Engineers gather to solve Earthly problems
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Engineers gather to solve Earthly problems

Gauteng Premier David Makhura

Qhawekazi Memani and Azande Ralephenya

The 28th annual Southern African Institute for Industrial Engineering Conference (SAIIE 28) was held from 25 to 27 October and brought practitioners and students from different universities in the Industrial Engineering field all under one roof at the Riverside Sun Hotel in Vanderbijlpark.

The theme underpinning the conference was: ‘Taking up stewardship’. The theme is considered pertinent by the SAIIE because of the enormous challenges being faced by the Earth’s inhabitants with an example close to home being the extreme drought in the Western Cape.

Besides this, our senses are bombarded on a daily basis with other dire news and predictions of the calamities awaiting the human race all over the world. The challenges range from rampant unemployment to finding renewable energy sources. As individuals we cannot stand on the sidelines and wait for someone else to take the lead in finding solutions. It is incumbent on all of us to participate in finding workable and lasting solutions. Hence, each must take stewardship albeit in their own humble and unassuming way.

It is with these sentiments in mind that delegates gathered, aiming to come up with solutions to these “onslaughts”.

Professor Morris Ndenge: Dean Electrical Engineering welcomed the delegates to the Vaal region and wished them a fruitful conference.

Delivering the welcome address was VUT’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Gordon Zide who  expressed his joy at hosting such a momentous occasion. With a strong passion for social development and economic growth, he noted that the National Development Plan is a compass for the strategic development of the country and that engineers play a critical role in contributing to making its vision a reality.  He said that engineering plays an important role in all aspects of our society as it provides solutions to better the way we do things and to improve our living conditions.

Premier of Gauteng, David Makhura also pointed to the value of engineers during his address. “The manufacturing industry is a major sector in the Gauteng economy. When we talk about de-industrialisation and providing solutions that can boost our economy through the deployment of new technologies and new processes, we need to critically involve industrial engineers,” he said.

Placing emphasis on the importance of universities as the major drivers of innovation, the Premier said that the Gauteng Province has signed a memorandum of understanding with universities in the province focusing on areas of investment such as public infrastructure, ICT, accommodation, water and sanitation and facilities.

“South Africa has some of the best engineering capabilities that can assist in advanced manufacturing and re-industrialisation,” he said.

He further praised the VUT Science and Technology Park for its innovative technologies and contributions towards boosting the economy and youth development through its various training programmes and the shoe manufacturing factory.

While VUT was the sole academic partner at this year’s conference, other universities were invited to share their insights and research.

Lukas Snyman; Director of the School of Engineering at the University of South Africa (UNISA) said the gathering was to stimulate innovation, create knowledge and apply it in order to improve South Africa’s social and economic situation.

In his address he stated that the lack of entrepreneurship is one of the contributing factors to the issues the country faces.

“Creative thinking is needed; we need to stop being pessimistic. Let’s merge new technology to find more applicable ways of looking at the needs of the society. Entrepreneurship can make a huge difference and with government contributions and industry investments, the results will be substantial,” he said. He also shared Unisa’s approach within the past three years which entails doing things differently, expanding collaborations and engaging students to do projects.

Different sessions, allowing the practitioners and students to present research projects, were conducted and a special session from Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and Gibela (a train manufacturer) was held focusing on rail transportation. This looked at the past evolution and future of rail transportation, new developments and concepts of manufacturing already in use with the aim of improving the SA rail transportation for commuters.

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