Qubix Robotics: Pioneering Sustainable Innovation in Malawi
Qubix Robotics, 2023 SEED Climate Adaptation Award runner-up and a ground-breaking start-up in Malawi, is making waves by bringing together technology, environmental sustainability, social inclusivity, and education in a remarkable way. The company is committed to delivering unique and sustainable manufacturing solutions, setting itself apart as the first environmentally friendly and socially inclusive start-up in Malawi to start developing digital manufacturing machines locally.
Making 3D Printing Sustainable
At the core of Qubix Robotics’ mission is the development of best practices in 3D printing, utilising locally developed machinery, and championing plastic waste recycling and upcycling. Furthermore, the company is committed to converting 30 tons of plastic into useful materials, collaborating with 30 women waste collectors, providing STEM education and sustainability training to 120 students, and actively working towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 2024.
Currently, the Qubix Robotics team is hard at work refining their 3D printing machine prototype designed to transform plastic waste into useful materials. Almost every aspect of this prototype, from its frame and design to software programming, is locally sourced. Only specific electronic and digital parts are imported for construction.
This innovative solution provides an alternative to conventional 3D printers, which rely on new filaments and cannot process plastic waste. With the new prototype, Qubix Robotics will be able to print new items from plastic waste instead of utilising traditional filaments.
To secure their raw material, Qubix Robotics collaborates with women waste pickers who collect plastic waste, primarily through the Mudi River Clean-Up Project. This collaboration not only supports environmental awareness but also provides jobs for marginalised women, ensuring their livelihoods and creating a value chain for collected plastic waste.
In addition to their current development of a 3D printing machine, Qubix Robotics is working on refining a locally-built pellet processing machine. This will empower women waste pickers to convert plastic waste into pellets on-site, thereby increasing the value they derive from their collections and decreasing the space needed for plastic storage.
Overcoming Pandemic Challenges
Such unique solutions were initiated by Qubix Robotics during the COVID-19 pandemic, inspired when Malawi could not access urgent PPE and ventilator machines due to quarantine restrictions and closed borders. Realising the overreliance of Malawi on imports, Qubix Robotics team stepped in to develop plans and prototypes for locally-made manufacturing machines.
Their efforts even extended to training youth in Bangwe to design, make and commercialize Covid-19 PPE and working with Kachere Women as distributors. Qubix Robotics now maintains a primary objective of developing a locally-made 3D printer and supplying affordable filaments to serve the healthcare sector by producing essential components and even affordable prosthetics.
Promoting Education and Providing Space for Innovation
Qubix Robotics stands out for its multifaceted approach and social involvement. Beyond sustainable manufacturing solutions, the company is dedicated to offering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) training and innovation mentorship for young adults. This mentorship specifically emphasises entrepreneurship and digital manufacturing.
Concurrently, to engage with the community and foster STEM education, Qubix Robotics offers STEM training to school children in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation, by distributing an open source eco-friendly educational radio kit. This radio kit is made from 100% recycled material and teaches primary school students how to build and disassemble a radio, while also acquainting them with skills in electronics along the way.
What's equally remarkable is their creative approach. Qubix Robotics has repurposed an old housing compound in a residential area to create a Makers Space, an innovative work and office location. This repurposed space not only serves as their operational hub but is also utilised as a co-working space for start-ups, for education and developing innovative solutions.
Preparing for the Future with the SEED Catalyser Programme
Qubix Robotics' innovation and perseverance earned them a spot in the SEED Catalyser programme, providing further support for their business planning. With SEED's assistance, Qubix Robotics will optimise their impact and financial planning, taking their already impressive ideas to the next level.
While Qubix Robotics is dedicated to continuous improvement, they acknowledge the challenges of their ongoing prototyping process, which can be both time-consuming and costly. "It can get costly, because we assemble the parts together, and when we realise it doesn't work, we have to start all over again with new materials," explained Sanga Kanthema, Co-Founder and CEO of Qubix Robotics. Fortunately, they are eligible for the SEED Catalyser grant of EUR 1,500, which they intend to use for a plastic shredder, filament extruder, and sourcing waste plastic from their partners.
Through a unique combination of technological solutions and social initiatives, and with SEED’s support, Qubix Robotics has the potential to become more than a tech-based start-up. Qubix Robotics can initiate an environmentally sustainable approach to 3D printing and local manufacturing in Malawi, as their unique blend of innovation, education, and community involvement is paving the way for local sustainable manufacturing.