letter. New Lab had always been interesting to me for their revamping of an existing, old warehouse to create a new kind of manufacturing space, but some members of the maker community have said they wished it was more open. This made me think of the GE Lagos Garage where there is equipment that could be open to the community but is behind the walls of a training programme. I got a chance to visit and wrote in Make about makerspace access in relation to sustainability, comparing both models.
Next month, Jorge Appiah who is the Founder of Kumasi Hive will be writing the newsletter. In the last year, he has become the shining light of Open Science Hardware on the continent and will be sharing those insights on creating open source (science) laboratory equipment.
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See you next month,