Finding innovative solutions in the manufacturing environment is one of the key objectives of Isuzu Motors South Africa's sponsorship of the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) Chair in Mechatronics.
The Chair in Mechatronics, headed by Professor Igor Gorlach, facilitates engineering projects between the NMU Mechatronics Department and Isuzu. Gorlach said it is important to expose Mechatronics students to the real industrial world, so that they can be better prepared for the final-year project.
The students are tasked to find real solutions that improve the manufacturing processes.
One such example is the universal trolleys which are used in the new truck assembly line at Isuzu's Struandale plant in Port Elizabeth, which were conceptually designed by senior Mechatronics students.
The universal trolley project is one of six innovative projects that the Mechatronics students developed for Isuzu, over the past two years. Isuzu Corporate Communications Manager, Gishma Johnson said the company supports the Chair to ensure an enhanced skills base in the industry through research and the development of unique and innovative solutions. "As a solutions-driven company, we are conscious about giving young people the opportunity to invent, create and innovate," Johnson said.
At the beginning of each academic year, new projects are identified in consultation with the engineering and production departments of Isuzu.
Projects are aligned to the work covered in the various subjects at undergraduate level and assigned in groups to third-year and final-year students. In final-year the projects are perfected over the period of a year, whereas the third-year students do a half year project.
Gorlach said the programme offers students valuable practical experience by exposing them to real-life industry problems and professional expertise.
"We are grateful to Isuzu for continuing to support our programme as it is in the best interest of our students to collaborate with industry. Interaction with industry is also required for our accreditation by the Engineering Council," said Gorlach.
The collaboration between the Mechatronics Engineering students and Isuzu often result in the implementation of these projects in the factory, sometimes in a redesigned, modified or adapted format," said Gorlach.
In 2018 the students designed a reconfigurable platform to reduce the number of trolleys at the Isuzu production facility. The design was implemented for all types of truck cabins on the new line at the Struandale plant in 2019, said Gorlach.
Other student projects included the design of a device for loading fuel tanks at the Isuzu truck assembly line, the design of a torqueing station for automatic transmissions for Isuzu bakkies, as well as developing a method to handle truck chassis. Some of these projects are being tested at the plant for future consideration.
Furthermore, the Isuzu Merit Awards Ceremony takes place every year where the best project, best assignment and top students in each academic year receive cash prizes and trophies. The Isuzu Merit Awards are also a valuable accolade to place on their curriculum vitae when the students are considered for employment, once they have graduated.
"Our students are in high demand in the workplace - locally and overseas. The practical component of solving challenges in a production or engineering environment, really adds to the level of students who graduate," said Gorlach.
The Mechatronics programme at Nelson Mandela University is the first and only university type engineering degree (BEng) offered in the Eastern Cape.