Zac Crain did what he does best; he knocked one out of the park with this story.
Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
On the surface it appears nothing much is happening with Ubuntublox these days. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Just yesterday we were named a Social Innovation Rockstar.
Here’s some of the things we are working on. We are working on using polypropylene line instead of wire to bind the bales of film and foam plastic into blocks. This cuts the price of the individual block from approximately fifteen cents for the wire to less than a penny for the polypropylene twine. We still want to use the wire in the wall construction of course.
One of the other things we are working on is the woman centered rebar bender. This is important. Women use lower body strength for work; men use upper body; male showing off maybe? Rebar benders as we know them now are designed for male workers so they depend upon pulling and pushing with arms, upper body stuff.
Let me inject a little personal philosophy here. Common wisdom says that since rebar benders have always been designed to use upper body strength, then we need to teach women to use upper body strength too. I disagree. The objective is to bend rebar, not make women into men. So the smart thing to do in my book is to modify the rebar benders so that women can use them naturally. That means we modify the bender so that they’re operated using lower body muscles. We make them where they are stepped on instead of pulled or pushed. The added benefit of this is we enable children, male and female, to contribute earlier to work if needed.
We are also working on the woman centered concrete mixing tub. One of the things that irritated me beyond measure was our forcing the Haitian ladies to mix concrete the way men do when we were working on the Ubuntublox house. It was unfair; it was unkind; and, it was altogether wrong on our part to put them through that. One of the good things about the experience is it forced me to get serious about modifying the tools instead of the workers to get the same job done. I believe this thing will do as much to empower women wanting to have control of the construction of their home as Ubuntublox itself.
We are also working on a design of a good foundation and floor for an Ubuntublox house that is not made with concrete. I’m very excited about this because the potential benefits are beyond huge.
We are also looking at the recycling process a lot closer. What we are trying to do is look at everything in the stream of recyclables as a positive instead of a negative. For instance any food stuffs found on the dinner trays could be used for food for hogs.
So a lot is happening; the excitement is growing; we had our biggest visitor day ever, Wednesday the 27th.
The original Ubuntu-blox was made with all kinds of plastic trash into a block with a two wire restraining feature. We realized that a third wire was needed in the middle between the two outside wires and modified the machine and process to accommodate that concept.
We made the blocks then with all kinds of plastics and the three wire retaining system. It was about that time we were asked by Stephanie Hunt of the Hunt Institute at Southern Methodist University to build a house using Ubuntu-blox for the their Engineering and Humanity Week of April 2011.
As we thought about the house to build for the Hunt Institute we realized that using all kinds of plastics meant we were creating a diversion from successful existing plastic recycling programs in North Texas. Curbside recycling was already picking up bottles and all plastics except for foam and film plastics. Foam and film plastics were not being recycled in what we felt were honest recycling programs. We decided to use foam and film plastics in our blocks for building the Ubuntu-blox house for the Hunt Institute’s Engineering and Humanity Week.
That combination of the single purpose shopping bags, the ones that are so popular now in the banning industry, and foam plastics readily available have shown to be the most cost effective method of building the blocks. Each block contains approximately twenty to thirty film plastic shopping bags and three cubic feet of foam plastics. The only cost for materials for the block is the wire retaining the block shape and providing the attachment system for making the walls. The cost of the wire was less than twenty cents per block.
When I got to Haiti August of 2011 I found out that the single purpose film plastic bags were not available in the quantity needed for making the blocks. There was an unbelievable amount of foam plastics available in the form of dinnerware, trays and cups, but a very limited amount of film plastics. We had access to some rice bag material also known as sand bag material. It was in bulk because it is what is used in Super Adobe construction. We could cut the rice bag material in five foot lengths, fill it with shredded foam plastics, and make a great Ubuntu-blox.
I went back to Haiti March of 2012 and we used the rice bag material and the wire to make the blocks. One of the heart breaks for me during that visit was watching the Haitian ladies straighten twisted wire we were getting for free from a recycling center. They spent as much time straightening out the wire as they did making the blocks, maybe more.
There was also another reality, cost. Purchased new the wire cost about twenty cents per block. The rice bag material cost another fifty to sixty cents per block. We had an awesome block but it was out of line cost wise.
When I came home to Texas I purchased some electrician pulling line to see if it would work as well as the wire for retaining the block shape. It does. The cost is considerably less and it is a lot easier to work with. The cost of the block was still way too high, fifty to sixty cents per block for the rice bag material, and the cost of the string was almost ten cents per block.
One of the experts and a good friend in the pursuit of making the world a better place is Patti Stouter. Google her and be impressed. She has been after me to look at other materials for making the blocks besides the rice bag material. The biggest obstacle in finding a suitable substitute that was available in the amount required was it seemed all to come out of the far east.
Sheer happenstance provided me with a local manufacturer here that could not only provide me with the line I needed but they also manufactured film plastic tubing in weights and diameters I could use. Using their materials I can now make a block with a cost of less than fifteen cents. That’s for the line for retaining the block shape and a tubing for containing the foam and film plastics.
If you take best case scenarios using rice bag and wire in Haiti to make the blocks you are looking at $195.00 to make a 150sf house using 300 blocks. Using the new materials that cost is $43.50. That is $150.00 per house savings.
I took the truck to Pearson Stone and we weighed the front axle weight. 6,800 pounds. That means 3,400 pounds per front wheel weight.
I went to the shop and put the front of the truck up on wood blocks. Then I jacked up one wheel and placed a ten pound plastic block under the wheel with a piece of steel on top of the block to eliminate the distortion caused by the tire patch only being on part of the block.
The block compressed about three quarters of an inch with the weight on it. When I removed the weight the block returned to its original shape.
I repeated the experiment with a nine pound block. The compression was about an inch and a half this time.
It will take some more tests by those a lot smarter than me to figure out the ideal weight of a block for making walls for a shelter. As far as I am concerned that is just work that has to be done. Engineers can figure out how much strength is required. Then plastic blocks can be tested and we’ll have the information we need.
We don’t have access to an academics lab to do testing on the blocks. So I did the next best thing…
Click on the “more” for photos and more dialog..
As you can see, the block was distorted in our redneck/red truck compression test.
This is a redneck’s red truck that weighs fifteen thousand pounds or so just about any day of the week empty. Most of the weight is on the front axle when it’s empty, diesel motor and all. I think an estimate of two ton or four thousand pounds or so would be a safe estimate of weight applied to the block.
One of the neat things about plastic is its resiliency. If you look close I think you’ll agree that even if the block failed the two ton redneck red truck weight bearing test it will still work just fine in a wall.
After the camera fiasco the other day we finally found another camera.
This after noon I made another block and feel we have the one we want now. It isn’t perfect and will still need some tweeking to make it work better. But it is at a point where others can copy it and start making blocks. Their experiences along with ours will help us find the final block making machine. Bob Warner took a picture of the plastic block box machine yesterday and then put down all the measurements on the photo to make it easier for others to copy.
We have a bolt with a 15/16 nut on it so we can use a rachet to turn the Acme screw. We were given a steering wheel from a bus today. We might change out the bolt and nut for the steering wheel. Eveyone that makes a plastic block box machine will find their own way of turning the Acme screw. I think the steering wheel will be my favorite though.
http://www.mcmaster.com/#93410a632 is the part number and source for the Acme screw. http://www.mcmaster.com/#94815a037 is the part number and source for the nut. A substitute that might be available locally is scaffolding screw jacks. http://www.affordablescaffolding.com/accessories.html?gclid=CKOCytL5_qUCFYde7AodXBOqow#screw_jacks The downside of using them is their length, usually only sixteen inches of travel available. We’ve found the thirty six inches of travel about what you need. Less than that will mean repeated compressions to get the pressure needed.
This is detail shot of the ram itself. The three slots are the wire retainers. You can see in the block box the wire guides. The wires can’t be installed after the block is compressed, at least we couldn’t do that. So we designed the machine to locate and maintain location of the wires during compression.
I welded half of a steel ball to the end of the Acme threaded rod. I used a piece of pipe and a rounded piece of tubing from a tractor attachement to contain the threaded rod. I put in a grease zert to make things work better and live longer. This gives a wide surface for the pressure applied by the threaded rod. The grease keeps it smooth.
The threaded nut was welded into a hole cut into a piece of half inch plate that is welded to the back or end of the block box Care must be taken to insure alignment with the ram as it travels down the block box.
Everyone will find a postion that works best for them when it comes to using the block box. I find this position just about perfect for me. It has enough angle so I don’t have to fight the plastic falling out like I did when it was vertical. And it is easier to keep the plastic in place while loading than when the block box was horizontal.
This little tool was designed by Bob Warner for tying the loops in the ends of the tie wires. The handle is three quarter’s inch round rod and the shaft is half inch pipe. The tab is 1/4″ by 1/2″ by 3/4″. A slot is cut into the end of the pipe to allow post tensioning by twisting of the tie wires if necessary.
The small tab is used to make a ninety degree bend in the tie wire. We’re using 12 gauge galvanized tension wire. It is stiff to work with but will last a long time. It is designed for use with chainlink and livestock fencing.
Then using the tab and the round shaft a loop is made in the wire.
This rod with the slot in it is located at the top of the block box frame. It’s part of a guide for gauging the length of the tie wires. After Bob made the trick little tool is was modified to make the loop using the tool.
The ends of the loop are placed in the slot.
Using the tool and the slot the eye is made in the tie wire. Pliers could be used to do the same thing. But it wouldn’t be near as easy. Especially with wire as stiff as the twelve gauge.
This photo shows the three tie wires placed in the wire guides in the floor of the block box along with being properly placed in the ram.
This is loading the plastic before we put on the lid. As you can see the angle position makes this easier.
I did this by myself and didn’t take pictures of the cover plate in place. The cover plate was put in place. Once it was in place I shoved in more plastic, occasionally compressing it with the business end of a sledge hammer. I did one full compression stroke and then filled it back up. One more full compression stroke and I removed the cover plate.
This is the compressed block of trash plastic. As you can see it would be very difficult with this design to install the tie wires now.
This is the tensioning tool. It’s made using half inch round rod. The slot on the end is critical. It was made with a chop saw blade and at about an forty five degree angle.
The end of the tie wire is fed through the wire guide on the end into the block box. The tied loop in the wire at the ram is placed over the block of plastic. The loose end of the wire is pulled through the loop. Then the end of the tensioning tool is placed through the loop about five inches. The groove is placed over the wire. The loose end of the tie wire is folded over the handle of the tensioning tool. The handle is forced towards the bottom of the block box. When the loop is over the end of the tensioning tool the tool is folded down onto the plastic block. Excess wire is cut off and the end is loosely wrapped around the tie wire. This is done to all three tie wires.
The ram is pulled back away from the block. I find a small lever bar is all that is needed to remove the block from the block box.
These blocks are a nominal 8″ X 8″ X 16″ . They can take abuse and maintain their shape. They weigh six to seven pounds each and difficult to compress or distort. Tied to together with wire and rebar they will make a great wall ready for plaster inside and out.
They are a future based upon our past.
The bad news is the original press has some issues. One of the problems is the sides are vertical and that makes getting the block out of the press difficult. Another is it is difficult to remove the trash from the press between blocks. And then there’s the wire guides, difficult to use when operating the press, too far apart, and generally awkward to use.
The good news is
I spent some money for some more materials. I decided to use three wires for the new version of the blocks. The size is the same. But the new press has the outside wires closer inside and then I put in a middle wire to contain the middle bulge we get.
I’m trying to get the machine down in cost material wise. I also want the materials to be as common as possible so that the presses can be made on site if necessary just about anywhere in the world. I’m trying 11 gauge 2″ X 2″ square tubing for the floor and base end. I hope this will be substantial enough to hold up over time.
If you look close you and see I”m using quarter inch spacers between the tubes for wire guides. I believe this will simplify the compression phase because the tie wires will be lying out of the way. The tie wires will still have to be attached to the ram. But we won’t have to fight keeping them in the guides like we did with the original press design.
I’ve decided to put an eighth of an inch taper in each side to make removing the completed block easier. The top has an 8 ” inside measurement. And the bottom measures 7 3/4″ inside.
We’ll be making blocks with the new design tomorrow if everything goes right.
I’m not sure just how much pressure we’ll be using to compress the blocks. So I’m spending extra time reinforcing the far end. I would hate to be wrapped up in making a block and have the end fall off. There’s a formula for figuring out the lineal pressure that is generated by the circular motion of the acme thread. I’ve looked at it and it makes no sense to me. Hopefully an engineer will google the formula and then send me numbers and I can pretend I’m smart. One inch ACME thread 4 threads per inch.
I wanted to attempt a bottle brick/plastic block tonight. I was just too tired. I’m going to try to hit it early in the morning and maybe we can get one just to see if it will work.
I tacked in the brace for the ram rod and it’s a little off. So in the morning I will break the tacks and align it better. I will add bracing and then attach the ram to the rod. I still have to make the handle for the rod. There’s a part of me that likes the idea of a steering wheel. I’ll probably forgo that though and settle for a slip rod handle
The ram will never make contact with the end of the box. But to get the density we think we’re going to need the force against this end will be like the ram hitting it. That’s why I’ve put in all the steel.
Keep in mind that if this thing works this is open source. So if a company wants to send a thousand of these to Haiti for instance then they can get the measurements from mine, have their smart minds modify it for efficiency and manufacturability, then they can have it made anywhere, India, China, Canada, USA. Another thing is anyone can modify it and make it better. I just hope that if they do they share it with the rest of us.