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Himalayan Rocket Stove Update October 2017

Wow… what an amazing challenge! Setting up a manufacturing business in India is one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do!

I’ve been so busy haven’t managed to get out the usual monthly updates. Chetana and I have just returned to Australia after an intense 4 months in India setting up the production and distribution processes for the company.

These last months have humbled me… India’s capacity for fantastically complex bureaucracy has to be seen to be believed. I feel like I have been living through ‘Brazil’ (the 1985 Terry Gilliam movie) but I think we are nearing the light at the end of this tunnel… either that or its the Delhi Mail Express!

Having a Team Saved Us!
I now understand why, when applying for small business grants, one of the key questions is about the team. Without a great team, I would not have been able to achieve very much at all.

Chetana has been full time for several months on the legal and financial paperwork which turned out to be far in excess of anything we could have imagined. We happen to be birthing the HRS project through an interesting period of India’s corporate governance. On top of the usual paperwork we have also been through demonetisation, the introduction of GST and various changes to India’s way of dealing with international investment.

“G” (our industrial design wizard) has been working his magic at the factory trying to convey our ideas into something that can be reliably replicated by the CNC machines and their operators.

Tanzin and Chozang have been making the connections in the community to build awareness about the stoves, setting up the sales networks. Kuldeep and Suraj have each come on board at crucial moments to help out and Pushkar is in the office at the warehouse overseeing assembly and distribution. Various other people have popped at key moments to help out and we are looking to expand our team as soon as we can to deal with the expansion that has already started.

Meanwhile, I’ve been dealing with a myriad of details, trying to keep a focus on the big picture and keep us all on track heading for the goal of great stoves reaching the people who most need them.

A Complex Jigsaw
The Eco1 Stove a reasonably complex puzzle to get right, with over 25 parts and more than 85 holes that have to line up exactly for everything to fit together perfectly. The reason I wanted the stoves to be made in many pieces (rather than a welded box like most stoves) is to stick to the design concept of being modular, flat pack-able and easily repairable.

Modular means we can swap out components to add different kinds of functionality at a later stage. I’ve mentioned before some of these options. We are developing concepts for a hot water box, pizza oven, baking oven, phone charging unit, pellet feeder as well as taller models that share a range of parts.

Flat packing is something we can do for large orders to far away places. We are currently negotiating large orders for Nepal and testing the market in Bhutan. Being able to send parts and assemble on location gives us options that would not be available if the stoves were fixed pieces.

Finally, by being able to switch out any component means we can repair and replace each and every piece as required, which dramatically extends the life of the stoves. Normally, if a section of a stove burns out, that is the end of the stove and it gets junked. We are able to replace high wear components for a tiny fraction of the cost of the whole unit.

Racing Against Time
We’re about 1 month behind where I wanted to be at this time, due to various factors, mainly factory production issues. The first batch of 100 stoves made in September had some issues that took a long time to fix, and that set us back. Now the second batch of 100 stoves is coming through and the production run looks very good.

The first truck load of 30 stoves went out to Manali 2 weeks ago and 54 stoves made it to Leh (Ladakh) this week. The response from people who have installed Eco1 Stoves has been great. We have a great product… now we just need to ramp up the production so we can get significant numbers of units out there before winter sets in.

We were very happy to get a batch of stoves up to Ladakh. Most of our other target regions are more or less accessible throughout the winter, but Ladakh is critical as the road will close by the end of October. We will try to get one more shipment up there but with Diwali this week, it is not sure if we will make it.

Ladakh is not that big a region for us in terms of volume, but our stoves are perfectly suited to their situation. Himachal Pradesh is our main target region for 2017, and we are scheduled to showcase the Eco1 Stove at the Lavi Festival in Kinnaur Valley in November, having already showcased the Eco1 at the Kullu Dussehra in early October. (These are major events on the Himalayan calendar and many thousands of people turn up.)

The high valleys of HP are perfect regions for us, accessible nearly all year and very interested in high efficiency stoves. Orders have been coming in from various parts of the Himalayas, including volume orders from distribution agents.

The challenge has been, and continues to be, getting stoves out of the factory fast enough. 

Smokeless Cookstove Revolution

The Smokeless Cookstove Revolution is progressing under the fantastic guidance of Nitisha (based in Mumbai). She has been instrumental in setting up the Himalayan Rocket Stove Foundation which will be the vehicle for continuing the Smokeless Cookstove Revolution in a Not-For-Profit format with all the legalities in place.

The project is still getting media attention and was featured in a great write up by IndiaSpend here. We now have an arrangement with IndiaSpend to place Carbon Monoxide sensors into a few village homes with real-time data uploads, so we can get real numbers on how much CO we’re reducing in homes with our smokeless chulha’s vs conventional chulhas.

Glenmark Pharma Foundation has been keen to finance the SCR to 500+ homes over the next few months and negotiations are underway with this in mind. Check out the Facebook page for more up to date details and amazing images here: https://www.facebook.com/SmokelessCookstoveRevolution/

All in all, its been a massive year and we have achieved so much… but still so much to do. Stay tuned for the next instalment!

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