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 BLOG >> November 2019

Design and Redesign [Design
Posted on November 27, 2019 @ 09:35:00 AM by Paul Meagher

When we use the term design, perhaps a more accurate term would be redesign. Arguably, there is nothing "new" under the sun, so all acts of design are in fact acts of redesign.

If we take this perspective on design, then the starting point of design is not pure imagination working within imagined design constraints, but rather a deep study of existing designs with the goal of improving upon those designs in some way.

This idea of design as redesign occurred to me as I was trying to figure out how to re-implement an existing design for a field blueberry winnower. Here is how it currently works.

This clever design is a prime example of an appropriate technology that once existed and which isn't manufactured anymore. Because I am borrowing the cleaner, I am trying to figure out how to re-implement it. Discussion and schematics for building one of these can be found here.

As I performed my deep study of this blueberry cleaner I began to appreciate the minimalistic, compact, and interlocking elegance of the design. I began to notice, however, that the main functions of the field blueberry winnower could be performed in a different way and that the design could be improved upon. All unproven at this point.

Performing Functions In A Different Way

The blueberry field winnower performs two basic functions:

  1. It provides a vibration function that keeps the blueberries rolling down an inclined plane that you pour your blueberries into.
  2. It provides a blower function that operates upon the blueberries and the debris as they fall off the end of the vibration table. The blower ideally blows away all the debris while allowing the heavier blueberries to fall more vertically into your collecting container.

In the original design, both the vibration function and the blower function are powered by a small 3 hp motor with a pully that drives two pullies, one for each function.

A single belt from the drive pully wraps around the other two pullies to drive them.

Times have changed since this design was in manufacture. They probably didn't have cheap and easily accessible power generators like we have today. So, an alternative way we could power the blower and vibration functions would be via a generator with two plugins, one for the blower motor and one for the vibration motor. So instead of taking one machine to the field to clean blueberries, you would take your cleaner machine and a power generator. The cleaner does want to vibrate so you might have to weight down the table with an equivalent or greater weight to keep it from jumping all over the field on you. It works best if the cleaner is mounted directly on vibration absorbing earth rather than a wooden platform.

Improving On The Design

Once I imagined powering the two functions in a different way, the idea for an improvement began to form.

Instead of driving the vibration function and the blower function from the same pully, you could independently control the vibration speed and the blower speed. This would give you a greater ability to fine tune the two functions of the cleaner to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the cleaner.

Conclusion

This little case study of my journey to develop a field blueberry cleaner is meant to illustrate that redesign is often a better description of the design process. If you enjoy design, it is probably because you enjoy redesigning how things currently work rather than coming up with completely original ideas.

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Pivoting and Runway [Entrepreneurship
Posted on November 12, 2019 @ 09:13:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Lately I have been thinking about the concept of "pivoting" because this year I have had to pivot from my original farm plan of starting a "farm mini winery" (license your production acreage up to a minimum of 2 acres then make wine) to starting a "commercial winery" (few restrictions on where your production acreage comes from). I had a terrible year crop-wise (hurricane damage to grapes, bad year for my wild blueberries) so I had to pivot to getting wild blueberry fruit from a large blueberry grower who I am partnering with for the 2019 wine production. My investments now are going into upgrading the barn to be a commercial winery and, eventually, a retail space as per the regulations if I want to sell wine from my farm (must adjoin the winery). Sometimes a pivot is between two well-defined government options and all the consequences they entail.

Being able to continue making pivots on an unprofitable farm for 7 years is quite a luxury. The "runway" for this farm enterprise is very long compared to the typical "runway" for a startup that might only have enough capital to last a few months before they have to start showing traction. Because me and my wife both have other income and could afford the long startup costs for the farm, there has been no investor pressure on us to show profit quickly.

My brother-in-law has been involved in an oyster farming venture for around 7 years and is only now getting to the point where it might start to make a significant income. A big pivot his business went through last year was to partner with a childhood friend who is enthusiastic about the industry. They are buying equipment together and managing their leases together. This is a secondary line of business for my brother-in-law (who primarily fishes crab and lobster) where there is no investor pressure to become profitable quickly; however, they are gearing up to be profitable (e.g., populating leases with oysters, investing in oyster farming equipment, investing in off-shore oyster handling equipment, upgrading their boat).

Anyone who has a day job can be investing in a secondary venture for a long time without requiring immediate payback. These may one day hatch as a "startup" after many years of ongoing investment and pivoting.

Pivoting in a long running startup can look different than pivoting in a new startup.

If you want to see how pivoting works in high-performance startups with limited runway then you might want to watch Dalton's talk "All About Pivoting".

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