So half of the term is already over! That went really quick, seems like just a few days ago we were riding the Chakalakal travels bus all around Kerala. I wanted to write up an update on what we have been upto for the past 6-7 weeks. And tell you how our team is doing!
Firstly, we have a name! Ideabag consists of Alta Fang (Applied Physics at Caltech), Stephanie Kato (Mechanical Engineering at Caltech), Sajith Sundar (Mechanical Engineering @ SaintGITS), Cinny Sunny (MBA at SaintGITS) and Siddharth Vanchinathan (Industrial Design at Art Center College of Design). We have been working really well as a team and we are very committed to having something well designed by the end of the term for the fertilizer industry in Kerala.
Second, some background on the project - In Kerala a large percentage of people are engaged in the agriculture sector. Food crops and cash crops are cultivated relaying on fertilizer. Mixing of fertilizers is done by taking composition of urea, potash, DAP, Rock phosphate etc. depending on crops and as per the recommendation from government agricultural agencies. The mixing of fertilizer is done manually now. There are about 100 manually driven fertilizer mixing units in Kerala. All the related works are accomplished exclusively with the aid of human intervention and it’s a hectic process.
This is what the current process looks like:
Key Insights from our research:
- Fertilizer companies wish to increase their productivity to meet the current demand in the markets.
- The companies are ready to invest 3 – 5 lakh rupees in a new tool and they get financing up to 80% from government agencies for this.
- Factories cannot standardize the quality due to manual mixing.
- Electricity is available and is cheap since most of these factories are located in specially designated industrial zones.
- Labor is a huge social and political issue in Kerala state. Being communist, we have to be sensitive to not reduce jobs.
- Suspended particulate matter from the mixing process is harmful for respiratory health of workers.
- Ease the efforts of the laborers and to provide them a good space to work in the factory without health hazards.
- Create an enclosed system so that health conditions are improved.
- Split up process into sub-systems so that bottlenecks are eliminated.
- Load, mix, collect - Parallel Chain - Creating a mixing system with a serial-parallel hybrid to increase the output. Each module can operate independent of each other so that productivity can be increased. For eg, once loading is complete and transferred to mixing, loading can begin again for the second mix while the first mix is going on.
- Fragment batch size - Looking at the mixing process, we could split up the mix into smaller batches so that workers can work on each mix themselves. Increases mixing quality because of smaller size. Challenge is how to maintain proportions and transfer raw materials from sacks. This would also be simpler to implement and could easily scale.
- Timed Valves - Raw materials are held in large reservoirs whose outputs are controlled by valves. These valves can be regulated with timers to ensure right proportion of mixing.
- Platform + Pit - One of the issues with the existing machine is that raw material has to be transported vertically to input into the mixer. So sinking the mixer into the ground level, or adding a platform for operation could reduce the energy required.
- Hand Crank + Barrel (Large Batch) - Containing the entire mixing process in a single container that can be rotated by 2 workers to aid mixing.
System Architecture Possibilities:
Criteria for Selection:
- Manual Labor
- Health Conditions
- Quality of mix
- Feasibility (from our perspective - duration of class)
The highest scoring in our criteria mapping exercise was the fragmented batch sizes idea. We believe that if this idea can be implemented correctly, productivity can be adjusted as per seasonal requirements. Also, we can create a direct relationship between output of mixed fertilizer required and the quantity of the labor force. If demand increases, more labor can be hired to increase production. Also, this would contain elements from some of the other ideas that did not make the cut, including parallel processing to reduce time. We can also encourage specialization amongst workers so that they get adept at the assigned task and over time, can reduce the time required to execute it.
First Round of Validation Research:
We took our design sketches and showed them to our customers. And this is what they had to say:
- Urgent need of machine to meet the market demand.
- Probably better to have an electrified machine than manually driven one.
- Prefer to have a batch of 1 ton each, rather than fragmented batches.
- Machine that is adaptable to both bio fertilizer and chemical fertilizer.
- Prefer to have a machine that can all perform all the processes up to packing of the bags.
- Take customer feedback into account and go back to the drawing board (Remember, the customer is not always right!)
- Consider time left in the term, and discuss work plan for remaining weeks.
- Create a complete system overview, and design and build one of those components.