Enterprise

Engineer fabricates machines that power SMEs in Makueni

AlexNgechu1

Alex Ngechu, a mechanical engineer at Opentembo. PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • The start-up, which is pegged on the interplay between software and mechanical engineering, is owned by Maitha Manyala, a manufacturing engineer who is passionate about coding.
  • The 39-year-old uses plasma, one of the latest metal cutting technologies in the market, to make patterns on plates.
  • Work starts with translating a client’s design into drawings using specialised software.
  • After approval by the client, the designs are then transferred to the computerised plasma cutting machine that perforates the metal plates as designed.

Magnificent metal works bedecked with exquisite floral patterns displayed outside Opentembo, a vibrant mechanical workshop at Makindu Township in Makueni County, draw passers-by to the enterprise the way coloured flowers attract butterflies.

The deafening clutter of metal and sparks of welding flames at the workshop which also serves as the office belies the delicate engineering works which distinguishes the enterprise from the rest.

The start-up, which is pegged on the interplay between software and mechanical engineering, is owned by Maitha Manyala, a manufacturing engineer who is passionate about coding.

The 39-year-old uses plasma, one of the latest metal cutting technologies in the market, to make patterns on plates. Work starts with translating a client’s design into drawings using specialised software.

After approval by the client, the designs are then transferred to the computerised plasma cutting machine that perforates the metal plates as designed.

"However, our main business is designing and fabricating assorted bespoke machines for powering small and medium enterprises. We target the jua kali sector with the machines we manufacture. Once we design the machines we make most of the parts ourselves,” Mr Manyala said.

“While at it we undertake light duties such as making decorative metal clads using computerised equipment to remain buoyant. The decorated metal plates are a hotcake with homeowners who use them to clad metal doors, gates, home and office furniture, balconies, and stairways," he added.

Mr Manyala started the machining enterprise in 2015, exactly seven years after graduating from Egerton University. In between, he designed computer apps for banks, dealers in motor vehicles and other high-end clients.

Then, when his software development career was approaching the zenith, a restless Mr Manyala quit formal employment, citing a burning desire to be his own boss.

In addition to the freedom which comes with self-employment, Mr Manyala was determined to revert to his passion: the mechanical engineering component of his university course.

RISKY MOVE

“Quitting formal employment was a risky move as it meant relocating to the countryside where rent was relatively affordable. The relocation entailed scaling down on my lifestyle, a move that set me on a collision path with close friends and relatives. However, at the end of the day, the gamble was worth it," he said, savouring the milestone his start-up has attained in the past six years.

“The savings we had made went into acquiring basic welding equipment and paying rent. With the earnings which came from the light duties we undertook, we went for a drill press and a lathe machine which has been instrumental in fabricating some parts of machines such as thumb screws. Over the years, we have expanded the cache of equipment to include a metal inert gas welding machine, which helps undertake clean welds, and the computerised metal cutting machine, our dearest investment which enables us to make very delicate parts of machines,” he added.

Although Mr Manyala still designs computer applications for various organisations, his heart is often in the mechanical workshop.

On a normal day, his work at the workshop entails looking for new clients and working closely with them to design new projects, overseeing work, and marketing the products through social media. The client remains the king throughout the process as he has to review and approve projects, he offers.

ENERGY-EFFICIENT STOVE

Mr Manyala has hired three artisans and a mechanical engineer who mainly translates a client’s requirements into drawings and operating the metal cutting machine, and supervising the welders.

“So far, our portfolio includes a bespoke machine for packaging and sealing yoghurt, chaff cutter, banana slicer, a machine for bottling water and an energy-efficient stove dubbed Opentembo. We are completing an array of equipment which we believe will go a long way in enabling the jua kali artisans bend their metals with utmost ease and precision. The equipment are a sheet metal brake, sheet metal roller, sheet metal hand shear and hydraulic press," he added.

Mr Manyala’s main source of inspiration is seeing a machine perform a task efficiently.