About the NSTF-South 32 Awards trophy

The entire NSTF Trophy is manufactured from titanium

The entire NSTF Trophy is manufactured from titanium

The helix form of the design communicates the upward momentum sustaining the continual efforts of scientific endeavour. Various researchers work on a project together or in succession, making progress which is not so much a linear progression as a steady upward spiral.

The eagle’s wings and feathers have been an inspiration for humankind’s drive to master flight from the earliest times. Scores of scientists, engineers and inventors pondered, studied, designed machines and took risks repeatedly before sustained flight became a reality. This is reflected in the trophy design by the suggestion of an airplane turbine at the base of the trophy.  

Finally, the trophy represents a “feather in the cap” of every NSTF-South32 Award Winner.

Manufacturing the trophy

The new Awards trophy was created by using additive manufacturing with South African expertise and state-of-the-art laser technology. All 15 trophies were manufactured using this method.

The new trophy came about in 2015 through the expertise of the NSTF membership and collaborative efforts. It was conceptualised in association with the CSIR National Laser Centre (NLC) and created by Mr Johan Steyn, specialist in femtosecond and nanosecond laser ablation, laser micro processing and 3D metal printing at the NLC. This ground-breaking innovation was endorsed and funded by the department of science and technology.

How the trophy was made

The entire trophy consists of titanium. The trophy base is made of a titanium pipe with two lids. These are cut using a metal laser-cutting machine. The components are welded together using an Nd:YAG laser machine. This process is integrated with a robot and involves heat welding. A lathe is then used to smooth the base.

Once the feather design is created in CAD (computer-aided design), the file is exported to the manufacturing machine (which uses a technology similar to 3D printing). Additive manufacturing has huge advantages over traditional manufacturing. It can be used for “rapid prototyping”, i.e. making a prototype of a product which can be up-scaled and mass manufactured. It is also often used to manufacture parts, rather than finished products.

The trophy is “grown” by welding layers of titanium powder together on top of the trophy base with laser beams.

Most additive manufacturing machines use a process where a layer of powder is first deposited onto the substrate layer and the laser then melts the powder so that it becomes a solid after a few extra layers. Extra powder is then shaken off. In the case of the NSTF trophy, a laser powder forming machine, also known as a LENS (laser engineered net shaping) machine, was used. LENS systems involve a high-power laser that fuses powdered metals into three-dimensional structures.

The trophy is then polished and more detail is carefully cut with a metal laser-cutting machine. The names and logos are engraved using a laser ablation machine with a laser of 40 microns in diameter spot size. The laser intensity of this machine is so high that the titanium goes from a solid to a gas immediately, evaporating the metal.