Engineering for Change is a forum for engineers and inventors worldwide to tackle problems in developing countries. Rob Goodlier shows how a little ingenuity can give even the poorest areas access to modern machine tools. — Ed.
There may only be a handful of people in the world who have thought as deeply as Pat Delany has about making cheap tools. Delany, from Palestine, Texas, designs hand-powered tools made of recycled materials. His heavy-duty drills, lathes, saws and other tools can handle the same tasks as modern power tools, but they equip carpentry and machine shops in off-grid and impoverished communities. To achieve their low-tech precision, his designs fuse century-old technology, present-day scrapped auto parts, pipe, concrete, wood and a relentless commitment to the bottom line.
At Maker Faire Africa 2010, Delany gave a presentation on how to build four essential tools. They are his Multimachine, a screw-cutting lathe, a treadle-powered electricity generator and a steel drill. With these tools, rural communities can build the pumps, plows, generators and other technology they need to improve their quality of lives.
Plans for these are online at Yahoo Groups, and Delany has opened workspaces at E4C to promote some of them. He would like our help to disseminate these plans to the people who could use them most. And he would like to collaborate with someone in the E4C community to draw better illustrations of the screw-cutting lathe.
Now, we present four simple, cheap, open-source tools for rural development.
We saw this tool at Maker Faire Africa in 2009, where Delany distributed plans for making the machine. This fascinating design is a ten-in-one tool made from engine blocks and other recycled parts that works as a grinder, mill, lathe, saw and other tools. It alone can perform all of the functions of a decently-equipped machine shop. And it costs only $200 to build.
The screw-cutting lathe
This design seems nearly miraculous: It's a hand-powered screw-cutting lathe that bores and shapes metal. Since it's made of scrap steel and concrete, it's cheap to build. But even with those low-tech parts and a power source of human muscle, this machine can be precise. It can even mimic the performance of a robotic CNC lathe, Delany says.
"This is an amazing bit of World War I technology that has been almost lost in history," Delany told E4C by email. "We have updated the technology to make a 16" swing screw-cutting metal lathe that can be built for $200."
This hand-powered drill for wood and steel is modeled after those found in 19th century smithies, Delany says. It's made from scrap wood and parts that cost less than $1. With a drill bit welded into a pipe, the operator can bore large holes into hard steel, which is challenging even for modern electricity-powered drills. See Delany's Multimachine Yahoo group page for details on the drill. Also, you may contact him for more information.
The treadle-powered generator
With a modified engine block and a wooden treadle-a foot-powered lever-two or more people can power an alternator and generate electricity. The generator works like an exercise machine to charge a battery and power phones, banks of LEDs and other small devices. It can work on its own, or as a stand-in to supplement intermittent grid connections or other generators that need a boost at peak usage times.
Like the others, this machine is cheap to build and made of recycled parts. And it's not too difficult to assemble. Three people could assemble one in a day, Delany says.
Wanted: An ad campaign
Delany has mounted a hit-or-miss campaign to put his designs in front of the people who could use them. The Multimachine was a hit. It turned heads at Maker Faire Africa and won accolades from Popular Mechanics magazine in 2007 DIY feature. The treadle generator, on the other hand, bides time in a dark corner of the Internet and can't seem to escape obscurity.
It's too bad, because in the right hands, all of these tools could be game changers. Maybe a digital push from the E4C community is the kind of marketing that Delany's designs need. Or maybe he needs a publicist.
This story originally appeared on Engineering for Change on April 23, 2011, and was republished with permission.
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