Exploring the path from design to manufacturing...
Updated: Feb 27
I've been thinking of how I need to be courageous in reaching out for help in order to be of service. Here are my thoughts so far;
Finding a cheerful person to answer correspondence and phone calls, who is also interested in data-entry, so that we can keep everyone informed, and really understand who we're serving, and what is important. It's not simply that the phone can distract me in the middle of a task. I have been experiencing anxiety that makes my heart race as if people are going to attack me when the phone rings, it takes up a lot of energy. As noted in a previous blog, I've been working on this for ten years, a lot has improved, yet not enough to be there in a way that shows how much I care.
Self-loading Compost Spreader Version 2;
Galvanized steel construction couldn't hide some major design limitations. Thankfully it has led to a greatly improved Version 3 that I'm happy with.
While design is mostly finalized, we're still uncertain on manufacturing lead-time
Starting a Board of Advisers to bring in unique perspectives on how to reach the long-term vision has been an ongoing challenge, both in scheduling and finding keen people that would really take the time to listen before offering advice. I know firsthand that the urge to give advice can be tough to rein in, and I'm not at a place where I feel my voice is strong. I've made a couple small steps, hopefully it's just a matter of saying a prayer, and soon we'll be meeting for a couple hours over a meal four times a year. It will be nice to set some goals, and explore resources or referrals to others that have answers.
Operations Support to make sure all the day-to-day is looked after, even someone to give me a pat on the shoulder or bounce ideas around when I don't see a way forward. It could be fun to find an older retired version of myself that is patient and wise, who gets me laughing when I take things too serious. I've even thought about subletting the shop as a way to have more companionship.
Manufacturing Industry expertise, someone who can help give an idea on material sourcing, volume purchasing discounts and knowing we're getting the right price, manufacturing costs, distribution, contract negotiation and all the other related pieces.
Revised Ownership Structure; After all the ups-and-downs, I dream of finding others with a similar level of dedication that are more clear-headed on business than I am. It would go a long way in order to be more reliable and earn trust with clients, since I haven't been stable as I would like to see through the daily challenges. I'd still love to form a multi-stakeholder worker co-op, with key suppliers, workers, and those who would value our products having an ownership stake.
I've also dream about being employed by a group of absentee owners, since any of the government business growth funding is tied to hiring employees. Having a little funding would go a long way to covering all the upfront product development costs.
For offsetting upfront manufacturing costs, it would be great to find someone who could set up a variable investment 'Buying Pool'. It would be something like a kick-starter. Typical upfront costs for development and protecting intellectual property could be eliminated by having enough people commit to a pre-order, which could also eliminate distribution/inventory expenses
If the design had no cost, and we were to manufacture one compost spreader, the greatest cost is programming/tooling setup. Next, production labor, especially for all the layout and oversights that happen when making a one-off that doesn't warrant making jigs or gauges for standardization. Then, we have material, and finally, shipping. I know a lot of people feel urgency, even to the extent of requesting plans to build their own. Others want to have something made local, hopefully the next version is 3D printable. I know I've been that guy who tries to build a better mousetrap most of my life, which is how I ended up here instead of farming, so I want to make a case for being patient and standing together, instead of all undergoing individual efforts.
Growing up around farms, I was always repairing the machinery when I wasn't running a tractor. For me, it's easy to think about ease of maintenance and repair, long term durability, resale value, and most important, safety! We wasted so much time because we didn't standardize parts when we built machines, we adapted used material we had on hand. We were rarely able to borrow parts from neighbors, and not seeing the bigger picture, we weren't able to easily upgrade to better machines, even when they became available. Frustration with fixing junk also leads to procrastination...
We had a tractor where I worked as a teen that chronically wore out brakes, it was time consuming and expensive to repair, so the complacency comes in... Next thing you know it stalls with a loaded manure spreader, and it's rolling backwards down a hill, snapping off a hydro pole. The pole comes crashing down across the road below a blind hill. Even though the neglected brake repair turned into rebuilding a manure spreader, and buying the utility company a new pole for thousands of dollars, it was fortunate that nobody was injured or worse. If I had gone biking five minutes earlier, I wouldn't have been here to design a self-loading compost spreader!
Hopefully that answers how producing a volume of spreaders from a good design, quality goes up, price goes down. Co-creating a buying pool makes me think a lot about a saying I learned while attending the United Church of all places; “From each according to ability, to each according to need” it's often attributed to communism, but precedes politics, since it's the principle that can be seen all throughout human evolution, and it very likely shaped human evolution.
Using compost spreaders as an example, some might have enough capital to buy a compost spreader outright, some might have enough to cover just their material costs, some might only have ten per cent. If that capital is shared to increase production volume, the increased volume reduces the energy put into each unit. Those who can purchase outright are supported by better product support that comes with increased volume, yet everyone will rely on that resource. Increasing production numbers not only reduces the cost for everyone, it creates a stronger network for product refinement, exchanging new and used machinery and parts
As for my ideal role, I'd love to focus on going to trade-shows, farm conferences, researching new design ideas, refining manufacturing processes, scratching my head while exploring how to make machinery safer, more accessible, more intuitive. Creating a different kind of experience that is seen as part of a healthy way of life instead of a company.
I'm not sure how it's all going to play out, I have a lot of dreams of being on a working demonstration farm where there is a budget for research and development for organic no-till market gardens and orchards. A place committed to providing engineering and test prototypes would shorten feedback loops to make even better machinery.
If nothing changes drastically, It's going to be a slow process, since there are few people on board as of now. With all the unknowns, Community Machinery is like a typical start-up. With no guarantee of regular salaries, it's more a place for those seeking adventure and personal growth. One thing I really look forward to is someday telling the story of how we recovered our development expenses without resorting to industrial design patents, and how we had more energy to invest in the next great innovation.
I hope the design will reside in the public domain once a Version 3 spreader is affordable on the used market, so that only those who are improving upon the design would be looking for plans. At that point, I hope I'd cover my development expenses, and found some funding to put towards the next project.
One thing I feel strongly about, there is considerable cost savings in that our design bolts together, meaning you can save money having it ship flat-packed, and bolting it together. You can also replace parts that get damaged or wear out, or swap parts between units when they reach the end of their service life.
In closing, being an entrepreneur, I admire the ingenuity of farmers making do, which isn't to be confused with being small-minded, watching cents while losing dollars, or resenting happy people. It's important to think about the virtue of patience so we don't fool ourselves and compromise our vision.