Lesotho may be Africa’s coldest country! However, it will soon be Africa’s warmest as the government of Lesotho electrifies Lesotho’s villages like never before!
Even more, the Lerotholi Polytechnic (FOKOTHI) and the National University of Lesotho (NUL) lecturers have joined forces to warm up the country with—wait for it— Lesotho’s first electric heater. Of course, they did not put a man on the moon. But still, they have achieved a great deal in country best known for importing.
The use of electric heaters is so common in Lesotho urban areas, many take them for granted. However, we are yet to produce our own, fully invented, manufactured and commercialized in Lesotho electric heater. Realizing this, a team of 8 scientists and engineers, 5 from Fokothi and 3 from NUL joined forces. And they are on their way to make it happen.
‘We have just tested our first model and we are very happy with the results,” exclaimed Mr Joseph Thaba on behalf of the Fokothi team. “We are up for big things as this is just an example of how teams from the two institutions can work together and make miracles. In fact we were just testing the relationship.”
He is right, as some from both institutions have since realized that whatever they achieve independently is nothing compared to what they can achieve together. “Gone are the days of competition,” said one excited NUL team member. “We live in an era of cooperation.”
An electric heater, of course, appears simple to an average person. “That is— until you try to make it,” said Mr Seforo Mohlalisi, one of the members from the NUL team. “Try to make it and you will soon realize that “the devil is in the details.” Few problems stand on the way of determined and patient scientists and engineers who have decided to work together.
After the team agreed on the general picture of the heater, it was first CAD designed by Fokothi team member Mr Sebaki Moji. “In consultation with our NUL Counterparts, we experimented with the first and the second design models until we were satisfied,” said Mr Teboho Thabane, from Fokothi team that also includes Mr Abiel Masienyane and Mr T’sitso Thamae.
“It didn’t take much time before we started building the first structure which went smoothly.” Of course the work is the first design and it has to be improved going forward.
Then the NUL team took the skeleton and put in the veins and the arteries and the heater became a living soul as it lighted up, much to the exhilaration of the entire team. The team examined all components necessary for the safe heating and installed them.
“The biggest problem was in ensuring that the electrical components merge with the metal skeleton to avoid short-circuiting,” detailed Mr Thabo Koetje from the NUL side.
The team members said they learned the hard way that even the simple things are not that simple to make. And when you take into consideration, the fact that safety is paramount in electrical products such as a heater, production process becomes a bit trickier.
At this point, many may have started wondering… what exactly is an electric heater? It is generally viewed as an electrical device that converts electric current to heat. It often consists of an element, called electrical resistor. If an electric current is passing through a resistor, it will convert that electrical energy into heat energy.
Most modern electric heating devices use nichrome wire as the active element; the heating element. The wire is often supported by ceramic insulators.
While there is nothing mysterious about an electric heater, only people trained in electricity and electronics are advised to experiment with it as such experiments can be fatal for laymen.
Also, it is important to ensure that when making an electric heater, live wires are not directly in touch with metal parts of the heater since this may cause accidents. To avoid this, ceramic insulators are often put between electrical components and the metal casing if such casings are an option.
With this knowledge in view, the multi-disciplinary team was all too happy to see why it can’t be made and commercialized right here in Lesotho.
Now that the first trial is complete and working, the second step for the passionate team is to make a redesign of the heater to ensure reduction in cost of production and to make it reproducible in a normal factory.
Once satisfied with the performance of the last model, it will start designing a large scale manufacturing of the heater and— Lesotho will never be cold again!
The relationship between Fokothi and NUL teams will be soon be earthshaking for the tiny Mountain Kingdom as more complex machines are already in the pipeline.
This blog post was originally written by NUL Research and Innovations