Enterprise

Kariobangi artisan grows his business into East Africa

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Misunga Engineering Works founder Thomas Ochieng standing besides the soap machine that he assembles at his workshop in Kariobangi in Nairobi. PHOTO | KEVIN ROTICH | NMG

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Summary

  • The company, which was started in the 2000s, manufactures industrial machines for making candles, soaps, stone cutters, cabro-moulds, fence posts, peanut butter, cold rooms, incinerators, among others.
  • Now, Misunga Engineering Works is a thriving enterprise, off Outering Road, in the city.

Thomas Ochieng Asao started as a small-scale artisan at Kariobangi in Nairobi. He used to make jikos, doors and window grills as well as beds and chairs for local customers.

From his humble beginning, he never envisioned that one day his business would become East Africa's leading supplier of commercial and industrial equipment.

Now, Misunga Engineering Works is a thriving enterprise, off Outering Road, in the city.

The company, which was started in the 2000s, manufactures industrial machines for making candles, soaps, stone cutters, cabro-moulds, fence posts, peanut butter, cold rooms, incinerators, among others.

“I started small in the juakali sector but I had passion for mechanical engineering because we lacked production machines locally,” said Mr Asao who graduated with a diploma in engineering from the Kenya Polytechnic.

“So, my goal was to invent equipment that will make ordinary Kenyans produce products such as peanut butter, soaps and candle at home or anywhere else without having to rely on big manufacturers.”

His first innovation was a candle-making machine followed by one used to make soaps. He focused on these two-products since they were in high demand.

Initially, the machines were not in the best shape but over time Mr Asao kept on improving them by leveraging new technologies.

The company has now distributed over 100 fabricated machines that are used to make soaps, peanut butter, among others, in Kenya as well as Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan.

“We have created a lot of jobs in East Africa, especially in Kenya. Recently, we were in Juba for two months where we created a project called Juba manufacturers in Juba,” says Mr Asao who has employed eight people.

Amidst high residential buildings, one is treated with a number of fabricated machines at the firm’s assembly plant in Kariobangi.

When we arrived, workers were busy assembling a soap loader, which is a soap-making machine that can manufacture 500 kilos of bathing, multi-purpose and laundry soaps for small-scale producers.

“We sat down and saw that for us to have a soap we need to have some ideas of analytical chemistry, manufacturing chemicals and mechanical production. So, after this, we combined mechanical, production and analytical chemistry to make this one a success.”

His machines are certified by the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI) and the Kenya Bureau of Standard (Kebs), to ensure they meet all specifications before they are sent out to buyers.

“For you to get a licence, you must be tested through KIRDI and tested by Kebs."

Also, before machines are sent to customers, the firm trains buyers on how to operate them to avoid accidents and damages as well as uphold quality standards.

“I do not let somebody go with my machine before training them. I must train you on the concept of running the machine, formulation,” says Mr Asao who was working on an order from Somali when Enterprise visited.

He says a complete set of a mini-plant soap machine goes for Sh300,000, and consists of a soap loader, mixing tank, discharging area and stamping unit.

The machine, which can take about 40 days to design, test and train, produces soap weighing 1kg, 600g, 400g and small soap tablets for hotels.

“We design this machine to suit everyone. You can put it in your garage at home. It does not need a big space,” the entrepreneur notes.

However, he says the high cost of steel is hindering the business, coming on the back of a ban on scrap metals by President Uhuru Kenyatta last year.

“Even if you want to build a jiko you have to go for a big sheet of steel, making the price of a steel more than the price of the jiko to be sold,” he says.

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