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CNC machine in workshop

The long story of a CNC machine with a very happy ending

On my first day in the factory I saw one of the workers drilling holes into the small and big valve and – having built a CNC router at home a few years ago – I thought it is a waste of time if she is standing there everyday drilling holes in, optimistically speaking, the same pattern. In my mind I thought that it would be an ideal job for a machine. On the other hand you don’t want to replace a worker…


After discussions with Éamonn he assured me that it would be great if the workers would spend their time doing meaningful things: installing pumps, helping with pump-assembly instead of drilling holes all day every day. So I ordered parts from Germany to John to Dublin, as they had the plan to come to Malawi a few days later. I checked the DHL shipment tracking nervously every day and after a seemingly endless number of days I got the info that the packages have arrived.


So when John and Mary arrived in Mzuzu a few days later I spent the whole night trying to get this machine working and it worked for 3 minutes, then it stopped. I was very disappointed but also decided not to give up so I talked to John and he then told me there were some brothers from Ireland coming to St. John of God’s in Mzuzu in about 10 days time. I ordered new parts from Modellbau Letmathe in Germany and they even gave me WhatsApp support at 10pm which is rather unusual after I explained them the situation… CNC stuck in Malawi… NGO… water pumps… broken controller… etc.


The controller arrived, I was excited and started the wiring. And it did not work again. The night was very long, it did not work in the morning and I think it is obsolete to describe my feelings at this morning. What next? How am I going to tell the guys in the factory who are waiting to see this machine I was talking about everyday for the last few weeks that it will not be working anytime soon. Or maybe ever?


With the brothers there were also other tools arriving for the Lathe which should finally enable us to produce nice threads in premium quality. So we unpacked those tools, mounted them on the machine only to realise that even though they did fit in the tool-holder they were 9.4 mm de-centered and we would not be able to use any of the parts we had ordered from Ireland. I had sent the seller photos of our machines, measured all dimensions he said would be important, but at the end of the day all that is irrelevant when the tools don’t work with the machines we have… worst day ever.


I was disappointed. I put in a lot of effort in researching the parts for the CNC and the lathe tools and all of it did not work the way it was supposed to! I talked to my brother and he assured me that there should be quite a lot of great things I could still improve. He also recommended to rewire everything another day… I did this and I do not exactly know what the specific problem was – I guess I just mixed up a red and green cable – but suddenly all 3 motors of the router worked. YES!!

Today I finished adding the so called “limit-switches”, as well as the wiring. Then I mounted all controller-elements in an old computer case, switched it on and a nice white flash switched everything off… NOOOOO… So I opened the power supply: the fuse had exploded as one of the mounting screws connected the case with the 220V-phase. 2 mm can make such a difference! So Harisen (THANK YOU for everything you do!) went to town and bought some fuses. Long story short: it works. Of course not after replacing this fuse, as two different fuses burnt in the same moment and I had to find and replace them as well. But now it works and I could not be happier.


So now we have a working CNC-machine in the factory in Mzuzu. What can we do with that?


We will produce the small and big valve, as well as the rubber discs from old car tires fully automatic on this machine. That saves a lot of time, improves accuracy and as I changed the whole design of the pump we now use 6 mm high discs, cut from the rod. Then you can add 8 of each valves into the machine and basically press a big green button that starts everything. After a while you take out the finished parts.


I hope that this machine will enable a faster production of high-quality parts. A great thing is also that I can now design any kind of new design, send the files from anywhere in the world to Harisen and he will be able to produce the parts. New Pump? New Design? Something completely different? Sure. No problem. Let’s cut it out…

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