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Casting simulation network aids foundries

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Simulation software improves and confirms casting processes and tools, providing the South African foundry sector with advanced technology to equip it in its role to provide vital inputs to the South African manufacturing industry.

This was the message from Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor, launching the Casting Simulation Network (CSN) at the Vaal University of Technology in Sebokeng last week.

The Minister points out that the launch of the CSN was a fitting time to celebrate the outcome of a number of strategically planned activities to advance South Africa’s foundry sector.

“In 2011 the Department of Science and Technology supported a programme to assist the foundry sector with Technology Assistance Packages. Our manufacturing industry needs our foundries, and therefore there is a need for these focused interventions,” she says.

Through a process of benchmarking and technology capability evaluations, as well as the use of international and local subject matter experts, a variety of gaps were identified that contributed to the low level of competitiveness of the South African foundry sector. One of the major technological gaps identified was the lack of simulation software.

A pilot programme was used to determine the benefits of using simulation techniques within the foundry sector, which were substantial. Through a process of industry engagements, the Technology Localisation Implementation Unit (TLIU), hosted by the CSIR on behalf of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), identified the need for a national casting simulation network and funded it through a Sector-Wide Technology Assistance Package. This provides foundries, including SMMEs, with access to simulation software and skills.

The Minister says the initiative will enhance South African companies’ capabilities to access contracts, create more jobs and contribute to economic growth and knowledge-based activities, which are critical imperatives for the country.

Over the past four years, the Technology Localisation Programme has assisted more than 140 manufacturing companies. As a result of the support provided, companies were able to create 136 new jobs and secure new contracts from state-owned enterprises, with a further 10 companies retaining existing contracts.

Minister Pandor adds that the department will invest R320-million over the next three years to provide technology support to companies through benchmarking and customised technology assistance packages.

In partnership with the Faculty of Foundry Engineering at AGH University of Science and Technology in Germany and the Laboratory for Aerospace Materials at Rzeszow University of Technology in Poland, five postgraduate students received scholarships and completed master’s degrees in Metallurgical or Materials Science at these overseas institutions. These graduates now work at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and the University of Johannesburg, and their expertise is at the disposal of the South African foundry industry and the CSN.

Professor Irene Moutlana, vice-chancellor and principal of the Vaal University of Technology, says: “The main CSN site is at the Vaal University of Technology’s Southern Gauteng Science and Technology Park. We are pleased to host this hub, which connects the satellite sites within the technology stations at the Durban University of Technology, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Stellenbosch University and the University of Johannesburg.”

Beeuwen Gerryts, chief director: Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Localisation of the DST, said, “Since the establishment of these centres, the advantages of the CSN are being realised by a variety of industry partners. The partnership with the National Foundry Technology Network, an initiative of the Department of Trade and Industry, is invaluable. The Network facilitates the development of a globally competitive South African foundry industry through appropriate skills training, technology transfer and diffusion of state-of-the-art technologies. The unique services of the CSN complement these well-established activities.”

Ashley Bhugwandin, manager of the TLIU, adds: “Through the TLIU, the DST offers the Science, Engineering and Technology Industry Internship Programme for students from universities of technology. We place them in suitable companies for experiential training and to complete a year of practical training in order to obtain their national diplomas. Five of these students work at CSN stations around the country and interact with representatives of the foundry industry to reap the benefits of this network.”