he Department of Science and Technology has spent some R147 million on 25 projects in support of government’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy (AMTS) programme through which it, inter alia, supports the country’s aerospace industry, and plans to continue doing so.
That’s the word from Science and Technology minister Naledi Pandor in her address to the International Aerospace Symposium of South Africa at the Leriba Lodge in Centurion earlier this week.
“SA has a well established and competent aerospace technology sector,” Pandor told delegates. “SA has a long standing interest, even fascination, with the development of aerospace technologies.
“The sector is small and is developing expertise in a range of key areas, including airframe manufacture, engine components, systems development, and the integration of fixed and rotor blade aircraft to advanced weapons systems.
“Research and design capabilities exist at tertiary institutions, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and at private companies (large and small).
“One good example is the Centurion based Aerosud, which is an accredited supplier to Boeing, Airbus and BAE systems. At present South Africa is not in a position to design and manufacture an entire, fully integrated aircraft system.
“Therefore, the emphasis has been placed on developing key competencies where South African companies can become part of the global supply chain of the major first and second-tier aerospace companies like Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, Rolls-Royce, and Snecma.
“The DST is committed to supporting this effort, notably by promoting international research cooperation.
“Aircraft run primarily on fossil fuels, and fossil fuels will run out. Earth friendly sources of energy must be found. The future for motor vehicles, whilst still a little cloudy, has become a lot clearer of late, with the emergence of promising developments like electric cars, and hydrogen technologies.
“Similarly, researchers and technologists have begun to turn their attention to efficient fuel and materials for the aerospace industry. We in South Africa believe that we can make a meaningful contribution in this challenging arena,” Pandor said in a keynote address.
AMTS & TIA
The minister noted the AMTS was established in 2003 and “aimed at developing competencies in key areas in order to strengthen the technological base and competitiveness of the South African manufacturing sector.
“The intention is to leverage South Africa’s role to be more than just a manufacturing and assembly location. When the work of the AMTS turned its attention to identifying focus areas, the aerospace sector was identified as a key sector.
“In fact, an active aerospace network was mobilised, making a significant contribution to the work of the advanced manufacturing technology strategy.
“Even though the network is not currently active due to capacity constraints of the advanced manufacturing technology strategy, I’m pleased to say that the network will be reactivated through the new Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).
The TIA was created earlier this year in terms of the Technology Innovation Agency Act signed into law by then-President Kgalema Motlanthe in November 2008.
The law is a keystone of the DST’s 10-year plan to promote innovation through funding, support and commercialisation. The agency board is chaired by medical doctor and noted academic Dr Ramphele Mamphele.
Pandor says under the AMTS, research and development projects are funded within the following three flagship programmes geared to advance the innovation capabilities across industry sectors:
* advanced light weight materials
* advanced production technologies and
* advanced electronics
“These projects are undertaken by consortia comprising large industry, small and medium enterprises, tertiary institutions and science councils. These projects are in line with my department’s initiatives to support the development of a competitive titanium downstream capability, and a fibre-reinforced composites industry utilising natural fibres and bioresins,” she said.
The AMTS also funds the establishment of advanced manufacturing technology laboratories thatare intended to be world class facilities for the design, development and prototyping of new products, as well as the development and transfer of relevant skills to support industry.
Pandor said three advanced manufacturing technology laboratories are currently operating:
* the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University for automotive robotics
* Aerosud for production technologies, materials development and testing for the aviation industry and
* the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in adaptronics.
“The latter has helped in creating a much needed aeronautics knowledge base in a previously disadvantaged tertiary institution. The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) research group at Cape Peninsula University of Technology developed skills in conceptualising, designing and manufacturing a prototype UAV as a technology demonstrator in under two years,” Pandor said.
SA is in the process of establishing a titanium industry, she added.
“The aerospace sector is the key target sector in the development of a titanium industry in South Africa. This is in line with government’s beneficiation strategy. The department, through the resource based industries unit, has supported titanium metal research and development through the Light Metals Development Network (LMDN) of the Advanced Metals Initiative since 2006.
“The research and development has established significant technological capacity and capability in South Africa. Ti powder technology, the primary technology on which the South Africa’s industry will be based, promises major cost advantages through near net shape parts and limited waste as well as the fabrication of difficult alloys with unique properties. This is the technology of the future, with significant technology and cost saving implications for the aerospace industry,” she added.
“The global aerospace industry has recognised South Africa’s unique record of innovative research in the field. South Africa has also been participating in the highly competitive European Union Framework programme and this fact alone is an indication that we have come of age.
“The aerospace field is one of the most competitive components of the Framework programme. Thanks to concerted efforts by both the European Commission and the Department of Science and Technology, including through the work of our national contact points, South Africa’s success rate in this field is one of the highest non-European Union participating countries.
“In addition, South Africa facilitates the participation of other African countries in the Framework programme. The department is currently also a partner in an FP7 project, Aero Africa to European Union. Its objective is to create a platform for enhancing aeronautics and air transport research.
“The Aero Africa to European Union project represents the first attempt to capture the aeronautics and air transport capabilities and needs of the European Union and South Africa in a complementary manner, useable as qualitative tools to enhance further co-operation,” she said.
The recently cancelled Airbus Military A400M Loadmaster strategic transport was previously described as being at the fulcrum of the AMTS. Pandor did not refer to the project in her address.
The organisers say IASSA is a cooperative combination of a number of leading South African conferences and symposia in the aerospace field. It incorporates the Aeronautical Society’s Conference, the third Flight Test Society of South Africa symposium, the third South African International Aerospace symposium, together with the third Technical Aerospace and Unmanned Systems conference.
The intent is to hold an annual IASSA, and to cultivate the spirit of cooperation locally, in order for SA to engage its international partners as a unity.
Pic: ATE’s Roadrunner UAV, an example of indigenous SA expertise.