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“Balwa ka Blacksmith”

On a hot sunny day, in a crowded van, we the group of 8 participants accompanied with 12 children, made a trip to the rural area of Balwa, a remote village of Gujarat. On arriving, our first encounter was with a blacksmith’s workshop. In a small area of 350 sq ft. the blacksmith had established his workshop and his house. The very first impressions was it was very spacious, situated by the highway and surrounded with ample number of tress which helped beat the scorching heat.

Our curiosity led us into the workshop which was very well organised, work-space was well kept which is pretty impressive considering his limited knowledge of material handling system. We were warmly welcomed by the blacksmith who we saw was already working on some jobs. Our inquisitiveness led us to asking him questions about his work, his mode of income and his daily choirs. From what we inferred, he deals with worn out blades which are used in the tractors for ploughing. His major work includes hammering and cutting the blades to hone them for repeated use. From what we observed, the process of hammering required the blades to be heated until dash temperature. For this he used a traditional open clay furnace that required burning of coals as shown in the picture below.

From our conversations with him, we understood that the majority of his profit was minimized because of the excessive consumption of coal owing to the open air design of the furnace. We noted down this problem and continued our conversation. He further explained his process which began with taking the blade with a metal tong and putting it on the hammering table. While observing his work process, we noticed that he frequently had to cool the tong by quenching it into water as the handles of the tong got too hot to handle. We noted down this as well and figures that little alteration can ease his workload and hence improve his efficiency.

On completing our detailed technical talk, we jumped on casual topics like the sources of his income in off season. His main source of income was mainly crop season dependent and the rest of the days of the year, he indulged in making toy molds which he sells in the local fair, where the profits were marginal. We concluded our visit by thanking him for his essential time and returned with mix emotions.

In the evening, while having a cup of tea which is unusual given the high temperatures, we casually talked about the problems that everybody had noticed and unanimously concluded towards solving the problem of excessive consumption of coal and heating of the tong. While the second problem was quickly solved as we reached to the solution of using a simple wooden holder to cover the metal part of the thong that touched the hands, the first involved brainstorming on different ideas of closing the furnace and saving the heat. We finally designed a closed furnace that more or less depicted a pizza-oven. On presenting our solutions to prof. Anil Gupta, we were questioned on multiple fronts that involved the thermal efficiency of the closed furnace, required drafts for air circulation and the internal dimensions of the furnace. We will be visiting the workshop tomorrow to get a clearer idea about the requirements of furnace.

Sristi innovations being open for all, we invite the technocrats and creative minds to reach us out if a better solution or the unanswered questions are answered.

Day 2

We visited Babubhai, the blacksmith of Balwa the next day itself to discuss our thoughts on the solutions we had come up with. We talked about the first problem of excessive consumption of coal due to open furnace and he replied saying that he understands that the solution is feasible but closing the furnace would change his work flow and he wouldn’t like to adopt the idea. We further talked about the use of wooden handles in the tongs he used to which he said that the wooden handles would increase the diameter leading to inconvenience in holding the blades firmly. Then we had a detailed talk with him regarding source of income for the family of eleven with only two earning members and we understood that his real problem wasn’t the less efficient work style, rather it was the lack of opportunity for employment.

As designers this was an eye opener for us as we all realized that sometimes we try to improve their efficiency of the work whereas the real problem is very much different, urgent and requires much more brainstorming. This incident has definitely shifted our paradigm towards identifying the actual grass root problems.

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