Engineering and pneumatics company SEW-Eurodrive says its yearly competition, the PneuDrive Challenge for engineering students, goes a long way towards bridging the gap between the skills produced by the higher education system and the skills that business needs.
SEW-Eurodrive marketing and communications GM Rene Rose tells Engineering News that the PneuDrive Challenge, which was established by the company in partnership with pneumatic solutions provider Pneumax Southern Africa MD Adrian Buddingh in 2008, is a successful example of how learning bridges can be built between institutions of higher learning, business and students.
“We noted that there are various challenges in the engineering sector, such as the education system not producing enough graduate engineers to meet future planned infrastructure development projects. The skills that industry needs are constantly changing and it is becoming difficult to incorporate all that is required of an engineer within a single educational or curriculum design intervention,” she explains.
The competition aims to provide a strategic learning platform that strengthens the quality of South African engineering qualifications and to empower mechanical, electronic and mechatronic engineering students.
Rose says it grants these students a learning opportunity to combine engineering theory, the latest technology in drive engineering and pneumatics with business reality.
The competition’s theme this year – Green Warehousing Logistics – required students to analyse and identify a specific operational problem in one of the following areas of warehousing: retrieval, conveying, placement, packing, palletising and loading.
Entries included those from students representing the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, in Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape with their warehousing solution named and trademarked the TetraStack. Students from Stellenbosch University, in the Western Cape, entered their Movipal warehousing solution. One group of students from Tshwane University of Technology, in Pretoria, entered its Active Loop Conveyor, while another entered its Gravity Warehousing Solution. The University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, also had two entries – the Out-the-Box Palletiser and the Integrated Storage and Retrieval Conveyor system.
Rose notes that the entries were innovative, with the TetraStack, for instance, being the warehousing equivalent of the tile-matching video game Tetris. The TetraStack design mirrors the game’s sorting action and proposes the continuous rearranging of crates within a racking matrix to consume the least amount of space at a level as low down in the matrix as possible.
The Movipal warehousing solution combines the functionality of a gantry-shaped palletiser and a forklift to provide a mobile palletising solution. It uses remote supervisory control and data-acquisition communication to continuously monitor the system.
The active loop proposes a fully automated warehousing system solution, which will enable a factory to exercise higher efficiency in the storage and retrieval process, and in locating and tracking products.
The gravity warehousing solution proposes using gravity, pneumatics and motors to store products. It promises an energy-saving solution and a space-saving advantage while reducing human involvement.
The Out-the-Box Palletiser presents a solution to using manual labour by proposing a standalone, mobile and flexible palletising device. The integrated storage and retrieval conveyor system allows for boxes to be placed on the conveyor loops and always to be ready for retrieval.
“What is even more exciting about the competition is that it is not just about the engineering – it also encourages students to push the limits in terms of conceptual and design thinking . . . and to generate and source financial support for their futuristic design on their own.
“The competition also teaches them to not only find employment once they have completed their studies but also know that they can source their own funding and engineer something that can lead them to creating job opportunities for others,” Rose elaborates.
She adds that this year’s competition allowed for 400 mechanical, electronic and mechatronic engineering students in South Africa to analyse, design and experiment with intelligent automation systems.
Pneumax and SEW-Eurodrive also conduct various roadshows throughout the country to introduce the competition, its themes and learning opportunities to students. The companies have also created student-driven software and product-selection workshops, taken students on site visits to various engineering factories and provided coaching for students using subject-matter experts.
The winners of the competition receive a ten-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Germany and Italy, where they will present their designs to the head offices of the sponsor companies, which, in turn, will be another learning opportunity for young engineers.
SEW-Eurodrive and Pneumax also offer more than R300 000 worth of equipment to competing universities to ensure that future students are afforded the opportunity to experiment with the latest in drive engineering and pneumatic technology,” Rose concludes.