The machine is BACK in action!


As you may have heard, we have had some recent challenges with the inter-locking block machine. After our first major batch of 1000 blocks, we stopped the machine to prepare more soil for the next batch of blocks. After being off for at least 2 weeks, and after having made so many blocks, we decided it was time to change the oil. So we changed the oil just as you would in your own car, and we cranked the machine up again to make blocks. We made about 5 blocks or so and started noticing a serious problem. The blocks were cracking when they reached the top of the compression shaft. OH NO! Cracked blocks=BAD! For some unknown reason, there was a vibration in the machine when we were raising the block from the compression shaft. We immediately began to investigate what the source of this vibration could be.

Our first thought was maybe we put too much oil into the machine. Sure enough, we checked the dipstick and there was a lot of extra oil. So, we drained some oil, checked the level, and tried again. We still had a vibration.

We cleaned the inside of the compression shaft. Still had a vibration.

We now felt it was time to call in an expert. We went to town and found a local mechanic. This mechanic is a “general” mechanic which means he doesn’t just work on cars. He works on all kinds of machines. He came to our site, investigated a little and decided that the engine itself was running fine, but he expected there was a problem with the hydraulic system, maybe even the pump on the side of the engine. He wanted to replace it. Not only did he want to replace it, he wanted us to town the machine to his shop in Embu town for him to work on it for who knows how long and probably charge us some astronomical amount to fix something we weren’t sure was even broke. My experience in working on cars at home has taught me that you don’t just “throw parts” at the problem replacing various parts until the problem is solved. This is a very costly way to do mechanics. The proper thing to do is to truly find the source of the problem before throwing parts at it. So, we sent this joker away and looked for a different mechanic.

We found a professor of mechanics at a local college. SCORE! If this guy can teach people about how machines work, surely he help us find the problem with our machine. After days of trying to get him there, he finally came to our site and said the engine is fine, running smoothly. No problems there. He suspected the vibration was coming from the arm that pushes the block out of the shaft was rubbing against the walls of the shaft as it was rising. This made sense. Metal rubbing against metal causes friction and vibration. The solution was to get a metal file and scrape the rough edges from the corners of the pushing arm to remove friction spots.

Nyaga, our machine operator felt like the pressure was not reaching the proper level. When we checked the book for the machine online, we found the adjustment bolt for the pressure. The problem was the bolt was already pushed in as far as it would go. We needed a new longer bolt.

The professor agreed to come back the next morning to file the edges and replace the bolt. He wanted to be paid 2000 kenya shillings (about $22) for the service. But what I have learned is that if you pay someone before the work is complete, they won’t complete it. So, I paid him 1000 and told him I would pay the rest when he was finished. The problem is he came so early in the morning, no one was there with him when he serviced the machine. So, we were not able to test whether what he did would actually solve the problem. Did it solve the problem? No. We still had a vibration. But he still left a note and expected me to pay him. Um no. We tried to call him for days to come back and truly fix the problem. But he would not pick up his phone and he never came. His other 1000 ksh is still in my pocket.

Then I thought, maybe the shaft needs oil near the base of the hydralic shaft and maybe even inside the shaft itself. So I bought a oil pump can (like the one for the tin man on Wizard of Oz). We pumped a little bit of oil in the proper places and tried again. We sill had a vibration.

Now we’re stuck. What do we do? We had an expert general mechanic and a professor of mechanics try to fix the problem with no real solution and oiling didn’t seem to help.. We were then left with only one solution-replace the machine with a different one from Embu county. We called our connection at the county, Jason Abuga, and he told us he could try to get us a different machine. We were expecting this to happen on Monday of this week. On Monday morning, I called Jason and he said their main mechanic for the county, who knows a lot about these machines and was trained by the hydraform company, has just come back from vacation and would like to come look at our machine before we swap it out. GREAT! Come on over!

He came on Tuesday and first found that the pressure was too high. We didn’t need the new bolts and the pressure we had it set for was for a different mixture of soil, sand, and cement that Nyaga was using at a previous job. Our mixture required a much lower pressure. No problem, easy fix. Just adjust the bolt. But we still had a vibration. But this guy was not going to give up.

He also suspected the problem of metal-on-metal. His solution though was that maybe we needed to oil the sides of the shaft so the metal could pass smoothly. That was MY idea, but it hadn’t worked. But he wasn’t messing around with a little bit of oil from Tin Man’s oil pump. He grabbed a cloth and a bucket of used oil we drained from the machine and SOAKED the inside of the shaft. SUCCESS!!!!! No vibration!!! YAY!

So, now we just needed to keep the shaft oiled and we could get blocks again! Praise the Lord! Back in action! The next day, we would bring the team back together and get back into full block production. I stopped at the local vehicle service station on the way to our site and grabbed a 5 liter jug of used oil. I probably could have just held my jug underneath a car, but they had a container ready to dispense me some used oil.

So today, we cranked up the machine, oiled the shaft and started making blocks. We made 2 blocks and we had a vibration again. OH NO! Not again! So, we oiled the shaft again and got a good block. Ah ha! We found we needed to oil the shaft after EVERY block. Bummer! That’ll slow us down, but at least we will get to make blocks again. We are told that oiling like this after every block will help to “season” the shaft and after a day or two of doing this, we won’t need to oil after every block. This seasoning process is like seasoning a cast iron pan for cooking. After you do it for a while, the pan is well-seasoned and you’re good to go. But maybe after some time, the pan gets worn out a little and you need to re-season. So, we’ll see how that goes.

So, we expected to make a very low number of blocks today because of needing to oil after every block. But the guys were determined and the efficiency was high. we made 764 blocks! Praise the LORD! We’re BACK!

Enjoy the photos

We have blocks again!

We have blocks again!

Oil bucket

Oil bucket

Oiling the Shaft

Oiling the Shaft