GEMS2 report on batch mixing technology
The following is a report by GEMS2 technical director Ronald Ashkin concerning the introduction of batch fed mixer technology in Nigeria. The GEMS2 program is funded by UKaid (DFID) with the objective of improving the economic stability and employment opportunities in Africa. In doing this work GEMS is greatly improving the quality of the concrete supply systems in this region. 90% of Nigerian construction projects use concrete block.
The benefits of innovative new-to-Nigeria concrete block making technology were demonstrated to 150 enthusiastic block makers at pilot sites in Lagos and Abuja in late May and early June 2013. The invited block makers, ranging from owners of small and medium block making enterprises to informal roadside block makers and their associates, were evidently impressed as the operation of the batch mixers was demonstrated to them: 86% of respondents to the post demonstration survey agreed that the equipment demonstrated would solve their problems with quality, and 96% said they had never seen the technology before.
The batch mixers are beneficial in creating strong, uniform and consistently high quality concrete blocks versus traditional methods of block making for a number of reasons. First, the batch mixers fill by volume using uniform ‘batch buckets’ to ensure that the ratio of cement to gravel and sand is the same each time. Traditional methods use shovels, head pans, and wheelbarrows to measure, resulting in quality variations from batch to batch. Second, the batch mixer ensures a uniform and thoroughly mixed concrete; usually mixing is done by hand using shovels which takes more time and results in a less thoroughly mixed and thus poorer quality block. Third, the machine has a generator and thus does not rely on the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) which has frequent blackouts and is often not available at all on site.
The GEMS2 introduced batch mixer therefore increases the efficiency of concrete block production by utilizing a well-engineered, robust batch mixer that is affordable to buy and run and produces more high quality, greater value blocks in a given time than traditional modes of production thus resulting in increased incomes.
GEMS2 is acting as the pioneer for this new-to-Nigeria, and indeed new-to-Africa technology, thus removing the risk from market players. In May 2013, two batch mixers were bought from Cart-Away Systems of Oregon, USA and placed on site with the Abuja based Afro Blocks, a private sector block making company with a significant network in the construction sector, and the National Association of Block Moulders of Nigeria (NABMON) in Lagos.
In order to retain the batch mixers after the pilot, 200 block makers must be demonstrated the technology over a 6-month period. In this initial round of demonstrations Scott Crist, the consultant from Cart-Away Systems, was present to assist with the batch mixer delivery and installation, provide training to users and discuss distribution possibilities with local market players – part of the longer term sustainability and scale-up of this pilot project. In total 150 representatives, who employ 809 workers (of which 115 are women) from various block making firms, attended making the market potential of the new batch mixer technology extremely significant and demonstrating great potential for scalability.
Visible quality improvements
During the demonstration attendees commented on the immediate and visible difference in block quality and the high quality of the machine itself that is simply engineered, well-built, easy and economical to operate. Indeed, one block maker remarked that he currently owns a Chinese built pan mixer that it is extremely unreliable and requires its electric motor to be regularly repaired or replaced – having visited his site later that week members of the GEMS2 team were humored and troubled to find a pile of unusable rusted Chinese built construction machines in the corner of his yard.
To ensure this pioneering pilot project is scalable and sustainable and with 41% of respondents interested in buying the equipment within the next 12 months and an additional 53% possibly interested, GEMS2 is working hard to facilitate market led financing options for the initial purchase of the batch mixer and demonstrate the clear financial benefits to this mode of more efficient production.
First, the batch mixer is affordable and due to increased production and block value can easily be paid for in a few months. Second, GEMS2 is working with NABMON to understand the possibility of group financing and grants to support the initial cost of the batch mixers. Third, time studies of the batch mixer and the higher value of the block demonstrate significant potential in increased incomes and jobs for the poor.
GEMS2 is enabling the introduction of pioneering batch mixing technology to active market players in order to increase incomes through a more efficient and modern production technique, meanwhile providing a source of local high quality building input materials in order to help tackle building collapse in Nigeria.
We thank GEMS2 for the photos in this report… MORE TO COME