Feb 2020 Update on Rocket Man Designs
Lots to report, so I’ll try to be brief…ish!
RMD & HRS
Let me start with the following clarification: Rocket Man Designs (RMD) is where I turn ideas into functional prototypes, and Himalayan Rocket Stove (HRS) is where we turn these into saleable products. Both RMD and HRS are social enterprises, and all the products mentioned here are designed to meet the following criteria. They should improve the lives of users, reduce impact on the environment and be commercially viable in their respective target regions.
With the support of 2 generous Australian lenders, I was able to secure the funds to go ahead with setting up a workshop in my hometown of Byron Bay and support myself while I focussed on new product development under the name of Rocket Man Designs. I had been giving lip service to this ambition for some time, so it was a great feeling to finally get the workshop up and running as of December 2019.
I’ve been enjoying the process of getting back into design mode as I have had ideas bouncing around my head for the last couple of years that I have not been able to get around to developing until now. The focus has been on new product development as well as a range of accessories for the Eco Rocket Stove.
One of the reasons it has been so critical to come up with new products is that since the trip to NY where we were mentored by a range of business experts, it became clear that our seasonal sales model with the current product range (winter only space heaters) was a major stumbling block to ongoing viability as a company. We were always going to have a boom and bust cashflow cycle if we didn’t smooth out the seasonality with other products we could sell all year round. With that urgency in mind, my target was to develop something we could sell through the summer months.
So here’s what I’ve been up to…
Having focussed on the ‘improved’ space heating sector with the Eco Rocket Stove, it seems logical to also develop something for the cookstove market. With various market segments in mind, I have worked up a range of variations.
The tentative naming protocol I am using for these is “Rocket Camper 15” for the SS smaller bodied version designed for global markets, where the number refers to the height in inches. “Rocket Cooker” currently has 15 and 18 inch versions in testing in India and there is a 36” version I have been testing at home in Australia, and which might also become a global product aimed at multi-function outdoor BBQ style cooking.
The “Rocket Cooker”
I started working on a concept for a small, lightweight, flat-packable cookstove which would have both a domestic Indian audience as well as a global market. The Rocket Cooker range is focussed on the Indian domestic household cookstove market which we can sell / distribute though the Smokeless Cookstove Foundation under various schemes targeting reduction in Household Air Pollution. This is designed to be low cost for the end users whilst still maintaining a high degree of clean burning functionality and high efficiency. Now in field trials in India.
The “Rocket Camper”
This variation is a more expensive (due to materials) smaller, stainless steel version that can be easily flat-packed for the international camping market. We are hoping to make these for distribution by post around the world as a clean burning, easy to pack, lightweight cookstove for campers. An early version of the Rocket Camper has done a stint with Tenzin and Ashley on the Chaddar Trek in Ladakh, walking up a frozen river in minus 20C at up to 4500m altitude.
The “Patio Cooker” with accessories
The taller version (Rocket Cooker 36), which I sometimes refer to as the Patio Cooker, is what I have been using to test a range of modular accessories which currently include a slot oven ideal for cooking pizza (very popular), a BBQ grill plate, a steel mesh heat radiator as well as the standard pot holder for cooking on a single pot. This could end up being a third stand-alone range as it will have different design parameters for the global market.
Micro Space Heating
The Camper also has potential to convert to a Tent Heater with an accessory that adds a heat box radiator over the top of the rocket stove and ports out the emissions via a small flue pipe. Tiny homes, caravans and cold climate tent campers could be the market here.
Smokeless Campfire Pit
Ok, so this one might have some regional appeal in India, but for sure it’s a winner here in Australia. Everyone loves a nice backyard firepit to stand around on cool evenings, but no one likes standing downwind with a face full of smoke. This is a simple variation on the firepit which improves combustion considerably. I’m now working on a variation that can potentially be flat packed for international shipping efficiency.
‘Rocket Cooker’ Product Launch
As part of our prize for winning the ASME iShow in Bangalore last year, we have 20 hours of professional graphic design which we are now focussing on these 2 product lines so as to be ready to hit the ground running in March & April for our product launch at the end of the winter season in India.
Accessories for the Eco Rocket Stove range
Waste Oil Burner Modular Add-on
This works with a range of old oils including vegetable and engine oils, as well as kerosene. I worked up this accessory due to ongoing requests from Indian Army officials based in the Himalayas. They have almost unlimited access to oil and kerosene, but not wood. The idea with the waste oil burner is that if they anyway are going to dispose of oil from their thousands of trucks in the mountains (most likely in an unsavoury manner) it would be better they used it in a relatively clean-burning situation for heat, rather than tipping it into a hole in the ground. This also reduces the need for the army to burn kerosene for heat, which they currently do. This product is at advanced stage of development and is ready for production testing in India.
Improved Biomass Pellet Feeder
This is a long-standing project that has been frustrating in terms of coming up with a final solution for small diameter biomass pellets. The design limitations are that the feeder should work in a self-feeding format with no moving parts and give a consistent and reliable heat output for hours at a time without needing attention. We have previously gotten close to a working model, but not quite, over a couple of years of testing. Now I have made significant progress on this project, and feel confident that we can have a working pellet feeder option available for the coming season.
Eco Rocket Stove Oven Box
This is the simplest variation of an oven we could come up with at minimal cost and is very easy to use. It is basically a lid with a temp gauge that sits on top of the main riser section and comes with a ceramic tile underneath so as to moderate the heat from the rocket riser and give a smooth cooking experience. Good for pizza, bread, biscuits and all kinds of other oven baked goodies.
This one is a relatively simple accessory, but crucial in the sense that we have only 2 main complaints from our customers, one of which relates to lighting the stove. The other relates to installation when done by someone who doesn’t follow our instructions. With this simple and easy to use accessory, the user who is unfamiliar with the knack of lighting the Eco Rocket Stove can use this to get the fire started quickly and easily.
Eco Rocket Stove Mark II
The Eco Rocket Stove range, which has been our focus now for 3 full seasons, is ready for an update. Some preliminary work was done while I was still in India last November on a smaller, lighter, cheaper version of the Eco Rocket Stove which would incorporate our latest updates in clean burning design, as well as some other improvements aimed at meeting customer feedback requests.
This project, called the Eco Mini Rocket Stove, looks like it could be a winner. We have built and tested several generations of this heater, and recent testing compared it against our flagship Eco3 Rocket Stove in the warehouse showroom, with reports that the Mini was almost as hot with a much smaller body.
Taking some of the design cues from the Eco Mini project, I recently took apart the Eco2 Rocket Stove I have in Australia for testing and display purposes, and completely redesigned the underfloor airflow system to optimise the performance for a double walled riser tube that incorporates tertiary pre-heated airflow. Without going too far into the technical details, I am confident that this has significantly improved the performance, as well as solved one of the key complaints from customers which relates to how the ashtray is accessed from the front.
The plan now is to introduce a totally revamped range of Eco Rocket Stoves for the next season, provisionally under the banner of Eco Rocket Stove – Mk 2. The Eco Mini will almost certainly become the new season’s big seller, as this allows us to reduce the price point to a degree that allows for a much greater audience in our existing market regions.
The Waste Incinerator
I’ve been threatening to design this for at least a couple of years, and have received quite a lot of interest from around the world from various people interested to know where I’m up to with this one. The Pollution Control Board in India have also expressed keen interest, so now the pressure is on!
It is the most complex product I have yet tried to wrap my head around. It involves keeping the temperature in the burn tunnel consistently over 800C while the gases/fumes from the burning plastics mingle turbulently with sufficient oxygen for more than 2 seconds before releasing to the atmosphere for rapid cooling.
I’ve drawn up numerous plans and built a few tentative prototypes, but I’ve yet to come up with a final design I’m ready to commit myself to. In other words, it’s in process. Having said that, it’s the last thing on my list of ideas for this current period of design madness and with nothing else to do, I’m about to get stuck into it.
Travel, HRS and What’s Next
I was planning to head back to India in a couple of weeks (early March 2020) to get these new products launched and to host our annual end-of-season team meeting. With the COVID 19 situation seemingly not under control at this stage, I have decided to postpone my India trip until it seems safe to travel again.
This means I will have more time to spend in the workshop in Australia, but less time to spend at the production end of the supply chain overseeing the final product development, so I will have to rely more on my team in India for preliminary testing until I get there.
Lenders / Investors Welcome!
Rocket Man Designs retains the rights to licence the IP for any of the products I have developed, and has a licence agreement in place with HRS whereby RMD receives 5% of gross revenue from the sale of these products.
As previously, I will continue to offer a stake in RMD to lenders / investors who are interested to support this venture as I continue to develop its portfolio of product designs in the high efficiency clean combustion technology space.
Having been set down this road by an incredible gesture of faith from the Dykes Family Charitable Trust with (several) grants that inspired me to quit my other work so as to focus on this project, I have managed to maintain myself with the generous support of friends and family in various ways.
I have not taken any salary from HRS to date (other than cover some of my expenses) as it is not yet able to sustain that expenditure, so I have supported myself through a range of loans, many having the option of converting to shares (initially in HRS, and now in RMD).
In a time of increasing awareness towards the ecological issues rapidly approaching a need for urgent action, I feel this work is as valuable as anything I could offer my energy towards. If you feel called to reach out and connect with me about this work, please do.