SOLID scientific study and innovation in Nelson Mandela Bay are behind a developed welding and repair process that is saving industry billions of rand.

Export markets for the WeldCore® friction taper hydro-pillar welding and repair process developed by the eNtsa engineering technology station at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University await following accreditation by the world's leading engineering body, ASME (The American Society of Mechanical Engineers).

“The strength of eNtsa builds on strong academic and fundamental evaluation of the processes and the programmes required to develop technology based on scientific principles. This guarantees, to a large extent, that the technology will perform as required,” says Marthinus Bezuidenhout, corporate materials specialist at Eskom.

The Department of Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor and other key development players was at Nelson Mandela Bay to witness how the WeldCore® technology has helped keep the lights on by enabling the power utility to safely continue operating older power plants without having to invest billions of rands to replace equipment.

According to Bezuidenhout the technology allows operators to take core samples of turbines, tanks and pipelines to determine how much life is left in the component.

Friction welding is used to safely and permanently close the hole left when the sample is taken. eNtsa has done testing for Sasol as well as Eskom, and the technology is now ready to be used in other industries, according to eNtsa director Prof Danie Hattingh.

“It is a good example of how research can be focused on solving challenges facing industry in South Africa,” says Bezuidenhout.

Universities like the NMMU have a vital role to play because they combine high-level research with the latest in testing equipment.

Continent’s most sophisticated microscope

NMMU’s investment in the first high-resolution transmission electron microscope (HRTEM) which can focus on the atomic structure of materials is cited by Bezuidenhout as one of the strengths of the university.

Having the hardware is one thing. What is most important is having the team of dedicated, highly motivated and self-driven professionals that is found at NMMU.

“The university has made huge strides in developing the skills needed to understand the fundamentals of the mechanisms behind the ageing of materials,” he says.

The microscope is one of four housed in the R120m High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy (HRTEM) Centre for teaching and research. The facility is the result of a partnership between the National Research Foundation (NRF), the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), the NMMU, and Sasol.

As a result, NMMU has developed unique capabilities and knowledge in the management of factory plant life.

“eNtsa is really the only facility of its type in South Africa that I know of.

“It is an extremely good model of the processes required to develop industry – ready solutions needed by South African companies,” says Bezuidenhout.