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This blog contains the popular commentary "An Engineer's View" which is a regular feature of SA Mechanical Engineer. The commentary reflects the personal views of SAIMechE members, typically those who have accepted leadership positions in the Institution. If you are a SAIMechE member and would like to share something valuable with your community, please send your submission to for consideration.


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Top tags: an engineer's view  Chris Reay  engineering education  engineering profession 

The Importance of Engineers in Supply Chain

Posted By Nicolass Swanepoel, Wednesday, 11 September 2019
Updated: Monday, 09 September 2019

Generally, one might think of an engineer as wearing a hard hat (a white one) and safety glasses, somewhere in a plant or construction site, carrying a set of drawings, trying to solve challenging problems or overseeing a project.  The many fields of mechanical engineering is so vast that the important or even critical roles engineers play in “less technical” environments are mostly misunderstood and overlooked. The role of engineers in supply chain and more specifically in strategic sourcing is a typical example. Supply chain offers engineers strategic roles with long term benefits to the employer opposed to the role of operations and / or maintenance engineers whose primary responsibility is to complete projects or start the plant up as soon as possible after routine maintenance.

As an engineering professional working in a design environment, awareness of engineering possibilities in supply chain was unknown.  Many companies still don’t realize the real consequences of strategic decisions taken (or not taken) in supply chain, including its effects on operations and vice versa.  The importance of having strong engineering individuals working in supply chain to make strategic technical decisions suddenly became clear as this would form the basis to ultimately reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) and improve plant availability without operations realizing potential changes to past “modus-operandi”.  Time spent in a supply chain environment highlighted important responsibilities of engineers which includes: obtaining a holistic view of e.g. mechanical goods and services within the local (and if applicable international) markets to ensure best standards and practices for procurement, establishing a common strategic direction for dealing with key suppliers and stakeholders, optimizing and standardizing procurement opportunities, management and optimization of internal approved vendors/manufacturers to ensure procurement that meets the relevant health & safety standards as well as local and/or international engineering standards and specifications.  To manage this effectively, a diligent engineering thought process is required to understand the technical requirements of internal business processes.  Further support in the form of broad knowledge and background of various, different engineering standards and specifications supports regular audits on suppliers to verify compliance.  One often hears of procurement challenges such as the recent train locomotives that was procured to the wrong specifications.  One can’t then help to wonder if there were any engineering involvement in the supply chain and possible technical standardization process. 

From a maintenance point of view standardizing on specific brands of equipment (e.g. pumps, valves, filters etc.) is in most cases a good approach.  This in turn brings benefits such as minimum / critical spares coordination, stock holding benefits and strategies that supports plant availability.  On the other hand, standardization can reduce competitiveness in the market and needs to be managed carefully, as this could make the plant vulnerable by being too reliant on one or two suppliers.  A critical challenge engineers in strategic sourcing face is to find that balance between ensuring security of supply, understanding stakeholder requirements and expectations, effectively managing total cost of ownership and technical and legal compliance through correct supply chain practices and procedures.

Although the role of a engineers in supply chain might be considered as “less technical” in the mechanical engineering environment it certainly is a critical and much needed role with responsibilities and deliverables that can achieve huge cost savings benefits for any company through transparent and diligent sourcing strategies. 

Niekie Swanepoel
MSAIMechE Pr Tech Eng

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Money Engineering: 101

Posted By Brita Govan, Tuesday, 30 July 2019
As engineers we spend most of our formative years expanding our technical and managerial experience, but rarely do we invest in cultivating the business acumen required to operate and run a profitable venture.

In lieu of this enterprise culture, we resort to the primal essence of a business, which for most of us means adopting a daily mantra of "job out - money in” the hustle of a small engineering company. As many an entrepreneur would know, managing a small business is more than just balancing the books and accounting for expenses, it’s about charting a course, sailing a ship and keeping it afloat. It’s about cash flow.

But do engineers make for good business owners? While it is inherent in engineers to itemise, systemise and optimise, we would sooner bury our heads in advanced triple integration, than formulate a 3 month cash flow prediction. For the most part, we lack the insight for trade and commerce, and cannot comfortably adopt these concepts without intentionally endeavoring into the finance-discipline.

Without these basic business essentials, engineers are short a tool to effectively and profitably trade our intellectual property as a small business owner. This, in turn, limits both the expansion of independent specialised engineering consultants within the engineering industry, as well as the individual life-span of these companies.

Ultimately, we require the empowerment of engineers, not so much with the principles of accounting, but rather with an economic–conducive ‘school of thought’. This would create appropriate flexibility in our thinking and assist us to incorporate relevant factors and dynamic variables into the functioning of a business. Paired with our natural ability for problem solving, good business savvy would prove highly effective in establishing smart and operational business strategies.

Substantial efforts have thus been made to ensure educated engineers are capable of designing and building fully functional ships, perhaps then the next step is to equip us to navigate the seas and sail.

Brita Govan
Mechanical Engineer at Nautilus Engineers

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Understanding The New Engineering Qualifications

Posted By Prof. Brandon Collier-Reed, Tuesday, 02 July 2019

In 2013, the Higher Education Qualification Framework was published that completely changed the higher education qualifications landscape in South Africa. The well-known NATED-151 curriculated NDip and the BTech will be completely phased out by all institutions by 2020 and are no longer part of the possible mix of qualifications.

The “old-style” qualifications being offered by Universities of Technology have been (or are in the process of being) replaced by an “integrated national framework for learning achievement” that includes, in the case of engineering, the introduction of the Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BEng Tech); Diploma in Engineering (Dip Eng), the Diploma in Engineering Technology (Dip Eng Tech) and the Advanced Diploma among a number of others. Meeting international standards he Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) has developed qualification standards for these new qualifications that are outcome-based (like the existing BEng programmes) and that meet the requirements of the International Engineering Alliance – a necessary requirement to be a signatory to the Sydney and Dublin accords. These accords (focused on Technologists and Technicians respectively) are international agreements between bodies responsible for accrediting engineering academic programmes and confirm that graduates of these programmes have met the necessary educational requirements to be registered as professional engineering practitioners.

Lack of understanding
My engagement with a cross-section of engineering professionals in recent ECSA workshops suggests that there is a lack of understanding about what this change is actually going to mean in practice. It is important to recognize that the “old” BTech and the “new” BEng Tech are two completely different types of qualifications – with different types of graduates. It is not possible to envision the level of competence of a BEng Tech graduate by drawing on one’s experience of BTech graduates. The BEng Tech is a structured, outcomes-based qualification with International Engineering Alliance-aligned graduate attributes and completed over three years; the BTech is a content-focused qualification.

In practice, the BTech often followed a NDip, together being completed in four years. The BTech and BEng Tech are therefore not equivalent qualifications simply repackaged and rebranded. For one thing, the entry requirements for the BEng Tech at National Qualification Framework (NQF) Level 5 are typically higher than those for the old NDip, also at NQF Level 5.

In brief, the graduates of the two sets of programmes are very different. A fundamental difference between the old NDip and the new Diploma qualifications relates to the duration of the workplace-based learning (i.e. in-service training). In years gone by, graduates of Universities of Technology could be assumed to have been exposed to a minimum level of practical workplace-based experience. This requirement is now significantly reduced in the new Diploma in Engineering and largely absent in the new Diploma in Engineering Technology qualifications and the graduates of these qualifications typically graduate with far less practical workplace-based experience.

The Universities of Technology indicate that the intention is to have different work-integrated learning modalities scaffolded into the curriculum of these new Diploma qualifications, but time will tell how well this is enacted.

The consequence of this transformation in the qualification landscape is that companies that employ graduates with a BEng Tech must be aware that they can no longer assume that these graduates will have the same level of workplace-based experience that could be assumed of the BTech graduate and will need to be inducted into engineering practice through carefully managed training programmes – much like the current Engineer in Training model that is used for BEng graduates. With the first of the “new” graduates already in the market, employers will need to reconsider just what they require from a potential applicant to demonstrate that they have met the requirements for the job.

Prof. Brandon Collier-Reed
Pr. Eng FSAIMechE

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Load Shedding and School Holidays

Posted By Gideon van den Berg, Wednesday, 15 May 2019

It’s school holidays and my children are at home. And they are bored. I suppose every generation stares in awe at their children who cannot see or comprehend the privileges they enjoy. I may as well “own” their boredom since I have through much grace and hard work, been able to put them exactly in this position. I’d like to come back to that analogy in a minute.

With the recent bout of load shedding – despite any previous events, I was again caught off guard. No torches (with batteries) nor a generator. At least we have a gas stove, but we struggled to find the  igniter. You may have a similar story.

There is a connection between my children who are bored despite having broadband internet, Lego etc, and my unprepared state for load shedding. That is of course: privilege. Not the politically loaded “privilege,” but the fact that engineers are working and succeeding (to a degree) to keep the power on. The privilege is being oblivious to the facts – being able to go about your business without having to worry about that as well.

End of innocence
While it is unclear where South Africa’s infrastructure is heading, this may be our childhood end. We are all aware of the fact that things are not as steady as we once believed. There is a lighter counterpoint in that engineers may just have gotten their “We told you so!” moment. Engineering, maintenance and the related procurement systems are now in the spotlight. We can be of critical value if we are able to put forward informed alternatives and opinions.

The catch is that apart from your neighbours and relatives who will take your advice on quotes for solar panels, geysers, generators with automatic changeover switches etc, your activism will not take you very far. You will need a platform and leverage for your campaign.

Actually, you already have those things at your disposal – your local SAIMechE Committee! Through your committee, it is really just two steps to pretty much anyone within ECSA or any other VA or collection of VAs.

Politics and the public can be influenced, if we manage ourselves as a trusted source of guidance and information. That is exactly what we were trained to do, but I don’t think we are stepping up to the plate like we should.

The take-away is this: make sure that you are informed – and then be very opinionated! And go make some waves at your local branch.

Gideon van den Berg
Pr. Eng

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Being an engineer is not all taught, some things need to be learnt

Posted By Dr Martin Venter, Thursday, 18 April 2019

As South African engineers we are proud of our community, we have a reputation for hard work and innovation in many parts of the world, but we seem to be forgetting that our reputation is not based on what we were taught in the classroom, rather what we learnt from our betters once we leave.

In recent years there has been a strong focus on increasing the number of graduates coming out of tertiary education (at my institution there has been a 5-fold increase in output in a decade). Most of us are aware that to meet this demand academia has wrestled with many challenges resulting in updated curricula. Assessments have been streamlined and the digital era has been embraced. Contemporary graduates have a range of classical skills that will be familiar to the old guard but have also accrued a range of new skills. Some institutions have even begun emphasizing the ever illusive 'soft skills'; that the public at large wants us to have. The question here is; now what?

However good your formal education is, it is incomplete. Young engineers move out of the classroom and join other practicing engineers. Only here do they learn the values of our industry: honesty, integrity, responsibility, inclusivity, continuous development and professionalism. These attributes are passed down from generation to generation. The older generation either mentored the new graduates directly through EIT programs or indirectly through their interaction with new graduates. In this way we have built a culture of engineering.

In a recent news article Consulting Engineers South Africa laments the immigration of senior engineers in the age bracket 35 to 55 and notes the ‘huge number’ of new graduates. As a community we are fast becoming bottom heavy and will reach the point where there are simply too few senior engineers to provide adequate mentorship, and our values may no longer be imparted on the younger segment of our community. With their sheer number, the newly graduated engineers will dominate how South African engineers are seen globally and their behaviour will reflect all our values.

We can no longer rely on the passive interactions of the past (or our absentee regulator) to instil the culture of South African engineering on the new generation. If we want to maintain our standards of practice and reputation, we now need to plan how new additions to our community are socialized. 

Steps in this direction have been made in other communities. In Canada for instance many new graduates choose to participate in the ‘Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer’, which in the words of Rudyard Kipling; ‘...has been instituted with the simple end of directing the young engineer towards a consciousness of his profession and its significance, and indicating to the older engineer his responsibilities in receiving, welcoming and supporting the young engineers in their beginnings.’

Members of the voluntary associations are in the best position to engage with the youth to ensure that they gain the attributes that will keep our community strong. All it takes is a little time.

Dr Martin Venter

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Amazing New Shoots

Posted By Vaughan Rimbault, Monday, 11 March 2019

This past year has shown me, in many ways, just how amazing people can be, but I have been particularly amazed by the enthusiasm, discipline and resulting activity happening at the youthful end of the SAIMechE membership pipeline.

At the November 2018 Council meeting we heard about the activities of the various SAIMechE Student Chapters, and the Council was very impressed.  In the three-month reporting period, the Student Chapters  arranged and hosted sixteen events involving seven tertiary education institutions and eight companies.  The activities included speed-mentoring, site visits, technical talks, conferences and recruitment drives.  There was some social interaction as well, and one chapter arranged and hosted a sold-out dinner dance at an up-market venue, which included sponsorship from a major bank which they secured themselves.

Shortly after the Council meeting I attended an industry advisory committee meeting at a tertiary institution, and rather than having to find my own way around the typically complex campus, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted just inside the main gate by a group of SAIMechE Student Chapter committee members.  I could hardly miss them in their matching branded golf shirts, each holding a clear sign for those attending the meeting.  They guided me to a special parking space and then to the venue.  I felt like the most important person on the campus!  What a fantastic advertisement for SAIMechE from those who have only recently become members.  They were so proud to be identified with SAIMechE and to play a role in hosting guests on their campus.  They are also so keen to play a productive role in the profession, and are looking to their SAIMechE membership to help them achieve their goals.

My overall impression of the Student Chapters is that, in the main, they have been getting on with the job by themselves.  They have helped each other to form and manage the chapters.  They have drafted their own guidelines and procedures to be more effective in arranging their activities.  They have been careful with their expenditure and have managed their budgets effectively.  The Student Chapter AGMs and meetings that I have been to have been professionally run and focused on the interests of the member.  Meeting protocol is generally well understood and meeting minutes are concise and well prepared.  I don’t think that anyone is teaching the Student Chapters about the finer points of professional conduct - they are figuring it out by themselves, and learning important life lessons in the process.

In all cases of student activity there have been individuals who have responded to the call for service to others.  A handful of students arrange all the activities and put in the hours necessary to get the job done.  This is not unusual and we see this in all sorts of organisations relying on the voluntary service of members.   The individuals that serve will naturally stand out from the crowd because of their commitment, dedication and effort.  They may not realise it, but they are being recognised, and effort they put in now will produce some greater benefit in the future.  

I am very grateful to our Students Chapters for reminding me of one of the cornerstones of voluntary professional associations like SAIMechE.  That professional and personal growth comes through service to others, and that offers many opportunities and platforms from which to serve.  Serving means meeting other people, interacting with them and doing things collectively to serve the greater good. Serving means not feeling alone, but feeling part of a group.  Thank you for reminding me of all the good reasons for being a member of SAIMechE.

Vaughan Rimbault

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Understanding Mediation, Adjudication, Arbitration and Litigation

Posted By Graeme Lloyd, Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Many of you have watched the TV broadcasts of the Zondo Commission into state capture. The terms of reference of this inquisitorial inquiry are to determine the facts regarding accountability for what had occurred and probable reasons why. The rules of procedure adopted by this Commission relate more closely to Conciliation, Mediation, and certain Adjudication dispute resolution processes.

Arbitration and Litigation procedures follow a different legal process ending with an imposed enforceable finding to settle the matter. Civil litigation is a function of our Courts in resolving disputes and enforcement of a binding solution regarding the substantive rights and duties of the parties. Court decisions and procedures are subject to considerable legal constraints, rights and precedents.

The private nature of an arbitration agreement is essentially contractual, therefore failure on the part of one party to comply with this particular contract provision carries the same penalty as any other major breach of contract. The circumstances for appealing an arbitration agreement are highly restricted. The successful party can easily obtain a court order for enforcement.

Significant advantage
The settlement of engineering and construction disputes by means of arbitration confers a significant advantage over litigation proceedings, as the choice of arbitrator can be based on technical knowledge of the type of work associated with the dispute.

Obviously this of particular importance and interest to all engineers involved in projects and design contracts. If the court appointed presiding officer cannot comprehend the engineering complexity then a just and equitable decision is unlikely.

An additional advantage of arbitration over litigation is that the process is private and away from adverse publicity. The participants also have the mutual convenience of arranging the dates, venue and times for submissions and hearings that suit themselves.

The other remedies for resolving disputes are non-statutory, which means their form and procedure is not prescribed by law, and the outcome is also not legally enforceable, unless agreed in the rules of conduct. Because these processes rely on both parties negotiating in good faith, there is always the possibility that they could be a preliminary dress rehearsal for arbitration proceedings.

Mediation can only succeed if both participants are genuinely willing to agree upon the terms of settlement. Their joint objective must be to strive to reach a win-win rather than lose-lose scenario.  The chosen mediator is not expected or mandated to recommend or propose a settlement solution. The mediator’s core responsibility is to act as an intermediary, seeking to narrow the field of controversy by facilitating dialogue and understanding between the parties. In our country, in the context of CCMA decisions, a conciliator is expected to propose a solution to the dispute.

Because these processes rely on both parties negotiating in good faith, there is always the possibility that they could be a preliminary dress rehearsal for arbitration proceedings.

Successful adjudication depends upon selecting an adjudicator who is fluent in the language of the contract. It is also essential that the participants agree on the adjudication rules of procedure and binding outcome. Legal representation is normally excluded. The format and content of the documentation submitted to the adjudicator is a vital ingredient for discussion at the preliminary meeting of the parties. An adjudicator plays a more active and interventionist role in the proceedings compared with an arbitrator.

Graeme Lloyd

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The Benefits of SAIMechE membership

Posted By Vaughan Rimbault, Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The most common question that I am asked about SAIMechE goes something like “What is the benefit of being a member of SAIMechE?”.  Instead of a clinical corporate response, I decided to reflect on my own membership of SAIMechE, and consider how I have benefited directly from it.  To be fair, I have excluded anything to do with my role as CEO, and have only considered my experiences as a member.

Looking back on my professional career, I can now clearly see that it took a turn for the better from about the time I was first drafted onto the KZN Branch committee in the early 1990’s.  At that time, I wasn’t thinking of my professional development, but probably didn’t have a good enough reason to dodge the invitation.  I admit to often giving of my time grudgingly in those early years, and considered my service on the committee as part of an obligation to give something back to the profession, with no expectation of a benefit in return.  Now I recognise the significance of that point in my career, and am able to identify the many benefits that followed.

From the first committee meeting my mechanical engineering world started to expand.  I immediately met a handful of professionals and started hearing more about the world of mechanical engineering.  Up to that point, my only engineering contact was at work, which presented me with a very narrow and uninviting view of the profession.  I had very few professional colleagues at work, and spent most of my time engaging with the engineering trades on the one side, and management on the other.  By attending committee meetings and assisting with the organisation of activities, I started hearing of new industries, technologies and machines.  I heard the names of people in industry and started to connect the dots in the profession.  For the first time in my career I interacted with people who were focused on mechanical engineering, and it felt like home.

In the early years I didn't fully realise the value of a network of professional colleagues that I was creating.  Looking back, I would consider my professional network to be the most significant contributor to my development.  This network has consistently presented me with knowledge, experience, advice and support, and I could not imagine a more appropriate space in which to encounter these.

I have been the KZN Branch Treasurer for more years than I can remember, and this office has helped me to become a very competent bookkeeper and Pastel operator.  Branch accounts are quite small and manageable, and give great opportunity for learning. I now properly understand accounting and financial statements and can hold my own against any commerce professional.  Solid financial skills are quite lacking in the engineering profession, very much to our disadvantage, and it’s a pity more of us don’t realise how simple it actually is. 

In the role of Branch Chairperson I was able to practice and develop skills in chairing meetings, and developed an effective method of taking minutes which I still use to this day.  I was given many opportunities for public speaking such as hosting technical presentations, dinners and even the national awards banquet at the Durban ICC, and this has been very much to my benefit.

I could list a few more direct benefits that I’ve received, but the point I would like to make at this stage is that all the benefits came as a result of service.  I never set out to get any benefit from my service to SAIMechE, but reckon that I’ve received at least ten times that which I put in - perhaps even more.  I didn’t plan it that way, but just as exercise brings about health benefits, so service to the profession brings about professional benefit.

I look forward to many more years of enjoyable and productive service to the Institution, and to the multiple benefits that will follow.  The difference these days is that I think a lot more about it beforehand. That’s just the way it works.

Vaughan Rimbault

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Why we Need Engineers

Posted By Bill Hadley, Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Ninety-nine percent of everything people interact with daily, is man-made. By man-made, I mean nearly everything is: 

  • the result of a technology innovation either created or applied by an engineer.
  • built, manufactured or generated by value-add processes both developed and managed by engineers.
  • shipped and handled by thermodynamic miracles invented and improved by engineers.
  • powered by energy generated by petrochemical, nuclear and natural wonders like wave and wind energy harnessed by engineers.
  • used by people fed, clothed, housed and cared for via mechanised agricultural and industrial systems, including healthcare, characterised by continuously improving productivities and advances which reward us with generous free time, greater health and longer lives.

We need more Science Technology Engineering and Mathematically (STEM) educated people in every field, as a technology-driven society and innovation-based economy, it is a given.

For example, for every R1 of economic value directly generated by engineering intensive innovation and value add processes there is approximately R20 generated downstream in other fields such as law, banking, real estate, insurance. 

If we are to accommodate billions more people on the planet and address issues such as waste or material limits, we need more and more engineers and others to make it happen. We need all the engineers we can get. Even if we successfully meet all the current demand and then generate an army of unemployed engineers, an unemployed, bored engineer will literally make their own opportunities, and we will all benefit. 

Views and analysis
An example is global warming which is often the impetus for people to take up engineering. So, let me pen down my views and analysis.

Engineering marvels have enabled us to attain better food security by improving the yield per area for farming. Engineering marvels have helped us have a better quality of life in terms of both health and wellness overall by providing us with access to better equipment. Engineering feats are what have enabled us to communicate with each other from virtually anywhere.

These are not the feats of a single individual nor a small group of individuals. To get to these points we had to build upon the knowledge of the known and research and collaborate among millions of the brightest minds. But as we progressed, the scale of problems also increased exponentially.

To tackle these problems, we need more numbers of people collaborating and working together on these issues. So yes, to tackle these problems, we need more engineers, just to boost the odds of solving the problems.

If we successfully meet all the current demand and then generate an army of unemployed engineers, an unemployed, bored engineer will literally make their own opportunities, and we will all benefit.

Two-person economy
As for the other professions such as law, accountancy, or even entertainment, I agree they are important, they just don’t push the frontiers of humanity to a better level. In my opinion, we as an organism, can afford entertainment only after we have secured the safety of our existence. I read a story that may help to illustrate this. Consider a two-person economy.

One-man fishes with a rod and line and suppose he catches two fish per day. The other man chops down trees and makes firewood. They exchange, each day, one fish for one bundle of firewood.

Now suppose the fisherman invents a net which allows him to catch ten fish per day. Then, because he has always had a good relationship with the lumberjack, he decides to pay two fish for the same bundle of firewood.

After the invention, both men are richer: the fisherman has eight fish and a bundle of firewood, and the lumberjack now has two fish (and of course his firewood). The world needs more engineers because they invent the nets. Every engineer is compensated based on his or her ability to build something new or improve upon something that already exists. They optimise, research, and improve everything, constantly.
The world doesn’t just need engineers, it desperately needs them.

William A Hadley

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The Digital Disruption in Mechanical Engineering

Posted By Prof Wikus van Niekerk, Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is fundamentally changing the world of work for which we are preparing our students and where mechanical engineers are applying their trade. At the same time the students who enter university programmes are much better prepared for the Digital World than they were in the past, expect for those students, in the South African context, who come from disadvantaged environments. 

Universities tend to be slow to react to changes in the environment and therefore all these factors put together result in a significant challenge for the development and implementation of Engineering Programmes. 

Over the last three decades most universities were quick to introduce computer programming in their programmes, as engineers had a strong vested interest in this field and always had a significant  requirement for fast and accurate computing.

The integration of fast computing, big data and machine learning enable engineers to be significantly more productive than in the past by speeding up and integrating processes, from design to manufacture, implementation and commissioning. This new approach is also blurring the boundaries between disciplines forcing mechanical engineers to work collectively in multi-disciplinary teams with other professionals. It also poses new challenges such as mastering software suites and manipulating complex digital models of physical systems.

Digital moods
“Multiphysics” refers to digital models that can simultaneously solve multiple physical phenomena. These models speed up the design processes and deliver large amounts of data that need to be analysed. It is now possible to simultaneously model and compute the fluid-dynamics over the wing of an aircraft as well as the forces and deflections (stresses and strains) the varying pressure profile will induce in the structure.

This is of course a very powerful “tool” that can be used to optimise the aerodynamics and structural elements of the wing in a very short time. 

Big data

Where we may have not been at the forefront is in the use of Big Data. These very large data sets have been available for many years in the Financial and Health sectors where. Colleagues working in the maintenance field, and especially the condition monitoring of mechanical and electrical plant, have had access to larger data sets but mostly used deterministic and statistical models to analyse the data.

The challenge we face going forward is that modern technology, including the Internet of Things, will make large data sets more readily available and we will need to understand how to handle and analyse the data. Data need to be prepared by cleaning it up, verifying and calibrating it, collating from different sources and then storing the data in a format accessible for the various algorithm that can be used to discover the embedded knowledge.

This new approach is also blurring the boundaries between disciplines forcing mechanical engineers to work collectively in multi-disciplinary teams with other professionals.

There are a host of methods available to analyse the data, extract information and discover the knowledge. Many of the new methods make use of artificial intelligence and machine learning where the algorithms, with minimal human input, can analyse data and discover new phenomena that
were not previously known. 

Reality check
The old saying “garbage in – garbage out” still holds and we will always need the fast and multi-processing skills of the human brain to look at the outcome and do a “reality check.” Recent experiences on the highly-automated Tesla assembly lines with the lack of humans on the line were identified as a key contributor to their not achieving the volumes and level of quality they desired.

Therefore, digital disruption in the world of mechanical engineering will indeed bring additional challenges to our fraternity. We will have to equip our new as well as experienced engineers with the necessary skills and understanding of modern data science but at the same time we must always ensure that these mechanical engineers have the required fundamental knowledge and experience to ensure that the new methods provide useful and technically valid results.

Yours in Mechanical Engineering,

Prof Wikus van Niekerk
SAIMechE Council Member

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How does one build a decolonised bridge?

Posted By A/Prof Debby Blaine, Friday, 27 July 2018

I first heard this question as part of the somewhat facetious reaction that many engineers have to the call to decolonise science, knowledge, engineering. But let’s go back to one of the first communities of colonisers, the ancient Greeks, and reflect on Socrates’ statement, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” When thinking about what I could do to transform the engineering profession into one where we can build a decolonised bridge, I paused to reflect on my classroom.

What made some students feel engaged, feel like they were firmly on their path to building their identity
as a South African engineer?

Why do some students have no problem in feeling this way, while others feel alienated or disempowered? It is so easy to dismiss students as lazy, self-entitled millenials, but the truth is
that a small percentage of matriculants gain entry into university, and engineering attracts top learners from this cohort. We have the privilege of having dedicated, determined and self-motivated young adults in our classrooms. 

So why do we lose so many of them? Educational research shows evidence, again and again, that feelings of engagement, belonging and identifying with the context and the community, are critical for successful learning. How does this relate to decolonisation? If one believes that science was invented in Europe, by white men, and that a Western knowledge-base drives all technological development, it is easy to imagine that anyone whose identity lies outside of this construct would face a significant challenge in engaging with the disciplines supported by science and technology.

A myth
One of the first myths that I interrogated relates to the history and evolution of science. Let’s start with mathematics, as it is arguably the language of engineering. The most ancient mathematical texts date back to around 2000 BC, written in Mesopotamia (situated in the area currently known as the Middle East) and Egypt. As an example of the importance of history, one of the first mathematical theories that a student will learn (long before they enter the university halls) is the Pythagorean theorem.

Pythagoras (c. 570 – 495 BC) was a Greek philosopher who is probably most famously known for a theorem that he did not discover. The Pythagorean triangle relationship was known to Babylonians and Indians centuries before Pythagoras was born! But Pythagoras was probably the first Greek to formally present the knowledge to the Greek communities, perhaps the first to formally set out the proof.

The revelation of “new to you” is something that anyone who has applied themselves to any study knows well. So, one of the first lessons I learnt in my endeavour to unpack colonisation and decolonisation, is that a student’s perception of what is real or true may be very far from reality or the truth.

It is, however, their current reality and I need to be aware of it. Perhaps the first step in decolonisation, is realising that much of what is assumed to be colonised knowledge is no such thing. Mathematics is not European, nor is science, nor is engineering. However, pretending that each student in my class is equal, that they enter our institutions with the same opportunities, privileges or challenges, is insanity. So how do I manage this environment of have and have-nots, of blissful ignorance and painful realities?

Where is the space in the engineering curriculum to incorporate an ethic of care, of awareness and sensitivity? Mathematics is not European, nor is science, nor is engineering.

Diversity of perspectives
Perhaps a decolonised bridge is designed by a local team of engineers who value and appreciate the diversity of perspectives that each team member brings. Perhaps one of the engineers is the daughter of one of the construction workers, the first person in her family to go to university.

Perhaps the bridge is reinforced with natural fibres, from crops grown in fields by local farmers who use sustainable agricultural practices. Maybe it provides a means of connecting a rural community to an economic hub; maybe it carries power and clean water back to this community.

Engineers are expert problem-solvers. Colonisation was a reality in our society. The effects are still evident and continue to pose problems for our society. These are all concrete facts. Let’s use the tools and knowledge available to us, and find a way to build a decolonised bridge.

A/Prof Debby Blaine
SAIMechE Council Member

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Online Education

Posted By Dr Martin Venter, Friday, 27 July 2018

Online education is growing quickly. Gone are the days where universities were the sole custodians of knowledge. Today we have unprecedented access to information and we are free to learn in near arbitrary depth in almost every imaginable field. A quick scan through Wikipedia can confirm how inertia is calculated in a moving reference frame, and YouTube will teach you how to replace a light bulb on your car. Most of us think that the learning stops there but the Internet can provide us with so much more.

As a group we are curious and enjoy learning, in our professional lives we are required to hone existing skills and develop new ones, but are plagued by extensive time commitments and a rapidly changing schedule that often prevents us from committing to the limited number of short courses presented locally. 

Online platforms offer a wider variety of courses with significantly more flexibility, in content timing and mode of participation. Modern online courses are truly massive and benefit from very strong community interaction. It is not uncommon to be enrolled in a course with 60 000 other students, most of whom are happy to communicate via the forums.

There are many strong online institutions but three organisations stand out,, and Each of these organisations afford anyone the opportunity to participate in courses presented by experts from well established universities including familiar institutions such as Harvard, Stanford, MIT and TU Delft. 

Over the past few years I have participated in courses ranging from statistical modeling presented by John’s Hopkins to geographical information systems presented by the US Army Academy. The courses range from 4 to 12 weeks and require a commitment of between 4 and 12 hours a week.

Video lectures and course materials are provided, with graded assessments and an active mentor community. The courses range from introductory courses to advanced postgraduate level. In some cases, the courses even bear credit at their host university.

Although courses are available on a wide range of topics most fields are limited to a digital footprint, and you are not likely to get your hands dirty. Most will provide you with the theory and rely on the participants to create their own applications. With this in mind each of the three organisations listed make some capstone module available where the participant can engage in an extended application of the theory in a project setting with supervision. These are typically bundled into a mini-diploma style collection or specialisation. In some cases these can extend to full degree programmes.

The University of Illinois for instance has shifted their 2 year Masters degree in Machine Learning to the Coursera platform and whether you are a resident student or online participant you will have access to the same resources. Though some of the courses can be pricey, most will be credit bearing and provide a course certificate for around $15 - $100. Almost all will allow you to audit content and participate in the online forum for free. In some cases, the courses even bear credit at their host university.

Although this style of online education is not likely to replace a conventional engineering degree in South Africa any time soon, it is likely that we will be seeing similar courses make their way into the existing university curriculum as an efficient teaching tool that scales well to large groups.

For those of you with your degree under your belt, there is an opportunity to up-skill yourself and your employees with some confidence without taking on the burden of creating your own programmes or relying on local 3rd party providers.

With a small time investment these flexible courses will allow you to develop up to date technical skills in new fields or refine skills from years past. It might be a practical way to transition from one field to another or provide you an edge in your current organisation.

Dr Martin Venter
SAIMechE Western Cape Branch Chairman

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Starting Point for a New Paradigm in CPD

Posted By Gideon van den Berg, Monday, 28 May 2018

The world is changing fast for us mechanical engineers. I was at varsity round about the same time the guys from Google got their P.hDs for their new ranking algorithm. Back then mechanical engineers had a fair amount of electronics and programming included in their syllabus. Admittedly, although I love technology, I am struggling to keep up. My knowledge of Matlab, Excel and VBA is not going very far these days. 

Arguably, the most dramatic changes in society have followed technological breakthroughs or a revolution in either communication or transport. Examples from ‘recent’ centuries are: the Gutenberg Press, the wireless telegraph, steam locomotives, internal combustion engines, the telephone, powered flight, radio, television and the digital computer. 

Suddenly, from the latter, something new hit the mainstream – the worldwide web. I’ve described it as ‘new’ but it had been developing for decades. The internet has and continues to be a game changer. As we were pontificating on the merits of e-mail, cellphones appeared out of nowhere and became a rampant disruptive technology. Eventually – and not too long ago – these two technologies merged and “social media” became a thing. (Have you ever considered how you would explain Facebook to a 20 year younger version of yourself?)

Before you sit back and think you have time to rest and recover before the next paradigm shift, please consider. Little 4 or 6 propeller flying drones have become ubiquitous and they have upset the aviation applecart. Don’t relax yet because, while you stare in awe at a 3-D printer, the tsunami of electric mobility will catch you off guard! 

Back to mechanical engineering. All engineers have two jobs, (1) build a better world with the tools at hand, and (2) incorporate it with the current, real-and-existing-now world. Let’s split our engineering community into three: young, middle-aged and mature engineers.

In the above paragraphs, I’ve talked about the tools at hand; our young engineers are growing into these and need to be helped along in the present. Mature engineers have the experience to keep the machine running and guide industry with wisdom and stubbornness. 

The middle-aged engineers of whom I am one need to step up to the plate to replace the mature engineers and guide industry. However, considering the above context, I think it is more than mere stage fright that makes me doubt my ability. How does one usher in the “new era” without having a solid grip on it. I think we – the middle-aged engineers – are going to handle it in three ways: 

  1. Some will just let it happen and let themselves be phased out and grow into niches. Perhaps, by repairing old machinery. Their fate may be the same as the typists and draughtsmen who have been replaced by software.
  2. Some will do enough (barely) to keep up and may stay locked into old paradigms – some out of fear of losing control, but probably mostly due to a lack of available time. (Consider the case of the construction industry’s slow move to 3-D CAD.) The current system for continued professional development caters to these engineers and will probably help them do enough to keep the “new machines oiled”.
  3. Lastly there will be a group of positive outliers*. They will get into new paradigms and innovate with the moving front of technology. It is undoubtedly a very desirable thing for society to have these engineers. The more the better.

We as SAIMechE need to consider this group and develop a strategy to engage and support them. Mere CPD does not always enable practical know-how. And who will sponsor time and equipment to allow us to tinker and perhaps learn Python, progamme a robot or finally sit down and do a proper FEA or CFD simulation of that thing at work?

Perhaps you are one of the outliers? Maybe you will be the support structure that brings one of them about. By being involved in your local SAIMechE community, we can keep as many engineers as possible in the second and third groups. See, even engineers are social creatures!

*The book “Outlines - The story of success” by Malcolm Gladwell was published in 2008. Gladwell defines outliers as people who do not fit into our normal understanding of achievement!

Gideon van den Berg
SAIMechE National Treasurer


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Awareness of Professional Liability Claims

Posted By Graeme Lloyd FSAIMechE, Friday, 13 April 2018
Updated: Friday, 13 April 2018

All registered Mechanical Engineers in private practice should be aware of the possibility of having to  defend themselves from claims arising from any alleged failure to perform an expressed or implied obligation.

Engineers should also be aware that claims involving non-compliance or errors of judgment under statutes like the Occupational Health and Safety Act already incur criminal liability. The Engineering Council (ECSA) is also mandated to have rules for inquiry into complaints by any member of the public into an allegation of unprofessional, improper or negligent conduct by registered engineers.

The ECSA Professional Engineer registration process is based on a benchmarking peer review system with the key criteria being that, in the public’s eye, the Pr Eng. certification must always be considered a top quality assurance performance standard. Engineers must always demonstrate that they are working in accordance with recognised good practice. Most Professional Service Agreements provide a useful guideline against which to measure the required performance standard of competence. The following is a commonly used definition of Good Industry Practice.

“The standards, practices, methods and procedures conforming to applicable Law, and exercising that degree of skill, care, diligence, prudence and foresight that would reasonably and ordinarily be  expected from a skilled and experienced person engaged in a similar type of undertaking under similar circumstances.”

Similar circumstances
Engineers must accept that they will be liable if they do not exercise a certain standard of reasonable skill but how should this be correctly evaluated? A person’s skill is derived from the appropriate ability, aptitude, knowledge and experience of that particular individual.

An Engineer would be judged as negligent if he or she genuinely overlooked or did not foresee the possibility of consequential harm occurring, but this same possibility would be apparent to another reasonably competent engineer in similar circumstances.

Registered Professional Engineers are fully expected to show a higher duty of care and may be regarded as grossly negligent if they undertook certain work knowing full well that they did not have the necessary special skills.

The legally accepted standard or yardstick by which professional liability will be allocated is the ordinary average and not the highest level of competence or standard of care expected of members of his profession working in the same field. Engineers should be cautious about accepting that they should provide the highest professional standard of performance.

No professional is always expected to be 100% perfect. Doctors, Lawyers and Accountants are highly unlikely to provide a guarantee to clients that they will always correctly solve every problem they are confronted with. 

On the dotted line
Engineers are advised to avoid signing an onerous agreement that demands that their services will be provided with whatever skill, care and diligence is required so that the final design will be fit for the purpose intended. This can possibly result in a liability claim because the client believes the obligation to achieve his or her understanding of a fit for purpose result was not fully achieved.

Engineers should carefully check if their Professional Indemnity (PI) insurance cover provides for this open ended fit for purpose result. Certain voluntarily or additional contractually assumed liabilities may actually be excluded in their PI insurance cover. The insurer must always know precisely the nature of the particular risk they are covering.

Today’s Engineers operate in a more competitive and higher risk environment and should explain to clients that if they insist on pushing for inexpensive commercial solutions, they cannot also then demand incompatible standards of durability as well as low maintenance expectations.

By Graeme Lloyd FSAIMechE
SAIMechE Central Branch Treasurer

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My Experience as a Female Engineering Student

Posted By Marietjie Jansen van Rensburg, Wednesday, 28 February 2018

In 2018, it feels almost irrelevant to talk about sexism, as we now live in a world where discrimination based on anything is considered taboo, and you will, most definitely, get called out on social media for being racist, sexist, or basically any kind of discrimination or bias.

Today we are bombarded with social media feeds containing messages of support and motivation; messages telling us that we can be anything we want to be, and not to be defined by any type of social construct; messages encouraging us to be individuals, and to achieve greatness, no matter how. What a glorious time to be alive.

However, this global culture of understanding and support is still new, and there are industries where sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination, still create a culture where individuals are not supported or motivated to be great or achieve greatness.

When I was asked to write an article for “SA Mechanical Engineer”, I was honoured but a bit surprised at the suggested topic of ‘my experience as a female engineering student’. Not offended, just surprised, especially since I am responsible for the most successful student initiative within the SAIMechE in the last decade. 

Subtle acts and role divisions 
But as I was sitting down to write this article, it suddenly dawned on me that today, in the modern South Africa, sexism is no longer a blatant disregard for the female gender, there is no longer an outright belief that men are better than woman, but rather a subtle way of thinking and doing, coded in our DNA because of the social environment in which we were raised.

Today, the female engineering student doesn’t experience sexism in obvious, outright ways, but rather through subtle acts and role divisions. For example, in a group project where taking down minutes is mandatory, you will often see female students being given the role, sometimes at the expense of doing more technical work.

That is why, when projects involve building, manufacturing, or assembly, you will see female engineering students doing the theoretical work. Often the technical or physical aspects of the project are allocated to male students first, with the female students then being given the option to choose from, or volunteer for, the remaining work.

The question that comes to mind is why? Why in a world where females are celebrated and supported do we have so little female representation in mechanical/mechatronic engineering at tertiary level and in industry? Limited research has been done regarding this topic, but the most popular notion is that there aren’t many female role models to motivate girls to pursue such technical studies, or to stay within the industry after graduation, and I tend to agree.

The low female representation within SAIMechE (less than 5% according to the latest demographic information) and the lack of celebrated female engineers within the leadership structures of our institution and the industry in general, is evidence of this problem.

Growing up, my mother, being an educator, understood and embodied the principle that reaffirmations during early childhood development build confidence and self-worth, and both my mother and father noticed and supported my technical aptitudes all through my childhood years.

Having grown up in this type of environment, I never experienced any type of doubt about whether I could excel in a technical, male-dominated industry. But not all girls are this lucky, in fact, some are actively discouraged against pursuing technical careers after graduation. The majority of female engineering graduates end up working in non-technical positions, or working in a totally different industry altogether.

Great heights
That said, ambitious female engineering students are achieving great heights. It is now not uncommon to see female engineering students at the top of their classes, in leadership roles, or even as part of technical endeavours such as robotics clubs and international design competitions.

This is evident in the strong female representation in the SAIMechE Student Chapter initiative across the country. These ambitious female engineering students are doing just as well and achieving just as much as their male counterparts.

I believe, that as SAIMechE, it is now our responsibility to identify, recognise, and promote already successful female mechanical and mechatronic engineers in industry, as well as ambitious female individuals (students and graduates) as strong female role models within the industry to girls in school and at tertiary level. In this way, girls will have the confidence to be more, do better, and achieve just as much as any male peer.

By Marietjie M Jansen van Rensburg
(BEng Mechatronics, Stellenbosch University)
SAIMechE Council Representative:
Student and Graduate Affairs

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The Engineer’s Contribution to the Economy

Posted By Prof Leonard Masu and Andre Roos, Monday, 11 December 2017

Unfortunately for engineers, the vision for new projects often emanates not from engineers, but from politicians in municipalities, at provincial level, by government, state owned companies and entrepreneurs. Very often engineers are instructed to generate the solutions and they deliver - The many successful projects are proof enough.

Unfortunately, funding is limited and engineering projects compete with other endeavours for funding. As funds are limited, it is in the best interests of the country and all who live in it, that the projects with the best returns are selected. While the powers that be may be well-equipped to make these choices, engineers are seldom present and therefore do not influence these decisions. 

By participating in all walks of life, engineers can contribute even more to the economy and wealth creation, by participating and influencing these decisions in the selection of deserving projects, funded by limited resources. If we, the engineering community, stand up and are counted, by participating in all walks of life and we aim to play an instrumental role in influencing decision making, funding will be channeled to more productive projects, which in return will stimulate the economy even more.

We will influence decisions and our knowledge and skills will contribute significantly. 

In this way, as an institution, represented by our branches all over the country, we have knowledge of local conditions and should promote projects and ventures, which will most benefit our communities. Each SAIMechE branch can probably draw on more expertise than most companies, organisations, municipalities, provinces and government departments. Combined each branch probably has more expertise than the companies they work for!

The achievements listed here, are testimony to our contribution to the development and wellbeing of our society and the projects listed here also serve as a reminder of the role we have to play in the future. 

Industrial: Yskor (Mittal) – South African parastatal steel company founded in 1928 by Hendrik van der Bijl to supply the demands of local consumers. 

Sasol – First and largest oil-from-coal refinery (provides 40% of the country’s fuel). 

Coastal: The Dolos – These structures are designed to break up wave action and protect harbour walls, created by Eric Merrifield in SA in 1963-1964. 

Rail: The Scheffel Bogie – a unique railway Bogie allowing higher speed, less wear and higher load capacity on our unique narrow gauge railway lines. 

The Coal Export Railway line serving Ermelo to Richards Bay. The Iron Ore Export Line, running between Sishen and Saldanha Bay (opened 1976).

Agricultural: Dams and Irrigation Schemes - Orange-Fish Tunnel, completed in 1975, is the key structure by which water is delivered from Gariep dam to Teebus Spruit, Great Brak River and then
to the Great Fish River and Sunday River valleys.

The Vaalharts Irrigation Scheme is one of the largest irrigation schemes in the world covering 369.50 square kilometres in the Northern Cape Province. 

M-Net: (Electronic Media Network) - Established by Naspers for broadcasting local and international programmes.

Pratley Putty: Krugersdorp engineer George Pratley invented his famous sticky stuff in the 1960’s while looking for a glue that would hold components in an electrical box. Pratley’s glue is the only South African invention that went to the moon. In 1969 the putty was used to hold bits of the Apollo XI mission’s Eagle landing craft together. 

Pools: The Kreepy Krauly which revolutionised pool cleaning (invented by Ferdinand Chauvier in SA in 1974). 

By: Director Andre Roos, and Professor Leonard Masu

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The Engineer: Create, Imagine, Dare to be Different

Posted By Andre Roos and Prof Leonard Masu, Monday, 13 November 2017

Engineering is generally recognised as a profession, along with other professions such as medicine, dentistry, law, ministry, architecture, and education. A profession which is an occupation is generally characterised by: intellectual effort, creative thinking and the desire for service. Engineering seeks to “employ knowledge” to create what never was or improve what already exists.


The distinguishing educational objective in engineering is design. Design is at the heart of engineering.Engineers design new things such as improved airplanes or appliances or materials or things that do not even exist as yet. To be creative, to imagine, to take risks, to “dare to be different” but not to endanger safety of course. Engineering creations must comply with the principles of science and that is the engineering challenge: to be creative but within the constraints inherent in a specific project.


The majority of engineers work for industry or government and only a small, but important, percentage is in direct contact with the public as consulting engineers. It is important that engineering professionals, technicians and technologists should be well trained, should be well aware of the demands of their activities and always act responsibly with the public’s safety in mind.


Challenges and anomalies

The environment within which engineering is practised is not perfectly designed though to allow for the engineer to follow a logical and structured approach and thus perform optimally. Rather the engineer is presented with challenges and anomalies, most often introduced by the employer or client, requiring the utmost professional conduct from the engineer, to arrive at a safe, economical solution.


Notwithstanding this, we do succeed in designing solutions which benefit our economy in a very major way. According to many commentators, growth in the areas of science, engineering and technology are a major catalyst for job creation, social upliftment and economic development.


Easy examples are the benefits to our economy of a good infrastructure including road, rail, harbours, airports, energy, communication, banking system, water, sanitation etc, all made possible by engineering. Unquestionably South Africa benefits from a good infrastructure, allowing efficient, cheap communication, freight and transport.


Standard of living

While our engineering accomplishments in South Africa have contributed greatly to our economic development, social upliftment and job creation, the need for increased economic growth demands ever more engineering contributions, also requiring an increase in the number of technically skilled artisans, technicians and engineers.


We have the engineering capability in South Africa to meet with most demands for engineering expertise and most probably the only constraint engineering faces in South Africa is a lack of development projects and funding. Due to our knowledge of local conditions, we are also well positioned to serve other African countries.


Engineering has been vital in addressing basic human needs, improving the quality and standard of living as well as providing opportunities for sustainable development in South Africa and has the potential to do the same for Africa.


We (engineers) have in the past and should continue in the future to focus on developing solutions to meet the needs of our local industry and population.


Article by: Andre Roos, Vice President SAIMechE (and Director: Megchem), and

Professor Leonard Masu, Vaal Branch Chairman (and Lecturer: VUT)


As posted in the SA Mechanical Engineer, October 2017 issue

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Meaningful Contribution

Posted By Gideon van den Berg, Monday, 13 November 2017

When our young engineers enter industry, they spend a long time trying to reconcile what they have been taught at a tertiary level versus what particular selection of skills and knowledge sets are important for their immediate place of work. Now, according to Malcolm Gladwell (author of “Outliers”) what we term as “expertise”, requires around five years to develop. This period of “getting good” unfortunately also appears to equate to “getting stuck”.


The hard truth is that engineers are employed by businesses, not training institutions. They need to contribute in a very tangible way, as soon as possible. In the context of mechanical engineering (where engineers do not need to register with ECSA as such) this has a particular spin-off. Due to business/operational constraints, much is done to/with our young engineers to make them ‘useful.’


However, on the other hand the value of ‘professional development’ is attended to very seldom. And to make it worse, it appears that, whenever engineers are ‘developed’ they are given MBAs and are removed from the technical side of operations.


I believe this ‘isolation’ - especially in the first years of employment – creates a silo culture. I’ve dealt with skillful, talented engineers, who have been blinkered by their industry and have lost sight of the  whole, beautiful, vast field of knowledge, known as mechanical engineering.


Making a difference

These engineers will eventually become bored with their small aspect of mechanical engineering and grow into the field of management sciences – since it appears there is still some excitement to be had in that field! This leaves a skill and mentorship vacuum, which in turn makes it even more difficult for the new crop of young engineers due to the lack of mentorship and role models.


This is truly the space where the voluntary associations such as SAIMechE can, must and are making a difference.


Consider two items of major importance. The first: SAIMechE’s student chapters where students are given a chance to interact with engineers and their fraternity, to glimpse a wider view of the actual industry and its possibilities. The second is SAIMechE’s Professional Development Programme (PDP). This programme, based on internationally agreed professional attributes, has been created, and is available free of charge from SAIMechE. It was created to help guide young engineers to develop into competent professionals and is in-line with the 11 Outcomes that ECSA requires from its candidates.


By being part of a voluntary association such as SAIMechE – and taking part by interacting with your local branch – you are taking responsibility for your own professional development and furthering the interest of the profession.


When you get down to it, gathering CPD points is not all that difficult when you have developed this habit. When was the last time you picked up a new piece of knowledge or a tool? There are so many things to explore... have you heard of TRIZ when you innovate or the Design Structure Matrix when planning a project?


Having read this, and perhaps given a bit of a nod in agreement, you are also now vicariously responsible to bring our young engineers (and yourself) into the “fold.”


Article by: Gideon van den Berg, National Treasurer and Chairperson of the Eastern Cape branch.

As posted in the SA Mechanical Engineer, September 2017 issue

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Sowing the Seeds

Posted By Vaughan Rimbault, Monday, 13 November 2017

How to turn the Public Sector into a producer of quality engineering professionals


No country or economy ever complained about producing too many competent engineering professionals. In fact, the opposite is true, and we are often reminded in the press about the link between strong economies and the ratio of engineering professionals in the population. South Africa has one of the lowest ratios of engineering professionals to the general population, and so we have good reason to focus on producing more of this valuable resource. We should aim to produce as many competent engineering professionals as we can.


The public sector has a perfect opportunity to play a role in this space, and I would like to share my vision of how this might be achieved, particularly in the mechanical engineering arena.


Every engineering graduate (NDip. BTech, BSc/BEng) who cannot find a position in the private sector, will be guaranteed a full-time position as a Candidate Engineering Professional in the public sector, on a minimum 36-month contract and at a salary equivalent to that of a junior officer in the defense force.


Basic training

There will be two intakes of Candidates per year. The Candidate will spend an initial period of at least 6

months in basic training at an approved mechanical engineering training facility which will offer exposure to the fundamentals of the occupational and practical aspects of mechanical engineering.


This will include things like fabrication, machining and workshop practice, as well as introduction to pertinent legislation (e.g, Engineering Profession Act, occupational legislation, basic conditions of employment, etc).


The Candidate will be evaluated in this phase through a combination of written and practical tests and examinations. It is not the intention of this phase to develop artisanal skills in the Candidates, but more to create an awareness of how the profession of engineering engages with the occupation of engineering, particularly in relation to the delivery of basic infrastructure. On completion of the basic training, the Candidate will be deployed within the public sector at national, provincial or local level, depending on requirements.


Candidates will be deployed considering a number of factors, not least of which will be closeness to their own home communities. Communities enjoying the fruit of their investment in the education of their children, and receiving decent basic services through the work of their own, should add significant value to this idea.


Evidence of competency

Candidates will be deployed to work on specific infrastructure projects which will provide the working environment within which professional skills will be developed. Although referred to as “basic” infrastructure, the engineering work behind successful projects still needs to take place and can be made sufficiently complex to serve as evidence of competency.


As part of the contract, the Candidate will be enrolled into a professional development programme in partnership with the engineering Voluntary Association most closely representing their engineering discipline.


All Candidates in all disciplines will do the same programme, aimed at developing and demonstrating the learning outcomes described in ECSA’s various competency standards for professional registration, thus paving the way for professional registration with ECSA. The programme will produce a portfolio of work for each Candidate, to be used as evidence of competence when measured against the standard.


An effective public works programme to develop engineering professionals will achieve two important things: add momentum to the delivery of basic infrastructure; and produce competent engineering professionals. And we need as much of both as we can get.


Article by: Vaughan Rimbault, CEO: SAIMechE

As posted in the SA Mechanical Engineer, August 2017 issue

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Goodbye Chris - and thank you

Posted By Vaughan Rimbault, Wednesday, 03 May 2017

SAIMechE has lost one of its most committed and influential members, Honorary Fellow Chris Reay, who passed away at his home in Cape Town on Wednesday, 26 April 2017.


Chris’ service to SAIMechE and the engineering profession stretched over four decades, from his service on Branch committees to more than thirty years’ service as a member of Council.


He joined SAIMechE as a Student member in 1963, and his contribution to the institution was recognised through his election to Honorary Fellow in 1999.


Chris participated at the highest level in SAIMechE, holding the office of President during the 1990-1991 Council session.  His father was SAIMechE President during the 1948-1949 Council session, giving them the distinction of being one of only two successive generations to have held this office in SAIMechE.


His influence was felt across most of the profession, from schools to universities to graduates and fellow professionals.  Many colleagues have commented on his passion for pertinent professional issues, and for holding all around him to the highest standards of integrity and commitment.


Chris is probably most well known in modern times for his regular column “An Engineer’s View” which was the leader to our magazine.  He set the bar high in this regard, and we will continue to honour him by using this space to be honest, forthright, courageous and critical of ourselves and other stakeholders in the engineering profession.


Thank you Chris, for giving us so much of your life, and for speaking out on our behalf.  We are a better organisation and profession because of you.  Until we meet again.


Note:  We invite members to share their memories and comments about Chris, either by emailing these to, or by commenting here on this post.

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