Alive, Off-Grid, and In Production

It is with great exhaustion, occasional disaster, and much pride that I present Western Kenya’s newest factory: re:char Shop-In-A-Box #001.

In the end, delivery took 4 and a half months: over twice as long as we had hoped and planned. The delivery truck had performance issues, to put it mildly: if I shifted our Land Cruiser beyond second gear, I’d be going too fast for it to keep up. I think several donkeys passed us in the 30 final miles.

The road to the 8’x20′ slab on our 6-acre farm is compacted dirt; had it rained, the truck would have been unable to reach the container’s slab and I would have had to spend several muddy days (weeks?) dragging the container with our car over logs. But, the day was dry: the truck made it down the road without speed or mishap. And then, a huge surprise: the unloading crane worked perfectly, placing the container on the slab within 10 minutes of truck arrival!

Not so nice of a surprise upon opening. It appears a tornado occurred inside our container:

This ‘tornado’ wrecked a substantial amount of equipment and helped itself to some smaller tools. A trying week of unpacking followed to recover core functionality and get our meant-to-be-backup generator functional for off-grid operation (grid power was ordered 2 months ago and may or may not ever arrive). 7 days post-arrival, we could see the floor and made a sample cut on the plasma CNC:

Great success! Woohoo! We’re in business! And then our generator spontaneously combusted.

I debated with Shopbot Tom (yes, our newest employee is so good with CNC equipment that his nickname is a type of CNC table) whether we had to stand 50 or 100 feet back to not get hit with shrapnel from the explosion. A silver lining: no explosion, just a gas-vapor flare, burning tires, and a generator so melted that the mechanic I had look at it simply laughed and told me it might be usable… as scrap metal.

Not to be deterred, we bought a smaller generator (Immolator was 9kW, replacement 5.5 continuous), switched to our backup, smaller compressor, realigned the CNC’s gantry, spent several more days troubleshooting, and cut out our first Kenya lid:

We’ve now completed a dozen full kilns, the first of thousands to be built and sold by us in Bungoma this year. Still no grid power, but the shop is becoming more functional every day. By the end of February, one shift of 2 workers will be able to produce in excess of 300 kilns per month. We’ll finalize the shop-in-a-box design in the next couple of months (here’s a list of what we brought this time) and work with partners to get at least three more shops in different countries producing our suite of products (while contributing their own innovations) within a year.

And pay no attention to the dent in our car. 5 days after our container arrived, a truck carrying a 40-footer plowed into me while attempting to pass as I turned into our farm from the highway. Minimal damage to the car and none to me, I’m pretty sure the 40-foot container was just jealous of the life in store for the shop-in-a-box:)

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