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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 Cidb Regulations and Project and Construction Management

Posted By Steve Hrabar, Thursday, 16 July 2020

Many of our members have approached SAIMechE as to the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) regulations regarding the Practice Note of registration with the South African Council Project and Construction Management Professions (SACPCMP) as Project Managers and/or Construction Managers for tenders and contracts that Industry and State Owned Enterprises (SOE’S) have issued. SAIMechE in turn made representation to the Council of the Built Environment (CBE) to clarify this guideline and to seek their opinion about this issue as both ECSA and SACPCMP reported to the CBE. As a result CBE hosted a meeting between CBE, CIDB and SAIMechE to examine and clarify the interpretation of the CIDB Practice Note.

CIDB was formed by Government and Industry to regulate the construction industry for Government
Tenders and Contracts (Including SOE’s) and to have a process of eligibility for the work, tendering,
contract award and quality of workmanship. It is established in terms of the CIDB Act 38, of 2000.

The role of the CIDB is to facilitate and promote the improved contribution of the construction industry
to South Africa’s economy and society.  At our meeting, CIDB presented Practice Note #31
dated the February 2014 where they clarified their interpretations of the need for registering of Project
Managers and Construction managers to fulfill their mandate. The relevant extracted section of Practice Note #31 is shown below:

The July 2013 CIDB Regulation Amendments (gazette No. 36629 of 2 July 2013) removed the requirement for “qualified persons” (or registered professionals) as a contractor registration requirement (Regulation 12(4) and Tables 4A and 4B).  The intent of removing the registration requirement for qualified persons is to move to a requirement for clients to determine and specify the specific technical resource requirements on projects, based on the scope of work, complexity and size of the project. This Practice Note provides guidelines to clients to specify eligibility requirements for registered professionals to undertake the management of the construction works contract.

2.Construction Management
In terms of the relevant Acts, SACPCMP and ECSA register professional persons who are competent
to undertake such work – including construction management. The recognized professional persons  that are competent to undertake construction management are denoted as:

Within the ECSA system, the level of complexity, or “characteristics of engineering practice” that
can be undertaken by the Professional Engineer, Engineering Technologist, Certificated Engineer or
Engineering Technician is covered in ECSA Regulations.  The ECSA Code of Conduct also requires  that registered professionals can only undertake work for which they are competent to perform.
It is further noted that in terms of the draft regulations for the “Identification of Work” (IDoW), it is
possible that the single-point accountability for construction management may be restricted to
registered professional persons.

The results of the interaction between CBE, CIDB and SAIMechE resulted in the following findings:
1) Industrial clients are not bound by CIDB regulations, other than requirements for the registration of construction works contracts and requirements in terms of the CIDB Project Assessment Scheme and the CIDB Best Practice Fee. Other than this, the notion of Industrial clients that they must follow the CIDB regulations or Practice Notes is ill-founded, but the CIDB recommends that Industrial clients consider the CIDB Practice Notes. Industrial companies can follow their own procedures determining their own requirements of Project Management and Construction Management for their projects. There is no requirement to be registered with SACPCMP. However it is recommended that the design of the project should be under leadership of Registered Persons of ECSA. Notwithstanding this, the CIDB recommends that the construction of industrial works is managed by an ECSA or SACPCMP Registered Person.

2) Government clients and SOE’s must follow the CIDB regulations. In addition there is no obligation to be registered with ECSA or SACPCMP, although guidance for project and construction is given in CIDB Practice Note 31.  SAIMechE hopes that this matter is laid to rest. We thank the executives of CBE and CIDB for their pro-active input in clarifying these matters.

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Connecting with the World of Engineering Education

Posted By Deborah Blaine, Friday, 08 May 2020

In July 2019, people from all over the world gathered in Cape Town to participate in the Research in
Engineering Education Symposium (REES 2019), an event co-hosted by the global Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN) and the South African Society for Engineering Education (SASEE).  

The participants were researchers investigating engineering education in local, national and global contexts; educators who teach engineering students everything from fundamental mathematics to the professional communications skills they’ll require to become professional engineers; technicians and technologists; academic support staff who work hard to help students and lecturers in crafting effective, efficient, innovative and equitable learning opportunities.  

We even had engineering students alongside lecturers participating in a workshop where researchers juxtaposed approaches to decolonisation relevant to engineering in San Diego, CA, USA with those in Cape Town, RSA. Over the few days we met, I was struck by the similarity in challenges facing engineering education across the globe.  

The fundamentals of engineering science have not changed significantly over the past 20 years, however, the number of students in our classes has grown dramatically.
Our students’ educational, socio-economic and cultural identities are far more diverse, and the challenges that they face are those related to the rapidly changing context of our global society, and
the uncertainty and unpredictability of the future of humanity, exacerbated by Covid-19.  

At the same time, there has been innovation to teaching and learning in engineering education over the past couple of decades. We use the internet, smart phones, teamwork projects, project-based learning – basically any innovative idea that we can access in order to reach the many students in our classes.  Furthermore, we no longer teach classes of 50 students, but up to 500.

Modern academic
The number of students in our classrooms who are first-generation university goers has increased dramatically; there are more than five girls in our graduating classes; we know that some students learn well through pictures, others through discussions and groupwork, others through reading. The days of a lecturer standing in front of a class for 50 minutes, three times a week, and speaking to the class non-stop, are gone.  Many universities across the world now require the modern academic to submit a teaching portfolio showcasing their reflection on and practice in teaching and learning, as well as their disciplinary research excellence in order to move up the academic ladder. Within this productivity driven environment, it is understandable that lecturers are gathering to share practices and ideas that relate to both engineering and learning.

In South Africa, SASEE (founded in 2011) has been instrumental in building this community of practice
and creating opportunities for engineering education stakeholders to work together to navigate the
complex world of building knowledge, transferring skills, and preparing young engineers for industry.

The REES 2019 conference provided an exceptional opportunity for our South African community to collaborate and share their experiences with colleagues from Europe, North America, Asia, Australia, South America and the rest of Africa. What was encouraging to observe was the quality of engineering education in South Africa, the dedication of the educators and researchers who are truly invested in growing engineers for our country, and to recognise that the issues we struggle with resonate with those experienced by our colleagues across the globe. 

What we missed at the conference was the voice of the industrial and commercial engineering community, a critical stakeholder in the engineering
education project. Each of our SAIMechE members studied engineering somewhere. We are living in
the same dynamic and challenging world for which engineering educators are trying to prepare our
student engineers. SASEE would like to invite and encourage our mechanical engineering community to get involved in shaping the engineers of our future.  

Despite all the complaints that we make about our educational systems and the difficulties we face with our economy, we have so many vibrant, intelligent and dedicated young people who want to become engineers, who want to grow our country and our engineering community. It is our duty to work together to create a fertile academic environment in which they can grow and succeed.



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Value Proposition for Your Membership

Posted By Cillia Molomo-Mphephu, Tuesday, 10 March 2020

What is value for your membership?  Well, before we get to that, maybe it's worthwhile to ask who are we?  The South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering is the senior body representing the discipline of Mechanical Engineering in South Africa (SAIMechE).

We remain steadfast in the view that "By Knowledge We Advance".  That brings us to the significance of the engineering opinion, particularly, related to the Mechanical Engineering discipline.

To understand the importance of our opinion, perhaps a good place to start will be where that opinion is going to be applied and ultimately its impact on the economy.  Think infrastructure for aviation, rail, road, marine and their corresponding systems including their different modes of transport; infrastructure for utilities; medical equipment, mining infrastructure and other such significant assets.

Where Does one go for an opinion on the above?  It should be undisputed that the home of such opinion is, predominantly, SAIMechE.

Home of the Mechanical Engineering Opinion

Lest we forget that the screw pump at a wastewater treatment plant, massive as it is, is useless without an electric motor.

On the other hand, both these pieces of equipment are controlled by a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) which is electronic.  Need I say more!  Well, of course we will still defend the Mechanical Engineering opinion with appreciation of the equally significant roles played by other disciplines.

But I said "home" of the Mechanical Engineering opinion.  I want to made an assumption that each time one refers to a place as home, a sense of belonging, of pride, of security and of freedom, among others, quickly takes over.  Now, open the door of that home, walk in and only find one member sitting there.  Surely you will have doubts in as far as one person's opinion versus the scope of what is expected from a regular home.

One the other hand, the consolidation of many authors'  views is that engineering is the application of science and mathematics to solve humanity's problems.  Given the wide variety of problems in this regard, it makes sense that the logical and structured approach might not be adequate to assist in finding such solutions.

The home owner

Of course the home owner's role cannot get easier that keeping family members happy and engaged to maximize and sustain their sense of belonging.  But simply saying "keeping members happy" does not provide much.  The organisation will have to, together with its community, unpack that to the satisfaction of all members.

Many sources I have consulted on organisational membership suggest that the organisation must ensure provision of continuous value for its members.  While that might be correct to some extent, I'll still go ahead and rephrase that to suggest that the organisation must ensure provision of platforms for creation of continuous value, because what organisation can ever have a conclusive position on that constitutes value proposition for its members without their involvement?

Notwithstanding the fact that members' involvement provides ore clarity on what they see as value for their membership, it is also expected that their involvement will give them a sense of owning that part of the organisation to which they have contributed.

I suppose it's a safe assumption, again, to suggest that members who are having a sense of belonging will stay and , further, automatically continue to engage meaningfully for knowledge creation and sharing.  And, what better place for the Mechanical Engineering stakeholders that in SAIMechE.

Fortunately, SAIMechE already has many platforms to enable easy value exchange for its members.  To count but a few, the website and its many features; and also a number of contact sessions.  Although those platforms are very important, they should not be confused with real value for membership, which I will attempt to get to, soon.

The role-players

Why do we want to congregate?  Is it because we want to achieve shared goals/outputs?  I'd say yes... The importance of achieving results together cannot be underestimated.  Out of that comes member confidence and a sense of fulfillment for those who played a role.  Arguably, people who achieve together are likely to stick around together.

The question, however, remains whether the SAIMechE membership numbers are adequate enough to provide for a representative opinion.  According to our records, females in articular make up a heartbreaking 8.9% of the total number of SAIMechE members.  Accounting to the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), South Africa has one engineer per 2 600 people compared with international norms, where one engineer serves 40 people.

Considering that we've already seen here that the engineering scope can never be perfectly designed to allow for the engineer to follow a logical and structured approach given the wider scope of the problems to be solved, the more innovative and progressive opinions from the members the better!

The organisation provides for a wide variety of categories to enable a wide range of role-players:  Company Affiliates, Associates, Honorary Fellow, Fellow, Graduates, Students and open category members where all qualifying stakeholders of this profession are invited to come and contribute meaningfully.

And on a biased note, given the slow uptake by females in this profession, I particularly urge all eligible female persons to rise up and make a difference in this profession.  Their colourfulness is sorely missed!

The value proposition

Is it incentives, rewards, and the likes that will make you proud each time the name SAIMEchE is mentioned; or is it SAIMEchE's credible engineering opinion that cannot be ignored by society that will make you proud to belong?  I choose a credible engineering opinion.

Whichever one you choose, please still come and advance the organisation with us!  With more members' involvement, we can be certain of a more accurately defined value proposition, and therefore a better output for SAIMechE.

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The Transition from Student to Mechanical Engineer

Posted By Cameron Hofer, Tuesday, 17 December 2019

While at university a mechanical engineering student typically only catches a glimpse of the engineering world through the lens of academia, with focused growth in the technical fields of thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, materials strength, calculus and the various forms of computer aided
design. This focused technical growth typically culminates in a final year design project, whereby these new-found skills are applied to the design process of concept formation, detailed design, prototyping or testing and finally manufacture.  Graduate engineers moving into the working environment will need to continue their steep learning ascension, this time mostly through the learning of the ‘soft skills’ required in order to be effective in the workplace. The discovery is soon made that a working engineer’s time is not their own and the priorities of clients and managers must be carefully balanced in order to produce an effective design that may pass the hurdle of financial viability.  To achieve this, a graduate engineer must adopt the mantra of ‘keep it simple’, which must be uttered at the beginning of each new project. Nothing fuels the vanity of a graduate engineer quite like the belief that what is existing and proven in the market need not be considered. The benefit of using standardized and proven equipment and techniques is a significant reduction in cost and the use of the knowledge of the engineers who have come before you.  

First principles

However, a working engineer must be able to identify the level of engineering required to solve a problem to within an acceptable degree of accuracy.  It may be a priority to quickly solve a solution by using proven design and empirical formula, but for more complex problems the use of first principles and Matlab type calculations must be reverted to. Although simplicity is often the most revered solution in industry, it is often the most difficult outcome to attain.  The newly graduated engineer must then extend themselves beyond the technical learning received in university and consider the more complicated variables of manufacturability, politics, material cost, trade-offs and HAZOPs.  The intuition of what equipment must be procured from overseas, or what must be produced locally cannot be taught in university. University also cannot teach the challenges involved with getting a construction crew’s equipment through the Zimbabwean border, nor can it teach the intricacies of identifying and managing potential risks in the execution of a project. Scenarios such as these can only be learned through experience.

The Real World

It must be further considered that the product being designed will unlikely be used in the ideal world on which university models are based. In the real world, pipelines may become fouled with time, upsetting an engineer’s delicate pipeline pressure loss calculations.  Instabilities in a process may be brought about by off specification material being fed into the factory. A good engineer must have the foresight to identify these potential “less than ideal” operating conditions and factor these into their calculations. To all the newly graduated engineers and those who are still studying, do not be discouraged. The world of mechanical engineering, especially within sub-Saharan Africa is an exciting adventure that presents many unique opportunities, that may not be known to those who are considering moving their careers abroad. My newly emerging career at a consulting engineering firm has seen helicopter rides to project sites in near uncharted regions of Africa, the comradery of a project team rallying against long odds to successfully meet a client’s requirements, and the dynamics of dealing with international projects.  I have been exposed to projects ranging from ethanol plants to transformer oil production facilities to food processing factories. The notion that opportunities do not exist in this country for young engineers is only true if you believe it. My advice to those entering the work place is to be open to every  opportunity that will be presented to you, any opportunity no matter how small or trivial will always have the potential to unlock further opportunities further down the line.

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Engineering Activity and Professional Competency

Posted By Malcolm Black, Friday, 08 November 2019

The evidence of engineering activity is all around us. The homes we live in, the cars we drive, the telephones we talk on and the medical equipment we have to help us diagnose and treat our health issues. It is not possible to look around the built environment and not notice something that is the result of engineering activity. We live today very much in an engineered world. Further, this engineered world has very definite levels of complexity easily observed as we look around. From the “simple” piece of steel that is called a crowbar and used as a lever to get something moved to the hugely complex pieces of equipment that float around in space creating a network of communication devices that have become an integral part of our daily lives. Not so simple You may have noticed that the word simple was placed in inverted commas. Is the crowbar that “simple”? What material is it made of? How was that material made? How was the crowbar formed into the tool that is used in so many situations? How are similar crowbars (levers) used in various combinations of increasing complexity that form the various parts of machines used in our everyday lives. All this requires engineers who are competent to participate in complex engineering activities. Competence is a fundamental requirement of a complex evolving society. We have recently been informed that the South African population is approaching 60 million people. We are also told that close to 10 million are without work. Many do not have the basic requirements to live meaningful lives because of endless struggles with poverty. These Malcolm Black are complex problems requiring competent people to solve them. Professionals needed The SAIMechE has recognized the need for competent professionals to participate in the process of building a functional nation. Competence measured by objective assessment criteria that avoid any cultural, racial or gender “gate keeping” accusations. A Professional Development Programme that will enable graduates to develop the skills and levels of competence to make a valuable contribution to society has been developed. A competence developed through a guided interaction with experienced, accredited and competent mentors within commercial environments that are project oriented and deal with daily concerns and fundamental needs and issues. Candidate engineers, engineering business and society in general could benefit from this programme by giving support to it through participation, financial commitment and an awareness that without the involvement of competent engineers many of our complex societal problems may not be solved. The SAIMechE, through its numerous branches, is committed to serving the needs of its members and the community at large by providing this service.

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The Nano-Mechanical Engineering Future

Posted By Rigardt Coetzee, Friday, 08 November 2019

Nanotechnology has become a future investment in the technology of tomorrow. This world offers advanced computers, smart homes to smart phones, the rise to artificial intelligence, and an innovative Industry 4.0. However, where and how does this new reality become possible? And how do conventional engineering degrees, such as mechanical engineering, manifest themselves into this exciting new field? In 1970 Moore’s law stated that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit will double every two years. This is only possible if the manufacturing process evolves along with time. This requires the use of engineers, researchers and scientists to evolve and innovate methods to make the popular Moore’s law possible. Simultaneously, these methods open up new possibilities and advancements in multiple new technological industries. But industrial growth requires the ability to manufacture. Nano-manufacturing offers a great deal of potential and needs engineers, researchers and scientists of multiple disciplines in collaboration to advance and produce creative nano-material, cutting edge technologies and efficient products. The manufacturing scale still remains a challenge and requires new innovative studies to investigate the fundamental physics/chemistry and then apply findings to optimize the production process. By doing so the limitations currently faced by nanotechnology manufacturing can be overcome. Nanotechnology: a multidisciplinary field To obtain an understanding of the underlining physics/chemistry of the nanotechnology field, a great deal of engineering across multiple disciplines is needed. In my own Engineering research, I found myself studying and collaborating with multiple departments. In the field of Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD), an ultra-thin nano film fabrication process, it demands the attention within mechanical engineering design; heat and mass transfer; computation numerical methods across multiple scales (being reactors, chemicals, to atomized scale); chemical reaction mechanism creation; material sciences; among others. These discipline fields are soon to be seen branching to consumer usage related studies, medical equipment implementation, artificial intelligence, micro- and nano-electronics, optics, and so forth. For future implementation, mechanical engineers of tomorrow should adapt and evolve themselves  into multiple disciplines. Furthermore, they should utilize their unique contribution in the field of mechanical engineering to optimize and innovate from the fabrication process towards equipment and product design. Engineers of the past revisited in a modern field Lately, I found myself invested and intrigued when examining the engineering papers and findings of the past.These texts, correlations, and descriptions of numerous phenomena, reveal similarities and parameters that may affect, or describe the unique effects currently found to be unknown in the Nano-Engineering domain. The past works are found to re-innovate the need to re-engineer the current nano-fabrication problems. They embark on the understanding of the fundamental theory, and intrinsically allow counter-arguments to be made to explain previously unknown behaviours. Progress through innovation For the continual successful progress of the implementation of nanotechnology, new technologies previously seen as impossible or a fable dream due to their limitations should now be pursued. Mechanical engineers should utilize their unique skills and abilities obtained throughout their years of experience to contribute to dreams becoming reality. The unique skills that the field of mechanical engineering offers, past or present, truly contribute to the engineering of the future. These skills will play a key role in the nanotechnology field thtough contributions towards nano-manufacturing. And thus the ever-decreasing size of products, the possibility of AI and even smarter technology will become a reality.

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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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