2001

The Voice: Summer 2001

The Voice

Small-scale extruder developed for Ukrainian farmers



Cara Miedema DeHaan

The students discovered that rel-life engineering requires a lot of trial and error.     When Agriculture Professor Ron Vos returned from western Ukraine last year, he had a mission: to find an oil seed extruder for a group of Christian farmers living in that region. He found a solution surprisingly close to home. Four engineering students, Todd Bolkema, Mark Hoogwerf, Blake Walburg, and Nathaniel Wilson, agreed to work on such a device for their senior design project this spring.
    Vos and the students worked in cooperation with Ars Longa Foundation, a Reformed organization whose purpose is to provide intellectual, financial, and spiritual assistance to Hungarian Reformed communities in central Europe.
    An extruder is a motor-powered, screw-like device that can, among other things, process soybeans. Vos learned in Ukraine last year that farmers there were unable to grow food with sufficient protein for their animals-often only one cow per family-so the animals stopped producing the milk so crucial to the families' diets. He encouraged the farmers to consider growing soybeans, which are protein-rich and grow very well in
Ukraine, but he knew that the soybeans would have to be processed in order to make their protein available to the animals.
    North Americans process soybeans on a large scale using chemicals, but the Christian farmers in Ukraine were interested in a small-scale enterprise. The region has ninety percent unemployment, and there is no market structure in place. So, rather than purchase a large extruder costing between thirty and fifty thousand dollars, the Christian farmers' organization asked Vos to find a small-scale extruder that could be owned communally and used by several farmers to process soybeans for only a few animals, in order to provide their families with a constant source of milk and protein.
    In response to the request by the Ukrainian farmers, the engineering students began designing an extruder that would process one to two bushels (100-200 pounds) of soybeans per hour.
    “The people need to be able to fix it, but we can't assume there will be anyone with an electrical background,” said Hoogwerf. “We wanted to keep it simple and long-standing.”     
    As part of the former Soviet Union, Ukrainians do have some knowledge of technology, but since the collapse of the economy, technology that once was common is no longer available to the common person.
    Unfortunately, the engineering students were unable to finish the extruder this spring. “The project is more complex than we originally anticipated,” explained Wilson. “It presented difficulties because we did not find it possible to do a whole lot of analysis.”
    Vos and the students hope that a new group of engineering seniors will take on the project next year, building on what was learned this year. The students say they feel some sense of urgency. “If this were just a project,” Hoogwerf said, “it would be okay if we didn't get it done. But we've got people waiting on it. If we get this going, it's going to help a lot of people.”
    The project has been more than just a design project in others ways too. “Mark and I both grew up on farms, so we were both really interested in helping with this project,” said Wilson, adding, “I am interested in the development of appropriate technology for developing nations.”



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