hackproject.org — Better doughnut makers, for more breakfasts — {August, 2016}

I love the smell of doughnuts, in the morning, in the evening, in fact anytime. I like eating it more though.

In Kathmandu there are over 2000 small doughnut shops that make and sell them in various shapes and sizes. All make the dough overnight, start frying the doughnuts early morning in their open fires and get them ready for an early morning breakfast. Only a handful have learned how to make doughtnuts formally. Others have trained themselves. Nearly all of them use hands to kneed the dough and open stove with large pan fryers to fry the doughnuts.

Over a million doughnuts are sold here everyday.
Raju explains his doughnut making process and where he needs help

Raju, a doughnut seller, says he took a doughnut making training at an institute to start off his shop. Raju was a temporary staff at a Government office. With the 2015 earthquake his home was destroyed. With the Indian road blockade he lost his job. Having nothing left he borrowed money from family and friends, sold some of his wife’s jewellery and started the shop, which he runs 7 days a week throughout the year.

Raju’s doughnuts are particularly delicious. So he gets good orders. This gives him good pay, but also adds to the amount of effort. He works single handedly, sometimes helped by his wife. The more order he gets the more dough he has to kneed. All kneeding he does by hand as he lacks any machines for it. He says he was introduced to kneeding machine when he took training, but couldn’t afford one.

Getting dough ready to cut out tasty treats

Ram Dai, a self taught carpenter by profession and a life long hacker, talks about making a wooden contraption that could kneed dough. He says it worked well, but for large amount of dough the physical effort still remained. So he converted the contraption to potato masher and onion chopper.

While watching over his cooking batch of doughnuts, Raju tells that he also saw a controlled baking unit as well as electrical friers in the place he learned. Now he says he has to use open pan and keep an eye on the frying process every second. If the flame is too high, doughnuts get burnt on the outside and may not cook on the inside. If the flame is too low, doughnuts hollow up on the inside. So consistency is always an issue with him. The amount of oil he uses is also very high and after few cookings he has to discard off the oil. There is so many doughnuts he can cook before the heat starts getting to him and he has to take a rest. Not only the heat, the smoke from the fire and the oil vapors make him nauseated. Most times he takes rest, but when the orders are high he cannot afford to.

Frying in open pan and fire

Raju feels if he could get a good dough mixer and frier he could not only increase his production, but improve his quality, while maintaining his health as well as making other products. He says there is opportunity in cake and pastry, but he cannot afford time or equipment for it right now.

Most doughnut outlets in Kathmandu are single product outlets covering limited geographical area of market. Production restriction is a major hindrence to expansion. All would like to increase productivity, but manual labor has its limitations.

Ram dai feels that the mechanical parts, specially the metal box or other metal parts needed for the frier or mixer can be easily made in local metal shops here in Kathmandu at a reasonably cheap price. He mentions about how some metal shops are now making improved cooking stove based on designs given to them at reasonably cheap costs to flood the market. He feels the controls, mainly the electrical ones, are where the problems lie if automation is sought. He points at 5 main problems:

  • there are no readily available circuit designs that he could follow
    parts are hard to find
  • people with skills to connect them are hard to find
  • total cost of the controllers is high
  • no one has heard or used raspberry pi or other IoT devices

Raju is more than happy in invest in equipments, at reasonable costs, that would allow him to produce more or even improve the quality of his production. He says automating or semi-automating his production line would go a long way towards that, but he does not know or has seen any that he can afford.

Ram dai says there are many people who are willing to produce these devices, including himself, but needs to first level of design and hand-holding to make such devices.

This creates an opportunity to hack methods or technologies that would aid thousands like Raju. Looking around the Internet people have come up with beer despensing machines to solar stoves to a lot other devices based on raspberry and other IoT devices. Can these be applied to create better tools for the doughnut making process?
Raju in his doughnut shop

Raju has put in his life’s savings and works tirelessly to make the doughnuts so that he and his family have a better life. This opens a challenge to the hackers of the world to provide him with cheaper technology to help make his life better.

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