KIGALI, Rwanda, November 13, 2008 - A man with a machete eyes me rather seriously as we drive by. For me, it is a grim reminder of Rwanda's genocide. That was 14 years ago, I tell myself, he's just gardening. Exhale.
After the genocide, Rwanda is best known for its gorillas. Three hundred mountain gorillas survive in and near Volcanoes National Park. But they are far from the nation's capital and I have yet to meet one.
I am visiting the Chillington Rwanda factory in Kigali, tagging along with Gasabo 3D, a 3D modeling service that is also trying to drum up local work. The main product appears to be wheelbarrows. They also cast parts, melting scrap metal from huge piles outside. As I walk around the cavernous factory, I see variety.
I meet Chillington's chief engineer, Francis Andat Mandwa. Like any good engineer, Francis knows his machines. Chillington is fortunate to have an array of metalworking machines to fashion its products, rather than have to depend entirely on manual labor. However, keeping them running is more a challenge here than in the west as spare parts are practically nonexistent.
A belt pulley wheel used in a stone crusher has broken. Ordering a new wheel would be my immediate reaction. Chillington Rwanda has to recreate the old wheel. The broken wheel was measured and a wooden version is taking shape, using hand planes and files. The resulting form will be used to make a cast from which the new wheel will emerge.
But chief engineer Francis has a more ambitious plan -- he would like to design and manufacture a whole crusher. The previous crusher does not suit his purpose. I want to press for details: what exactly does he need, why can't he pick another crusher from a catalog? But I realize that is my US mindset. There are different realities here in Rwanda.
Chief engineer Francis shows Gasabo 3D hand sketches of a new crusher design. Listening are Gasabo's CEO John Rugamba (left) and Project Manager Clement Nshubijeho
John Rugamba, my gracious host and CEO of Gasabo 3D, is doing his best to include Chillington Rwanda to SolidWorks. It's a big jump. In Chillington's head office, I bump into an oversize table in the middle of the room. It takes me a second to realize it's a drafting table. I'm in virgin territory. There is no CAD, CAM or CNC in this company which is considered an "advanced manufacturing operation." I realize the chief engineer has no computer. Using what may be the only computer in the company, John shows parts he has created for Chillington using SolidWorks. Gasabo 3D has made the parts for no charge in the hopes the company will see the advantages of solid modeling.
It may have paid off. Chillington's acting GM, Francois Kayiranga would like a concept model of the new crusher done in SolidWorks -- by the end of day tomorrow. Perhaps not knowing CAD may infer upon it a measure of magic. John scrambles his team. A designer and workstation will be at the factory the next day. They will work closely with the chief engineer. An added demand: the designer must speak Swahili, not Rwanda's native language.
Thank you to Geoff Briggs and Mr Boxie, who corrected my story based on their superior knowledge of the foundry process.