The Paradigm Project launched its first micro-manufacturing facility for the EzyStove on the continent of Africa in early 2016, and it’s anything but ordinary.
The carbon-neutral, human-powered plant arrived in Ethiopia as a self-contained factory in a box—a shipping container measuring 8 feet wide and 20 feet long.
The container’s journey started by train in the eastern United States, then continued by boat to the port of Djibouti, finally moving southwest by lorry to its final destination in Mekelle, Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian team must have exchanged questioning looks when they opened the shipping container housing all the equipment needed to locally manufacture over 2,000 wood-burning cookstoves each month. To everyone’s shock, the container was nearly empty except for seven durable, but relatively small pieces of machinery mounted to the sides of the container.
Each custom-designed machine represents an individual stage in the EzyStove’s highly efficient assembly. The ultra-simple lean manufacturing process eliminates errors because there are only certain ways that the pieces of metal can be bent and then assembled. After World War II, Toyota made the concept of lean manufacturing famous, and the lean method has since been used by hundreds of manufacturing companies to cut production costs, manage quality control, and increase unit volume—increasing efficiency through the perfection of work processes.
For the cookstove sector, lean manufacturing offers the opportunity for the localized production of goods that otherwise would need to be imported with usually high duties and taxes.
As he walked the Mekelle team through the process as well as the concept behind the lean manufacturing that would bring the EzyStove to life, Paradigm’s General Manager, Greg Spencer, had to answer a lot of questions.
Where was the massive equipment and enormous production floor needed to build these fuel-efficient EzyStoves on a large scale? How could two guys in this 160-square-foot space without electricity build 2,000 stoves a month?
To put it in Spencer’s own words, “There is a misconception in manufacturing that bigger is always better. Maybe that model is more visible, but it’s not necessarily more sustainable or efficient. And believe it or not, this small factory can increase production capacity exponentially.”
To that point, meet the entire manufacturing team at “EzyLife Ethiopia” (the local trade name for Paradigm): Eyob and Brhanu.
Eyob, 24, is taking night classes at the local university to get his second degree in management and hopes to be promoted to production manager next year. Brhanu, 33, has a technical background and looks forward to the day when 10,000 stoves are delivered each month in his home region of Tigray.
The two-man team suits up in protective glasses and work gloves, giving each other a few high fives before demonstrating the operation. Working together and rotating through the assembly process, they can make 100–120 stoves a day in this 160-square foot production room outfitted only with equipment that uses manpower and torque to bend, round, and shape metal and raw materials into fuel-efficient EzyStoves.
Known locally as the EzyMedega (Medega is Amharic for ‘stove’), the EzyStove is the first clean-burning wood cookstove manufactured on a large scale in Ethiopia, and it’s produced proudly. When asked if he believed in the product he worked to create every day, Eyob responded seriously, “It minimizes the health risks and costs for our mothers—so yes, definitely.”
Everyone likes the idea of local manufacturing in the developing world; it rings of job creation, empowerment, reduced costs, and a direct contribution to the local economy. Yet anyone who’s actually manufactured anything in a developing country knows that there’s a stark contrast between the idea and reality.
Take raw materials, for example. Procurement is near impossible, pricing per unit varies, consistent quality is difficult to manage, and vendors usually have other projects and customers.
When the Paradigm team launched the EzyLife brand in Ethiopia, the import duties and regulations made it clear that local manufacturing was the only way to sustainably supply a market with nearly 10 million people at prices that Ethiopian end users could afford.
One of the core values of Paradigm East Africa is “Do more with less.” And that’s exactly how this team approaches the manufacture of these highly durable, life-changing stoves.
With its efficient design and quick setup, the EzyStove micro-manufacturing factory can begin producing cookstoves from day one. The business employs local unskilled labor and requires only a small investment to start up. This mobile application can go anywhere wood-burning cookstoves are in demand.
And let’s be honest: with over half the planet’s population still cooking over an open fire, there’s plenty of demand. As Paradigm’s Greg Spencer said, “This centralized, quality-controlled, and scalable global mobile app is a paradigm shift for producing cookstoves in the developing world.” No pun intended.
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