Development Update

There’s nothing as valuable for us at this point in our organizational evolution as completing the full CEB product cycle, to take the CEB press from prototype to market.

We spawned some publicity, and much is happening in the background. The viral marketing seems to be working, as new collaborators are contacting us now on a daily basis, as opposed to weekly or monthly. Our YouTube views

are growing exponentially since we went live over a year ago, and our publicity campaign is responsible for the recent growth. The early spike you see is when we got on the Wired magazine and BoingBoing blogs after we pressed the first open source compressed earth brick. Now our regular views are almost twice that. Plus, there are some excellent candidates for Dream Team 30 that we’ve spoken to. We started the OSE Development Group. On the other hand, our True Fans are still only 30 in number, so to raise this, we’re bringing our operation to the next level.

The first point is the CEB press – upgrading it to a 6-8 brick per minute machine, from the pitiful performance we’ve seen in our 5000-brick field testing ops. We’ve seen that the machine is useless with manual loading – as it would take 16 people to feed it with buckets to get it to the rate that it is capable of producing bricks. So we are adding a large hopper that can be loaded with a tractor. Problem statement: how do we redesign the machine to accommodate a large hopper? Here’s a short video about the issue, and you can see the CEB page on the wiki (outdated but comprehensive, with links to diagrams) for the entire development process until the present.

Please comment. I’ll record the results on our wiki.

The second point is about the elusive Open Source Product Development platform. How do we create a veritable open product development pipeline that can deliver to specifications and on schedule?

What I see happening in our organizational evolution at Factor e Farm – is a product development process generally defined as:

  • 1. Define specifications
  • 2. Recruit bids from 3 builders/prototypers who verify specifications
  • 3. Write proposal
  • 4. Submit proposal for funding by crowds and stakeholders
  • 5. Put prototyper to work at Factor e Farm to build, after funding quota is reached
  • 6. Every step is documented, product is released

Point 2 addresses major accountability gaps that we’re facing at Factor e Farm. We need an effective process where we deliver product, to specifications and on schedule. We have a recurring problem of not having sufficient review to verify our presumptions. We need to refine the review process, and one effective way is to involve professionals at a fee. I don’t see other ways to do this effectively in a streamlined development process. Sure, volunteers would get there over time – but with our limited resources at present, it would take many years to develop the Global Village Construction Set.

If the professionals can guarantee product, then funders are more willing to fund it. If professionals are involved, that serves the additional purpose of immediate and qualified third-party review.

I think some version of the above process is both realistic and fungible. There is no rocket science to this, it’s just a social process.

Jeremy is working in the background on a Drupal interface at that can help streamline the above development process. The wiki is good as a repository, but it lacks the structure necessary to streamline the development process.


  1. Todd Jefferson

    You might consider a standalone hopper that has a gated outfeed at the right height to dump stuff into the small hopper on the CEB press. Something like a gravity wagon for grain, but higher off the ground. That would keep the CEB press small.
    One difficulty maybe that the raw material may jam in a large hopper since it’s got a higher moisture content than say, dry sand. That happens all the time with high moisture grain or feed in hoppers.

    Another solution may be a belt conveyer to haul material from ground level to the CEB input hopper, this would let you work from a pile with shovels or from the ground with wheelbarrows instead of having to lift each bucket of dirt up high. Those can be driven with hydraulics.

  2. Marcin

    In stuck hoppers, do they have to unstick a big hopper manually by banging or such? Do you know anything about shaking mechanisms that could be applicable?

    The conveyor would work, but since the largest part of the endeavor is still shoveling, the ground level conveyor with people laoding it does not address the erogonomics issues.

  3. Ric Frost

    Tried commenting on a previous post and it appears I was blocked in some way.

    1. On the current question, this may be obvious, but if the tractor is loading the hopper, what’s running the press? Or are you figuring on a large enough hopper to make a two-step process workable? On the shaking issue, I am not in any way an engineer, but to me that sound like a relatively delicate point of failure when compared to the rest of the press. I do like Todd’s idea of a two-stage hopper system that would keep the CEB more or less as is with a larger fixed hopper feeding it.

    2. A while back, you left a comment about contacting me on my blog. You can reach me at rdfrost at yahoo dot com. Sorry for the delay; I’ve been buried in school work.

  4. Lucas

    The belt conveyor idea, Marcin says it doesn’t solve the problem. So the problem is feeding the compressor fast enough to make use of the CEB machine full time, right? So the problem is not just with feeding it, but with producing enough “ready to press” dirt. I don’t know if I get it right, but maybe what’s needed to start with is a way to dig earth up fast enough and pre-mix it (if that’s what’s done) fast enough too. What’s the full process now? What are the bottlenecks? What’s the full list of specific problems, with some numbers as to what falls short exactly and by how much?

    (I don’t know if this helps.)

  5. Lost Chief

    How about a staging area for the loader to dump loads of soil through a large container that has rebar or some sort of strong metal along the bottom so if the soil is clumpy it can easily be pushed through the screening on the bottom with the tractor? This would keep the rocks out at the same time.

    Maybe even put a shaking engine on this filter box to pre break all the soil and remove the rocks.. Would be much easier to make this shake to sift instead of a hopper up in the air..

  6. […] « Development Update […]

  7. Thomas

    What about an auger instead of a belt conveyor? Kinda like a grain auger, but with a bucket on the down end to dump soil in. Auger sits underneath to move dirt up a tube and out to the small hopper on the CEB.

    If you put a rebar grid on the bottom to break up clumps, and maybe a system to mix the dirt before it gets to the auger, you could control sand/clay mix and remove rocks and debris before the dirt enters the auger. This could get to be a complicated machine.

    Alternatively, the grid could be mounted at an angle at the top of the large hopper, so that rocks simply roll off while dirt falls through. Sand mix could be controlled manually.

    This could be combined with the shaking idea above – shake the box above the auger to sift, then sifted soil falls through into the auger and is brought up at a steady rate to the CEB.

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