From January 2017, Mechanical Technology will be merging with its chemical sister, Chemical Technology, under the new title: MechChem Africa. But what’s in a name? A lot, I have come to realise. As an editor, one is constantly striving to establish an identity for one’s magazine. This is not so easy when the subject matter covers the broad spectrum of topics associated with ‘mechanical things’, for example. There is no readily identifiable mechanical industry and mechanical engineers find themselves servicing the most diverse range of applications.
When I studied for my MechEng degree, there were four specialisation options: aeronautical; metallurgical; industrial; and general mechanical. Today there are offshoot degrees such as aerospace, automotive; naval architecture; acoustics and vibration; manufacturing/production, along with a host of special interest areas: mechatronics; biomedical; fluid mechanics; emissions and the environment; heat transfer and thermodynamics; energy systems and many others.
I graduated with a mechanical engineering degree with a metallurgical option, a choice I barely remember making. I ended up in the UK working for a welding machine manufacturer, in the days when power electronic technology coupled with digital control was just emerging. My early engineering experience was gained trying to prevent transistors ‘popping’ every time a welding arc was struck. As soon as we succeeded, the technology moved over to inverters with fast-switching thyristors, which were even more sensitive to the harsh electrical characteristics associated with welding arcs.
I have always, therefore, had a diffuse view of what mechanical technology is about.
At the invitation of Mercedes Benz South Africa this month, I was privileged to learn about and drive the new C350e plug-in-hybrid. Embedded in these vehicles is enough technology to fill every feature of a technology magazine: lithium-ion battery technology; sophisticated inverter drives; highly efficient modern engines; energy recovery systems; smart connected digital control; amazing hybrid transmissions; lightweighting design strategies; a multi-material body; and local manufacture in a state-of-the-art factory in East London.
Fundamental to the theory of evolution is that, for a species to survive, adaptations need to provide advantage. So when seeking to identify an alternative way forward for Crown Publications’ Mechanical Technology and Chemical Technology titles, seeking advantage is the logical starting point.
First among these is that both magazines have broadened in scope over the years and, although always dealt with from the perspective of the different disciplines, several overlapping features have emerged: such as pumping systems, plant maintenance, instrumentation and process control.
We see and write about industrial plant, machines and equipment across the engineering spectrum, from mill circuits to refineries and beverage plants. These include highly integrated technologies that combine aspects of mechanical, electrical and IT control systems, and incorporate expertise, coatings, materials and treatment solutions derived from the chemical industries.
Both publications are positioned to service the technically minded. These key technical strengths will be retained, with the content enriched by deliberately seeking out areas of mechanical and chemical interest. Both chemical and mechanical topics will feature every month and the new features list will ensure content continuity.
The initial print run will be expanded to 5 000 copies per issue. Superficially, this seems counter- intuitive in the light of declining demand for print publications. We remain convinced, however, that the magazine format, as a carefully selected compilation of articles chosen to be interesting to a defined readership, will endure, regardless of the publication format.
Supporting long-term transformation and survival, though, is the opportunity to refocus on a holistic publication offering. We believe in a content-driven approach. We hope to offer readers and advertisers opportunities to connect with and inform each other via rich technical content, smartly disseminated and organised in multiple ways.
Using the magazine content as a springboard, we see multiple opportunities to reuse and reorganise content to suit different sets of digital consumers. Once good technical content is created, the covers of a magazine – print or digital – no longer need confine it. It can be circulated via email, enewsletter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. It can be made findable by attaching some carefully selected key works and, using mechanisms such as hashtags, collections of related articles can be reorganised in a multitude of ways.
We are excited. As our publisher Karen Grant says: “It is important not to remain static. Engineering is exciting and dynamic and since the collection of our magazines covers a wide range of the engineering disciplines, we see increasing service levels for clients, cooperation across magazines and the combination of print and digital media platforms as a sure way of remaining relevant.”
The ‘plug-in-hybrid’ tagline messages the integrated nature of the C350e. I like to think MechChem Africa will be seen in a similar light, as a magazine integrating technologies – chemical, mechanical and others – in a smart connected way.