Creating a particulate mixing system for a fertilizer manufacturer in Kerala, India
There are many small-scale fertilizer mixing plants in Kerala, India that use manual labor to blend fertilizer raw materials together into a mix that is bagged and sold. Workers shovel the fertilizer in piles, filling the air with suspended fertilizer dust and creating an extremely unhealthy environment.
Observations on trip to India:
From the owner’s perspective, his main concerns were
1. Tools corrode very quickly, and we have to keep replacing them - this costs money.
2. There is a market demand that I am not able to satisfy with the current process
3. How do I scale?
From the workers’ perspective, their main concerns were
1. Manually intensive process, they get tired quickly from all the carrying bags and shoveling
2. Health issues - skin allergies and respiratory problems - because of all the particles that they breathe in (their mixing process is completely exposed, and all the shoveling drives a lot of particulates into the air)
3. They are worried about losing their jobs to machines that will replace them.
Based on the economic, social and cultural considerations, the team came up with several different methods for mixing raw fertilizer. We prototyped some of the methods and the results are shown in the video below.
The final design used the potential energy of the raw fertilizer components when raised to a height due to gravity. The method involved allowing the raw materials to slide along angled platforms that converged to mix the materials. Several stages were used as can be seen in the proof of concept prototype.
The team is currently working on implementing this full scale on location at the factory in Kerala, India.