Innovation in action at NWU

The aim is to make South African companies more competitive and profitable, by leveraging the expertise available at the university, and unlocking the potential of post-graduate students. Innovation could be the gateway to a better future in South Africa, and the engineering department at North-West University (NWU) is playing an important part in making this future a reality.

New and better products, improved services and ground-breaking methods could be the driver of wealth if harnessed and developed. Innovation can also lead to new businesses and improved employment opportunities.

The innovation support office at the faculty of engineering at the Potchefstroom campus employs a team of dedicated project managers to assist companies in identifying suitable government funding support programmes. It also helps with writing project proposals and managing projects to reach successful completion. The innovation support office also helps companies in identifying expertise at universities and can help to build networks of expertise to solve multidisciplinary industrial problems.

Students from the North-West University, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the University of Pretoria are now part of a research team that is supporting development work in collaboration with Denel Aviation. In the same way, groups of engineers, researchers and students are collaborating with companies as diverse as Necsa, MTech Industrial and numerous small businesses.

André Hattingh, director of the Innovation support office at the faculty of engineering at NWU, says the faculty received around R32-million from the government to support various industry-initiated projects. The Technology and Human Resource for Industry Programme (Thrip) was specifically developed by the government to promote cooperation between universities and the industry.

The purpose of this funding is to tackle projects where research inputs can be beneficial to the different industries. Co-operation is therefore mutually beneficial because postgraduate students get research opportunities, and the company can implement the expertise gained from it. One of the main benefits for a company when it collaborates in state sponsored programmes such as Thrip, is that it can develop a long-term strategic relationship with a university research group, leading to a continued output of ideas, educated students and products.

Dedicated laboratories with expensive test and measurement equipment can also be developed to support both strategic directed research and blue sky research. The research done in a Thrip project usually leads to a prototype that can be further developed by using one of the Technology Innovation Agency’s support programmes.

The innovation support office currently manages more than 17 projects. More than 80 students from different universities are financially supported and more than 20 companies are involved. Most of these students are post-graduate students working on industry linked projects. Students working on these projects acquire relevant skills because of the continual technology transfer between university and industry and are more ready for the place of work after graduating.

This article was supplied and approved by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers. It forms part of a larger supplement.

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