MechChem Africa

The first Innovation in Industry Conference will be held at the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) in Port Elizabeth on September 7, 2018. MechChem Africa talks to Clive Hands, the conference champion from NMU’s engineering department, and Ernst Burger of Altair.

“Port Elizabeth is the ideal place for an advanced technology conference and not only because NMU is based here,” begins Hands. Logistically, it is easy to organise the event using our facilities, but more importantly, a number of companies in this region are deploying new technology for production-related applications, with considerable success,” he says.

Altair NMU Eco Car Innovation Conference

“At the university we are very focused on advanced technology and how we can expose both our students and our local industry to their potential. This conference is a perfect opportunity to get our local industry guys networking on what is happening out there and to galvanise discussion,” he adds, while assuring that the event will not be academically focused. “We are establishing Innovation in Industry as a technical conference aimed directly at industry and real-world applications,” Hands tells MechChem Africa.

Identifying the specific technologies of interest, he says that the conference will be focused on globally disruptive modern technologies: metal additive manufacturing and 3D printing; material integrity testing; design for lightweighting and optimisation; cloud- based applications including data analytics and telemetry; virtual and augmented reality; virtual design and digital twin techniques; advanced simulation; artificial intelligence and machine learning; smart manufacturing and autonomous processing.

“We are casting the net fairly wide, but most of these themes lend themselves to- wards Industry 4.0 and the interconnectivity of everything – and we have been quite fortunate to get some outstanding presenters involved in some of these categories for this inaugural event,” he says.

“These technologies have the potential to entirely change the face of future industry and the way things are traditionally done. Globally, this is already happening, with some influential companies already having commit- ted. Lightweighting and optimisation design is already mainstream and this ties in with metal additive manufacturing (AM), which alone expands the horizons of what was previously possible using subtractive machining.

“Virtual and augmented reality are like a bottomless cup of coffee with potential applications from manufacturing to training to marketing and sales. In addition, data analytics opens up a previously unavailable vista into optimising and honing the efficiency of production processes,” Hands explains.

Hands believes there is no field in engineering and beyond that can’t take advantage of these new technologies to improve, empower and inform their current ways of doing things – be it from medical fields, to construction, to manufacturing, to architecture, to practical training across industry.

A key challenge, however is overcoming scepticism. “Companies are asking what happens if all this is ‘flavour-of-the-day’ technology that promises to ‘ fix-all’ but then fails to deliver? Advanced technologies involve significant financial risks, after all.

“Many large OEMs have taken the leap, and they would not have done so without forensic due process, so it is fairly safe to say we are in the midst of a sea-change in the ways things have been done, how they are currently evolving, and how they will be done in the very near future. Exciting times!” he exclaims.

In partnership with Altair

“The partnership between NMU and Altair sprung from our Eco-Car Project, which is all about lightweighting and optimisation in order to eke out maximum fuel efficiency in an ultra-lightweight vehicle,” Hands continues. “Some of Altair’s products were strongly aligned to topology optimisation of design components, so it was a no-brainer from our side to embrace a partnership.

“Altair’s design tools are well established in cutting-edge industries such as Formula 1, the America’s Cup and various performance aeronautics initiatives. Most CAE software platforms are now also including optimisation aspects, but Altair continues to be the established leader,” Hands believes.

“Following initial enquiries through Altair’s head office in Troy, Michigan, our relationship with the local Altair office has been a marvellous adventure, spiralling out of multiple associated projects and into the university’s formal engineering curriculum.

“The Altair platforms provide state-of-the-art solutions over a wide range of applications; and, most importantly, the best support I’ve ever encountered. Altair has supported and encouraged our initiatives … read more.

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