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UP opens new engineering research facility

UP Department of Civil Engineering head Professor Wynand Steyn and UP EBIT dean Professor Sunil Maharaj.

2nd December 2020

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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The University of Pretoria (UP) has opened its new Engineering 4.0 facility, which focuses on research on smart transport, cities and infrastructure.

The facility, on the Hillcrest campus, is part of the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology (EBIT), the university notes.

The state-of-the-art facility is a collaboration with the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – an entity of the Department of Science and Innovation – and York Timbers.

“Through its focus on the development of integrated transportation and infrastructure systems, Engineering 4.0’s research is concentrating on the reduction of energy consumption in the transport sector, maximising productivity in industry and creating a higher quality of life for people,” explains UP Department of Civil Engineering head Professor Wynand Steyn.

“The research focuses on road construction, road use, traffic flow and smart transport systems, now and into the future. We are researching road construction materials, vehicle-pavement interaction issues, infrastructure materials and management, exhaust-related emissions and semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles.”

Engineering 4.0 entails smart roads and infrastructure talking to smart vehicles, to reduce traffic congestion and to ensure the safety of passengers and cargo.

“This can help in areas such as agriculture and logistics, where transporting food can be improved to reduce waste or damage to fresh produce,” he says.

The new facility will also help to address the shortage of civil engineers in South Africa.

“This facility is a place where novel ideas, scientific research, global expertise, students, academics, entrepreneurs and industry partners can meet to generate new thought leadership, innovation and training opportunities through collaborative partnerships,” says UP EBIT dean Professor Sunil Maharaj.

A flagship feature is an active 2-km-long test lane on Pretoria’s N4 highway, where researchers collect real-time data and use big data analytics and the Internet of Things to do tests and analysis on how different road surfaces perform, how traffic moves on the highway, the density and type of traffic, emissions testing and air-quality monitoring, he points out.

Sensors next to, above and below the lane collect data. The data will be monitored from a data house next to the N4.

“This facility allows one to optimise pavement design and construction. The data collected can be used to model many aspects of transportation systems. Improved and optimised pavement design supports longer-lasting pavements that serve the economy and social wellbeing of society.”

“For our smart cities research, we will be working with a team of academics including social and environmental scientists, economists, urban planners, architects and lawyers. We need to redesign and integrate living spaces to promote social cohesion. We need to restructure urban planning so that people can live closer to work, reduce travel expenses, take the pressure off roads and lead more affordable, environmentally conscious lives,” Maharaj and Steyn note.

UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe says Engineering 4.0 will share its vast resources in technology and data sciences with all faculties via the institution’s Future Africa institute and campus, a platform for developing inter- and trans-disciplinary research networks within the university and the global research community.

“Sanral is pleased that the Engineering 4.0 facility is now officially open; this is a true testament of the success that can be achieved through partnerships. This facility will enable cutting-edge roads research, materials testing, skills development, real-time road performance monitoring, and the application of research outcomes and innovation in industry," Sanral CEO Skhumbuzo Macozoma says.

“The CSIR recognises that roads and transport infrastructure is at the heart of the economic recovery of South Africa. It is for this reason that we have created a dedicated focus on smart mobility in our new strategy,” comments CSIR CEO Dr Thulani Dlamini.

He adds that the CSIR views this collaboration as an ideal mechanism to build on transportation systems and transport infrastructure geared to improve societal quality of life.

Dlamini stresses that the new facility will play a critical role in setting South Africa up for success, and advancing the country’s ambitions to lead in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is of particular interest to the CSIR to collaborate with institutions whose research and development is channelled to improve the lives of all South Africans.  

“The CSIR invests in the development of methods and technology to facilitate the efficient and safe movement of people in the transport network. This is done through collaboration with role players that include public transport operators, the automotive industry and transport authorities. Their strong technical expertise, capacity and capabilities as well as advanced technologies all play a key role in advancing the work of Engineering 4.0,” he says.

Meanwhile, York Timbers is sponsoring a transdisciplinary research chair.

“With this initiative, York invests in the sustainability of our environment by establishing the use and application of engineered wood in construction solutions in Africa,” says York Timbers CEO Pieter van Zyl.

“The pressure on our natural resources and climatic environment is increasing, and we should act responsibly in how we apply our demands and needs on these natural resources. York sees this transdisciplinary chair as a key enabler to create an alternative and sustainable solution for the building and construction sector.

Meanwhile, the Engineering 4.0 facility will also include a national roads reference laboratory, the York Wood Engineering Laboratory; a training laboratory to train and certify road materials technicians employed by various testing laboratories; and a concrete laboratory, which will have a 100 m x 6 m accelerated pavement testing track to allow engineers to monitor the expected behaviour of a pavement over a fraction of its life.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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