What is the story behind the genesis of MABACO?

Photo by Anna Claire Schellenberg on Unsplash

Toulouse, France, Monday, 30th of March, 2020

The Airbus Humanity Lab is running a hackathon to develop solutions against the Covid-19.

The focus is on PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and ventilators. We have many ideas and prototypes popping all around the world.

As I am in confinement, I am working remotely and following what solutions are being proposed.

Indeed, as part of the Airbus Africa community, we are pushing to make sure that all solutions that will be developed in this hackathon can be suitable to be deployed also in Africa.

I am reading my emails and there it is, the first chromosome of MABACO. I see it and I say in my head: Yes this is it! This is great for Africa.

I hit the “reply to all” button asking for the initial idea to be further elaborated.

What is this initial idea?

The idea is simple and quite brilliant.

3D printing is nice but slow. Metal sheet can be quickly produced on a large scale.”

Nobody picks up the idea. It’s gonna die in its premature conception.

I am here and I see the value for Africa, I will find a way to make it a reality, I said to myself.

This is the first lesson about inclusion and diversity and why Africans have to be where the creation starts. I cannot imagine how many ideas have not been implemented because no one from an African country was there to defend the positive impact of that idea for us.

We have to be present as Africans where the decisions are taken to make sure that Africa is not sitting on the sidelines of History.

I love this concept. Yet It is just an embryo for the moment. I do not have the skills and the tools to dig into industrial workable solutions. For this I need computer assisted design skills and the associated software. I don’t have any of them at my disposal!

Think, think, Mad, think! (Yes, I call myself Mad in my head!)

This is where enters the gentleman below with the nice hat:

Christophe MIALHE, aka Xtof for me, is a colleague and a friend from Airbus. I met him the first time in mid 2014 when I joined the BelugaXL project team.

He was part of the design teams at the early stage of the development of this new aircraft.

Not only is he skilled and with a high emotional quotient, he is also very easy to work with. Obviously he likes having fun and does not always take himself too seriously, as shown in the picture above.

During the 2 years we worked together, Xtof has always been about helping and serving others.

There he is. His facing is popping in my mad mind.

Xtof, I need your help to work the sketch above and to make it a design that we can share to help people in Africa fight Covid-19, I said.

Indeed, I continued, there will be a shortage of raw material for 3D printers in Africa, because we are importing it and not manufacturing it locally. We absolutely need to think about a solution for the shield that can be locally manufactured, I added.

I have been thinking a lot, lately, about how I can contribute to support our brothers in Africa, he replied to me over the phone.

Thank you Mad for giving me this opportunity, he added.

That’s Xtof in essence. I called him and asked for his help. He replied by thanking le for giving him the opportunity to contribute. How amazing is that?

The day after, here below is his first design proposal:

Our intention is to provide a 2D design based on metal sheets (Aluminium or other materials) which can be found very easily in all over the continent.

Yes, I said, let’s release the design very quickly. I was so eager to provide a solution to Africa.

Well, he said, we need to validate the prototype first. I will use my 3D printer to build the first prototype and we will see how it goes.

If you think about it, this is the way of working when building aircraft. We have sole design principles that we have to validate before releasing any drawing.

Here below is the first prototype as built:

It is good. Then we see some issues when looking at Xtof with his new “hat”:

  • The part holding the plastic shield is falling and not totally tightened to the forehead part.

I shared the design with my wife Laure, and she said that the shield is not protecting completely the face:

With Xtof, we agreed on the new improvements and little tweaks needed.

There he goes with a new design and a new prototype:

Of courses, he uses again his own 3D printer for 6 hours to build the 2nd version of the prototype:

The second prototype is better. No more tilting down, curved edges for the parts in contact with the head and the face is completely shielded as shown in the picture above.

We must give people a lot of options to attach the shield to the frame, I said.

Yes, we can also add some holes on the supporting part to give more options, Xtof responded.

After 2 iterations, we validated the prototype. Xtof adds some minor improvements.

To do all of this, Xtof is working around the clock from home while taking care of his regular work, his family and using resources from his own pocket.

The final design is on his way to be released to the world and specially to Africa in our Airbus Africa community platform for the fight against Covid-19: www.covidfreeafrica.com

And I almost forgot. Why MABACO?, you asked.

I am glad that you asked. It was an idea from Xtof.

We are building a shield that can be manufactured at a very low cost per unit. In French, a low cost shield is translated into “Masque à bas coût”:

There is it, MABACO.

MABACO is also (almost) the anagram of BAMAKO, the capital city of MALI, in West Africa.

He thought that it could be a great tribute to Africa by giving to this protective shield an African originated name.

This is the second lesson of this story. As Africans, we have to participate in finding the solutions about our issues. We cannot sit down and expect the rest of the world to bring us the magic fix. Indeed the world is one. Yet we must not accept a “one size fits all” mindset in particular in Africa.

It’s easy and lazy. And we are paying the price, 60 years, after the end of the colonisation.

Rise, sisters and brothers of Africa, Rise!

Rise, mothers and fathers of Africa, Rise!

Rise, youngs and olds of Africa, Rise!

Rise, remove your disguise and let the African sun shine!

Xtof, you are a brother in arms and I am blessed that our paths have crossed. You will live a legend and leave a legacy in my heart as I tell your story until death does me its part!

What one action are you taking today for a #CovidFreeAfrica?

Are we thinking outside of the box, as Africans?

When will Africa start writing its own story?

Leave a comment below.

If you find this article of value to you, please like it and share it within your sphere of influence.

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You can read my previous article on Why does Africa desperately need a new CAP?

Photo by Anna Claire Schellenberg on Unsplash

📖 Griot 🧙🏿‍♂️Mentor 🦄 Intrapreneur 💪🏿 Entrepreneur

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