Need for sturdy roofs spurred student engineering project
THE SANTA CLARA
October 8, 2015
The four Broncos were in the midst of a two week trip to Rwanda to teach community members in the village of Kigali how to construct a press they developed to build clay roof tiles.
Seniors David Swan, Ryan Sidley and Mohit Nalavadi and junior JJ Galvin helped develop the press as a part of an Engineers Without Borders project. In Kigali, a lot of community members live in adobe houses with thatched roofs, which fare poorly in the rain, said Nalavadi, president of Santa Clara’s EWB Chapter. The students learned about this problem through the NGO, PICO International, and decided to find a solution.
Currently, Rwandans form roof tiles by taking a ball of clay, putting it into a frame, then flattening it out with a rolling pin, according to Swan. The team’s press lessens the labor involved in the tile-making process and creates more efficiency by removing the rolling pin.
The clay is instead placed inside of a mold and then flattened out by a piece of machinery attached to a lever, he said.
“They wanted to learn to do it themselves and we had an instruction booklet, but as soon as we started and showed them how to use the tools, they took [the project] over completely,” Galvin said.
He added that the project opened his eyes to the importance of building innovations that go back to the basics rather than only focusing on developing the latest and greatest high tech inventions.
“It’s really cool to see your work immediately be able to help someone,” Galvin said. “Even something simple like a tile press can change their lives dramatically. They will produce way more tiles, be able to start new businesses and build way more homes.”
In addition to working with community members, the group spent half of the trip collaborating with two Rwandan universities — Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre, a vocational school, and the University of Rwanda — to teach them about their tile press design and work on any engineering issues that came up.
“The infrusture was surprising,” Galvin said. “You hear a lot about the poverty in Africa but the main city was quite large. The people were incredibly welcoming, and the countryside and the nature was stunning — you can’t imagine how many hills there were.”
Despite the success of teaching the Rwandans how to build the tile press, modifications still need to be made on the machine. While building it, the students realized that the press needed to be retrofitted to produce larger tiles, since the tiles shrunk too much to be placed on roofs after they were fired in the kiln, Swan said.
The team is fixing the problem and sending back new parts to Rwanda by the end of the month.
They are also building a bike-powered clay mixer — the rider must go at a constant pace in order to produce enough energy to churn the clay. The mixer can produce thirty pounds of clay in ten minutes.
The team is also planning on building a kiln powered by biodegradable waste products.
Kigali villagers keep the fire going in their kilns 24 hours a day, which are powered by burning about three or four trees per day to produce 1,000 tiles, Nalavadi said.
“The biggest problem I saw was deforestation because they were cutting down a lot of wood to fire their tiles and cook their water and that was really unsustainable,” Nalavadi said.
Eventually, they hope to produce the metal tile press materials in Rwanda rather than overseas to make it more convenient for communities to begin building their own tile presses.
The two-week trip was funded by a grant from the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.
Contact Sophie Mattson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4849.