From devices that help maintain electric currents -to cell phone-charging hawker stands – the WSU Institute for Advanced Tooling (IAT) has been an invaluable resource in helping small companies and individuals get a foothold in their respective industries and realize their aspirations.
The IAT has been intimately involved in the recent development and completion of the ‘Hawker Trolley’, a mobile push-cart on wheels based on pattern machining that hawkers can store and sell their goods from.
“It has a solar panel on the roof to allow for cellular phone charging and to sell airtime. The side of the trolley has a lockable door and it has three internal shelves for hawkers to display and sell their goods,” saidIAT station manager Kerryn Newey.
After laborious efforts to finish the product; the client thereafter partnered with a Pietermaritzburg company in efforts to commercialize the product.
Thegovernment-funded entity housed at WSU’s Chiselhurst Site in East London has proven instrumental in providing financial and technical support in the development and manufacturing of trailblazing and innovative devices.
“As a unit we work primarily with small businesses and entrepreneurs by assisting them with technical development – meaning applied research to develop their products. We do digital design; digital manufacturing and facilitate a process whereby products can be tested in a real world environment,” said Newey. Another successful project the IAT has just completed is the development of the Retrofit Repeater Fuse, an innovative device designed to maintain power supply by automatically replacing the original fuse with a second standby fuse should high voltage power lines be disrupted by a transient fault such as lighting strike.
The process, two years in the making, saw the development of a workable digital design that can be manufactured whilst also establishing a process of developing and building a working prototype that can be manufactured in a one-off process that canfunction as a test piece of the final product.
“One of the main challenges was designing the product to fit into a prescribed space but still allowing the functionality of automatically triggering the second fuse contacts. An additional challenge was ensuring sufficient material in critical areas to ensure that the product passed the high voltage tests required for service,” said Newey.
He said pattern machining refers to the machining of large components out of high-density polyurethane foam blocks which involves taking a digital computer-aided design (CAD) model and then machining the shape required with a computerized numerical control milling robot.
Based on part machining, which is where parts are machined via a subtractive process from a solid block of material to a finished state, the rowing tender boat also proved yet another feather in the cap of the IAT as they assisted in cutting the pattern for the boat.
Newey said theprototype was complete and had been tested in the water and has been subsequently found to be ready for production.
“This project required 14 hours of programming and/or machining for the IAT to complete the work required,” he said.
Other projects the IAT have been involved with include producingan aluminium surf-ski mould for a company called Fenn Kayaks to replace their existing process of using epoxy moulds. This was achieved by way of reverse engineering,a process of creating a digital CAD model of a component for which none exists.
The world of 3D printing also finds expression in the IAT’s exploits, with the development of a 3D-printed planetary gear system prototype giving rise to this.
“3D printing is a commonly used term for additive manufacturing which relies on “adding” material to build up a 3D shape. The process relies on a part being printed, in a process similar to printing in 2D on paper, in very thin layers, layer by layer stacked on top of each other to make up a 3D part,” said Newey.
He said the planetary gear system is just a basic set of gears designed for speed reduction or increase and that the system the IAT printed was so the client can build a scale model of a paddle wheel electrical generator.