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Open Source Ecology: Getting Ready to Build

photo of Kevin Carson

Kevin Carson
27th July 2010


By Marcin Jakubowski.

Things have been spectacular with William so far. We have basically managed to scale our progress twofold. Since he’s been here, we’ve seen full product release of the open source CEB press, The Liberator, and we’ve had significant progress on the open source tractor, LifeTrac Prototype II. We also deployed the first prototype of the heavy duty, open source drill press, which we’re now using as part of our fabrication infrastructure. We just reported on Prototype I of the 150 ton hole puncher . We look forward to using these tools towards optimizing production runs of The Liberator. We also got the first working prototype of Hexahatch, the automated chicken incubator, in operation. Four pips hatched as of now, and we have 70 eggs in there at present. We also deployed Prototype I of a honey extractor. Plus, Sean is on-site for the summer gathering documentary material, and his LifeTrac II update is choice. Also, if you haven’t seen our Economy in a Box presentation, check it out for some of the most recent thoughts. People are beginning to talk about us in mainstream books.

This leaves us in a good position to start construction of Solar Village 2010. Design work is occurring in the background. We need to build another CEB press, since we sold our first one. We have had a number of apparently serious inquiries, but so far, no money has crossed the table. We suspect that people want to see real product come out of the machine – ie, houses. Maureen still has not used her machine, and we’ve been busy in the developments of the above paragraph. Plus, we still need to finish LifeTrac Prototype II, build Power Cube Prototype II, and build the Soil Pulverizer Prototype II – all in preparation for building, which we were hoping would begin on August 15. We just burned $3800 to procure LifeTrac II parts, and we’re out of cash. We’d like to announce here that we are returning to the crowd-based funding baskets – with which we had decent success in our previous session of village-building adventures. Now this is Take Two on CEB construction, where Take One was a great learning experience. Now we’ve got Will with experience in brick laying, we’ve got mature technology on the CEB press, and Prototype II is forthcoming on both the Soil Pulverizer and LifeTrac. The CEB Build is straightforward, now that we have Full Product Release. This means that we can predict how long it will take to fabricate – about 2 weeks. We already have the hydraulic cylinders. The $2500 covers the balance of materials – minus some outsourced labor costs which we can now avoid because we have the hole puncher ready to use. The price structure for materials was around $3600 for The Liberator Beta v2.0 – and now we expect about $500 savings by doing hole punching in house. We do not expect to change anything on The Liberator build, as it’s a stable release. We may omit the soil sensor, since we found out that for practical considerations, activation of the hopper shaker works best when it is pre-set – such that the hopper is shaken after every brick pressing cycle.

Another note on The Liberator build is that if we are building one, it takes about the same amount of time to build two machines at the same time. That’s the nature of flexible fabrication ergonomics. Thus, if you know somebody who wants to buy one, send them our way.

The soil pulverizer Prototype II budget covers primarily the structural steel for the rotor and bucket, plus a larger PTO motor. The improvements in Prototype II include: (1), improved motor coupling to attain quicker slip-on attachment of interchangeable motors without using coupler pins; (2), 60% increase in torque on the motor over the former 6.15 cubic inch motor; (3), smaller bucket and reduced pulverizer width to improve weight balance and structural robustness, and (4), height control stops to maintain the pulverizer at the correct soil depth. Points (2), (3), and (4) are intended to address stalling of the motor – a problem which we had frequently when the pulverizer was moving forward too fast or going in too deep. Overall, these improvements are intended to combine for a more robust device that requires less skill to operate – such that it is more user-friendly and such that it can attain widespread use. It is worth mentioning that nobody else that we know of is utilizing the same soil pulverizer strategy – relegating this function to dedicated, stationary soil pulverizers. Our experience with Prototype I of the Soil Pulverizer has demonstrated that the design like ours – with integrated digging, pulverizer, and dumping functionality – is indeed sound. We believe that it can lead to a simplified CEB infrastructure – both in the equipment requirements and ergonomics of brick pressing. See further discussion on this point in our Soil Pulverizer blog post. Because we have demonstrated the feasibility and attractiveness of our approach, we don’t really understand why nobody else is using the same. We suspect that the flexibility of our modular design of LifeTrac make our approach feasible.

The Power Cube II budget covers the structural steel, hydraulic filters and bypass, hoses, quick couplers, and battery. We already have a 17.5 hp gas engine. Any engine size can be used, but we’re choosing a small one for reasons of cost and easy sourcing. Indeed, if you have a large lawnmower, we suggest ripping out the engine and upgrading to a more flexible LifeTrac Power Cube. Improvements over Power Cube I include: (1), a frame-integrated hydraulic reservoir and gas tank; (2), addition of a pressure bypass in case of accidental hose disconnection; (3), 2 sets of quick-attach fingers for moving or attaching to the quick connect plate of a tractor, so that the Power Cube can be moved or attached to one tractor with another tractor – instead of using hoists and human muscles; and (4), quick-attach hydraulic pump, so that larger or smaller pumps can provide either more fluid or more pressure, as needed. Point (1) eliminates the bulky hydraulic reservoir and gas tank of Prototype I, allowing for looser packing of the remaining components into the cube lattice. The overall improvements, in addition to the safety feature, focus around a much more transparent-looking design with easier interchangeability of the Power Cube between different devices. Power Cube II should also be easier to fabricate because of the additional space. Note also that we intend to replace the gasoline engine with a modern steam engine after we deploy the latter. We believe that the steam engine has not only caused the industrial revolution, but also that it carries tremendous significance for decentralizing power and producing decent(ralized) electricity. The steam engine may be powered by local biomass pellets, or solar concentrators – both of which are non-strategic resources. If you do not believe that deployment of a modern steam engine is an extremely worthwhile endeavor, then you are probably under the influence of centralization propaganda. The decentralization aspect of steam engines comes more from access to fuel, not from ease of fabrication – because a good steam engine is only slightly easier to fabricate than an internal combustion engine.

Finally, the LifeTrac II budget involves completion of quick-attach plates, fabrication of steel wheel tracks for added traction, and outsourcing wheel coupler lathing, since our open source lathe has not reached practical functionality. Improvements on LifeTrac II include: (1), monolithic design, as opposed to articulated design, for ease of fabrication; (2), dual loaders, for doubling implement-handling capacity; (3) quick-connect wheel motors, such that these can be used on other devices as needed; (4), quick-connect hydraulic control valves – such that these can also be used in other applications; (5) quick-attach Power Cubes as the engine units – feasibility of which we have already demonstrated; (6) stackability of Power Cubes, where 1-3 Power Cubes (18-54 hp) are a good match for the tractor, and up to 6 can be attached to the tractor for up to 250 horsepower (not practical, but possible, with larger Power Cubes); (7), wheel tracks for extra traction, which was not possible in the articulating LifeTrac I, (8), improved quick-attach plate coupling mechanism for automatic locking of implements in place with a lever, and (9), cross-ties on wheel-mounting plates for added strength, which may be required for forceful skid-steering. The above improvements for flexibility make LifeTrac II a true life-size lego set – for real equipment. Complete with the dual-loader, is this a flexible dream machine – possibly to rise as the Peoples’ Tractor?

In summary, the Tractor-CEB-Soil Pulverizer – and the infrastructure for their fabrication – is an important product package that should be taken to Full Product Release as soon as possible. Only the CEB has reached Release status, so there’s much work ahead. If we get more people like William to join us, we can really put the operations into high gear.

Our prospects are looking good. We have already had initial discussion with one of our partners on setting up an open source flexible fabrication facility for producing tractors, CEB presses, and soil pulverizers. Fabrication of these constitutes a small but robust economic development package relevant to addressing the agriculture, housing, power, and fabrication issues of resilient community development. We are in discussion on this package with high level officials of a particular South American country, which is apparently interested in genuine progress – free of IMF-type swindles. We are leaving the details of this out deliberately, as there are no promises here and the discussions are young. We know from experience that open source economic development is a high-risk endeavor, and there are many dead ends on the path to glory. However, it is quite encouraging that there exists at least one political leadership on this planet that is willing to even consider the type of economic transformation that is the substance of OSE. If we don’t score at this time, then it’s only a matter of time – as our work is based on creating the substance of prosperity, free of compromise.

The stakes are high. We are positioning the tractor-CEB-soil pulverizer package with the above in mind. The recent additions of the open source drill press and hole puncher to the open source Fab Lab, RepLab, are substantial progress towards closing the industrial divide between and within nations. Our initial negotiations as above may lead to a first, economically-significant instance of open business model replication. Careful documentation would be built into such a package, as such documentation is somewhat lacking at present for lack of resources.

People – the above is worth supporting. Contribute to these projects, and you can certainly feel good about contributing to the generation of significant results. Thanks for your support in advance, and we look forward to an exciting Take Two on CEB construction.

Guitar improvisation credits: Up the Dark Mountain We Go, by Lucas Gonzalez

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