Ugo Aliogo writes about a technological innovator who is making waves in mechanical, civil and electrical engineeringÂ Samuel Chinedu Ndubisi is an engineer with special interest in electrical, civil and mechanical engineering, building construction works and agriculture. He was born into a family with a rich culture in technical innovation, craft and metal fabrication. In his teenage years, he took up this family tradition with a desire to carve out a path for himself. Growing up under a father who was a professional welder helped greatly to hone his skills set in metal fabrications. Samuelâ€™s journey into the engineering world began with the production of locally made amplifiers and helicopters.
â€œMy father was a professional welder and a craftsman, therefore much of the things that related to engineering and fabrication he did them by himself instead of outsourcing labour. His tools were always available for us. We used them to either play or learn things about engineering and fabrication.â€
â€œSamuel also had the opportunity to learn with the work tools. For me, I will say Samuel inherited the spirit of craftsmanship from my father. He was more passion driven for technical innovations, more than any of us in the family,â€ noted his brother Stephen Ndubisi.
Today, Samuelâ€™s dream has been fulfilled. He has succeeded in establishing an integrated service providing company in collaboration with friends who are also partners. The company is known as Smuals Nigeria Limited. They specialise in electrical, civil and mechanical engineering, building construction works and agriculture. They have been in this business since 2011.
The company fabricates equipment, and electrical gadgets. One of the products they fabricated is the automatic transfer switch which is known as automatic change over. The gadget transfers electricity from the power source to the generating sets, then to the NEPA source and when power goes off, it transfers it back.
They have also fabricated manual de-watering machine. Later they realised that it took three hours to de-water about a minimum of one ton of cassava flour. It also required somebody to man the machine in order to apply pressure where it is needed. These perceived inadequacies propelled these technical experts to fabricate the automatic Hydraulic Cassava De-Watering machine.
The automatic de-watering machine has a pressure sensor which signals the machine to add more pressure where it is needed, with this therefore the job gets a lot easier and a ton of cassava can get de-watered within 30-45 minutes.
They also developed a cassava grating machine. They are currently working on a three-in one cassava grater machine. It is expected that when completed, the machine will boost of the capacity to peel, wash and grate the cassava and it is about 60 per cent complete.
The company is building a strong presence in the manufacturing industry with its fine finished products. In the aspect of electrical gadgets, Smuals Nigeria has also succeeded in spreading its footprint in the market, but the only challenge which they are facing is that the low acceptance of locally made goods by Nigerians.
The electrical gadgets have the functionality equipped into them with a voltage sensing device, which senses whether the voltage is high, and if the voltage is too high, then it shuts it down until the voltage comes down to normal then supplies.
When the voltage is too low it will cut it off. It has an over-voltage sensing device too which senses the load range. If the load range is too high, the device will shut down by itself until you reduce the load. These are all productive devices aimed at securing the gadget.
Another area which the company has delved into is rural electrification. Though the company has not achieved any major successes yet, nontheless the company is on its way to improving its capital base to carry out rural electrification projects.
Samuel explained that electrification projects require huge capital outlay to be invested into it. Before embarking on any electrification project he said they usually establish their terms and conditions and they work with communities with a maximum of 100 houses.
He espoused that instead of bearing the cost of electrification, they focus on supplying the materials, electrify the community, and task the landlords in the community to pay the total of the project by installment, then hand over the project when they have covered the cost.
â€œOur focus mainly is for them not to breach the terms of the agreement. For instance, if we go to them and they accept our proposal we start work in order to ensure that we donâ€™t run into unnecessary controversies because programmes such as these are very unpredictable. They create problems that are not supposed to be and in the end we tie down our capital. The project takes a lot of funds, in the agreement there is a stipulated amount of money. Until we realise the fixed amount, they are expected to work with us, if it is maintenance work, fault diagnosis, the company will take care of that. But until we finish, they cannot go to another player in the field again. Once we realise our money, we hand over the project to them.
â€œWe have not been able to fully electrify any community yet, but we have worked with some communities since our company is facing financial challenges. We were not able to carry out the burden of financing the whole project; therefore what we did was to carry out the modeling, the survey work and handled the project basically.
â€œBut in terms of raw materials, we had to connect them down to our suppliers to deal directly, so in order not to place too much burden on our neck. So far the electrification we have done in Onireke community, Ogun State is 90 per cent complete. The availability of raw material will determine how long it will take to carry out the project. So far they have been to access some credits.â€
Sourcing business capital
When the group started, it was a group of eight young men who came together with a vision of building a viable company in the area of technical innovations, electrical and agriculture. Today, that dream has taken a different course. Most of the brains behind the business have abandoned the dream for something else. Samuel said currently the company has just three individuals remaining in the business and they have been funding the company from individual savings.
Despite their desire to continue running the company against all odds, one huge challenge confronting them is that the means of income of these individuals have stopped. Therefore he noted that they have not been able to carry out certain projects. When Samuel said this there was pain in his eyes, his heart was unsettled because it was gradually eaten up by sorrows and frustration.
â€œIn order to get capital for the business, we tried the Bank of Industry (BOI) but we couldnâ€™t meet up with their demands. One of such demands was a presentation of our cash flow analysis of the company. This was at a time when we didnâ€™t have bank account; we were mainly financing the business through individual incomes. Therefore this couldnâ€™t be possible as such provisions are only possible when you have a corporate account.
â€œWe tried other avenues to get money but we realised that it might result to fraudulent acts. So we decided to hands off. Another thing they requested for was to know if the company has started production? Then every gadget we fabricated was done inside my living room.
â€œOur business office was where we used to meet with prospects. My living room was not organised well enough to entertain these prospects; in the end we decided to settle with what we had. We also tried accessing loans from major commercial banks, but they told us that they cannot finance starters. Even if we have already started, they still request for the cash flow analysis. We also tried Micro-finance banks, but they told us that they donâ€™t finance production -based businesses but small-scale retail businesses.
Patronising made-in-Nigeria goods
Samuel is a strong believer in made-in-Nigeria goods. His utmost desire is to see Nigerians buy and use a large percentage of what is produced in the country at the expense of foreign made goods. He opined that government policy towards made in Nigeria goods have to change because it is not good. Therefore he suggested that government should make a law that in every public institution the electrical appliances used should be locally made, people would aggressively embrace made-in-Nigeria products more than foreign ones.
â€œA local manufacturer is also a manufacturer; it is because government wants state-of-the-art in production therefore the locally made products are dropped in order to make way for the foreign made. In developed countries, they invest heavily in machinery and production.
â€œEven if an investor comes to invest, the market is not willing which is a very big challenge. If government makes a policy that binds on people to effectively make use of locally produced goods, there is a strong tendency that the economy will improve drastically. Also, the production sector will benefit greatly from such. There is Innoson cars; the question here is how many public offices are using Innoson cars? We donâ€™t have the market yet. Nobody wants to put in money where it will be tied down,â€ he added.
The place of Technical Colleges in training artisans
In discussing about the role of technical colleges in training artisans, Samuel argued that technical colleges provide basic knowledge in theory and practical to intending artisans better than the universities. He further maintained that the best way to add value to technical colleges is ensuring that already existing engineers go through technical colleges for training and skills set improvement.
He added: â€œNigeria as a country missed the mark from the outset. If we want to revive our technical colleges it is a good move, but it may not stand the test of time because the country has not placed value on it.
â€œThey should begin by passing into law a legislation which compels would-be engineers and artisans to go through technical colleges to gain knowledge for a certain period for instance six months.
Artisans need to go through technical colleges because they have a lot to learn. Majority of our fault diagnosis are done by artisans.
â€œWe must also make sure that the technical colleges are very easy to afford. Education in this country is very expensive. Engineering as a discipline has a lot to do with practicals, more than theory. In engineering, we are lagging behind in this country.
I have not seen any made-in-Nigeria product that is striving in the market. Our major construction projects are still being handed over to the Chinese contractors. The artisans need financial support from government. If government can guarantee the finance, bring the market, and create the opportunity, the world will recognise Nigeria as a dominant force in engineering. For instance, the gadget I manufactured two years ago, pricing was the major thing that drove the product out of the market.â€