Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Lack of cash hobbles local industry success

Lack of cash hobbles local industry success

Lack of cash hobbles local industry success


SPARKS fly in the modest workshop as a one-armed mechanic is polishing down a heavy

yellow-painted cylinder with a grinding machine. In the garage next door, somebody

is banging away on an array of steel objects, while his overall-clad colleague has

stuck his head and a couple of wrenches into what looks like the jaws of a giant

metal hippopotamus.

The Tempest brushcutter.

The technicians at the Development Technology Workshop (DTW) are hard at work, doing

maintenance and repairs on one of their brushcutting machines.

It's been out in the field, chewing up bushes, trees and branches for the demining

organization Mines Advisory Group (MAG), and needs a routine checkup before it goes

back into service.

And the brushcutter is back in the workshop, having proven itself to be a success

in the minefields.

One big problem for mine clearance operations has always been that a minefield has

to be cleared of vegetation before the deminers and their metal detectors can move

in. With many minefields in forests or overgrown fallow fields, vegetation clearance

can take days or weeks, wasting precious time that could be used on actually finding

and digging out the mines.

The brushcutter, which goes by the name "Tempest", makes mincemeat of that

problem. Inside a big square housing - the hippopotamus jaws - at the front of the

machine, heavy metal chains rotate at great speed, crushing every bit of vegetation

that gets in its way. What is left in the Tempest's wake is nothing but a fine layer

of ultra-light splinters.

Rolling steadily along on its four jagged metal treads, the Tempest will clear at

least 1,000 square meters of land in a day. When MAG initially tried the machine

out in the field, they found that it increased demining efficiency by 50 to 70 percent.

On top of that the Tempest is locally produced. Except for a few delicate components

like the remote control system, most components of the machine are bought in Cambodia

and assembled in the small DTW workshop outside Phnom Penh. The staff consists of

eight Cambodian technicians - including two amputees - and two British engineers.

"The first prototype of the Tempest was produced in England; when we brought

it out here, all the Cambodians were standing around, looking at it, scratching their

heads and saying 'No, no, cannot make in Cambodia'," remembers Program Manager

Harold Pearson, who started the DTW in October 1998.

"But of course it's possible to make machines like this in Cambodia. It's just

a question of training people the right way and using the right materials. We were

aware of problems in other countries with having correct maintenance and spare parts

for machinery. That's why 80 percent of the Tempest's parts come from Cambodia and

it's assembled here, by Cambodians."

Originally, the plan was that Pearson and the other British engineer, John Wright,

would hand the entire operation over to DTW's Cambodian staff, but the way things

are going, both Pearson and Wright may stay around a while longer.

the chains inside its hippopotamus-like jaws that make mincemeat

of everything in its path.

"We keep developing the features of the machines. Right now, MAG has asked us

to try to fit magnets on the Tempest to try to gather up surface metal while it's

cutting. So far our training of Cambodian staff has concentrated on producing the

machine. We haven't yet done enough training on design and construction to hand this

aspect over to the Cambodian staff," Pearson says.

Currently three DTW brushcutters are rolling around in Cambodia. Two others that

were mainly produced in England are working in Bosnia. And another two have just

been tested in the United States and will soon be put into service with the Thai

demining agency TMAC.

Using machinery to aid human deminers is nothing new, but the Tempest has a number

of advantages over other brushcutters in the market. It's remote controlled and can

be operated by a team of three people, one of whom is always resting, so the machine

can run continuously.

The most important feature of the Tempest is its size: at 3.8 meters long and weighing

a mere 2.6 tons the Tempest is probably the smallest and most handy brushcutter in

the market. Other models are normally based on tank designs and weigh between 10

and 20 tons.

"Some organizations seem to think in terms of magnitude," says Pearson.

"'There's a big area to clear of mines, so we need big machines,' they say.

But a big machine is not necessarily more efficient, if the deminers can't keep up

with it. Also, you need special vehicles to transport these machines.

Wright adds: "I don't know how anybody ever imagined that they will get any

of the big machines down the Cambodian roads - or over the bridges for that matter."

By contrast, the Tempest can be loaded on to a normal truck and moved quickly to

a new location.

Yet, for all its advantages, the Tempest and DTW have one major problem: money.

DTW started out in 1998 as a humanitarian organization on a grant from the British

Government, but is now surviving primarily on revenue from selling the brushcutters.

Cash flow is restricted, and DTW has no core funding, so it simply can't afford to

produce a new machine unless it has already secured a buyer. Production takes three

to four months, and the buyer has to pay in advance. This has scared off potential

customers.

John Wright says: "We've had inquiries from Israel, Mozambique and other places,

but they all fell through because the customers can't wait four months to get their

machines. They may also be on a time-limited contract and can't afford to be delayed

that long."

DTW could solve that problem if it constantly had one finished machine ready in stock.

The machine could immediately be shipped off to the buyer, and a new brushcutter

could be produced from the revenue.

However, DTW has not been able to find a sponsor who would fork out the $85,000 to

produce a stock brushcutter. Pearson speculates that donors may be hesitant because

DTW is a little too involved in private sector business.

Wright adds: "But that doesn't really make sense. I thought most people have

realized that if you want to do sustainable development it has to have a commercial

element in it. It simply has to be profitable."

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