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Assisting Economic Opportunity for Women Through Appropriate Engineering Design of a Soap-Making Process in Uganda

[+] Author Affiliations
Grace Burleson, Brian Butcher, Brianna Goodwin, Kendra Sharp

Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

Paper No. DETC2016-59715, pp. V02AT03A052; 8 pages
  • ASME 2016 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
  • Volume 2A: 42nd Design Automation Conference
  • Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, August 21–24, 2016
  • Conference Sponsors: Design Engineering Division, Computers and Information in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-5010-7
  • Copyright © 2016 by ASME


TERREWODE, a non-governmental organization in Uganda, works to eradicate obstetric fistula in local communities and provide income-generating skills training to the affected women. Obstetric fistula is a traumatic childbirth injury caused by prolonged, obstructed labor and delayed intervention. The condition is preventable with proper medical attention, however, in rural areas women who suffer from the condition are typically disowned from their families and communities [1].

As part of their social reintegration program, TERREWODE provides training for women post-treatment in multiple income-generating skill areas; jewelry making, baking, cooking, sewing, and buying/selling produce. The soap-making idea originated within TERREWODE itself and is intended to create an income stream for the women participating. The scope of this senior capstone project, in collaboration with several organizations, is to increase efficiency, reliability, and repeatability of the soap-making process and explore potential avenues for powering the system in an off-grid setting.

A weighted-design matrix was used to make engineering decisions throughout the project. The two primary engineering aspects of this project were the selection of soap-making process (hot vs. cold) and the selection of a mixing device and powering unit. Understanding of appropriate manufacturing technologies in Uganda was necessary as all materials and tools needed to be locally available for success for the project.

The hot process requires maintaining the soap mixture at a constant temperature for roughly two hours or until the gel phase occurs. This process allows for a short curing time, permitting the soap to be ready for use sooner. Opposing this, the cold process requires little cook time but a lengthy curing time. Experimental data showed that maintaining a consistent temperature over an extended period of time while using a cookstove is nearly impossible, even in a controlled lab environment. The cold process was selected as a better suited solution for manufacturing due to field conditions and available resources.

A mixing device is crucial to the soap-making process. Due to the unreliability of grid-based electricity in the region, the team considered both a human-powered mixing solution and a solar-powered mixing solution [2]. TERREWODE leadership steered the team away from creating a human powered bike mixer for fear of discouraging women to participate, due to potential health and comfort issues. The team selected a solar powered system and has tested a U.S. manufactured prototype.

The ultimate goal of this soap-making project is to provide an opportunity for victims and survivors of obstetric fistula to earn a livelihood. The work done by the Oregon State (OSU) mechanical engineering design team, in conjunction with the OSU Anthropology department, University of Oregon College of Business, several private artists and entrepreneurs, and TERREWODE, will provide potential improvements to the process and implementation plan to more effectively and economically create soap.

Copyright © 2016 by ASME



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