Rheinmetall Denel Munition and North-West University establish explosives training courses


Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) and the North-West University (NWU) yesterday signed a cooperation agreement for explosives training, paving the way for the launch of internationally recognised courses in Explosives Engineering.

Professor Harry Wichers of the NWU’s Faculty of Engineering says 24 short courses have recently been approved by both parties and the first group of students are already aligned to attend selected courses. He said that bigger plans to present post-graduate studies in Explosives Science and Engineering are currently in the final stages of negotiation and module development should commence early next year. Wichers said that NWU is going to be number one in this area as at the moment there is no accredited qualification in explosive engineering available in South Africa while there is big demand for blasting skills, particularly in the mining industry.

Twenty-three short learning programmes (SLPs) will cover training areas for commercial and specialist blasters, explosives storage and transportation, explosives production technicians, disposal technicians, clearance/disposal operators, ammunition technicians, explosives managers etc.

The head of Rheinmetall Denel Munition’s Explosives Training Centre, Willie Verster, said that the different curricula that are followed teach students the characteristics, behaviour and application of explosives at various levels of complexity. This enables them to acquire skills that add value to ordnance and commercial explosives industries.

Annually, thousands of tons of explosives are used in South Africa, of which the mining sector is the largest consumer. RDM said that there is serious concern about the decline in explosives expertise, which is costing the mining industry millions of rands in lost production. Both locally and internationally, explosives skills are becoming scarce as people retire, and, in the case of South Africa, move to work overseas.

RDM began explosives training as a result of selling factories to customers and since 1998 has completed a couple of hundred non-accredited short courses in ordnance training internationally, which has emphasized the need for a formal qualification in Explosives Science and Engineering.

Andre Conradie, general manager of plant engineering at RDM, said that the South African government is going to put strict regulations in place regarding the control of explosives and is pushing training, particularly in the commercial sector. As a result there is a huge gap for RDM and NWU to get into the training market. RDM estimates big demand for explosives engineering courses from South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world – various potential customers have already enquired about the courses.
“The expertise and facilities of both Rheinmetall Denel Munition and the NWU, in cooperation with the rest of the explosives industry, create a unique opportunity for an accredited degree in Explosives Science and Engineering in the near future,” RDM and NWU said, with NWU especially excited over potential research areas such as heat transfer, control optimisation, materials and interaction with one another, etc.

The qualification in explosives science and engineering will be established by NWU with support from RDM and the commercial explosives industry – there are 22 000 regular users of explosives in South Africa. Wichers said there is scope for collaboration with the mining and oil industries and the automotive sector (which uses explosives to activate airbags).

RDM has numerous capabilities available for research and support to NWU, such as a dedicated training facility, practical exposure, testing facilities and laboratories, manufacturing plants, experts etc. and is in close proximity to NWU (20 km away).

After the signing ceremony at RDM’s Boskop facility outside Potchefstroom on Thursday morning, guests were given a demonstration by RDM of some of the civilian uses of explosives. A shaped charge was placed on a solid rock weighing approximately a ton, and detonated. The shaped charge directed a molten stream of copper through the rock and into the ground, completely shattering it. Such charges are used by mines to clear blockages. In the military, they are used to penetrate armour.