DEST Conference 2019 prepares SANDF engineers, technologists and technicians for the fourth industrial revolution.


The Department of Defence Engineering, Science and Technology Conference (DESTC) this week explored the Department of Defence (DoD) preparing for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and sought to find solutions to problems that engineers, technologists, technicians and artisans are experiencing in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).


The theme of the second annual conference, held at Eco Park in Centurion between 18 and 21 November, was the Department of Defence getting ready for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). The conference was also a catalyst for a council comprising of engineers, technicians, technologists and artisans from the South African Navy, Air Force and Army. The conference included logistic members from all arms of service with the exception of the South African Military Health Service (SAMHS).


The first day commenced with breaking into forums for engineers, technicians and technologists to discuss standardisation, optimal use of resources and ways to reduce outsourcing, amongst others. The engineer’s forum revealed that for standardisation of professional development and utilisation, the DoD should consider a discount for group registration to become a professional engineer and subsequently invite the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) to the next conference. The Technologists forum stated they want better career planning and to be treated and developed in the same manner as technicians and engineers. Amongst all the forums was the suggestion to create a database of in-service suppliers, equipment, resources and personnel across all arms of the SANDF.


Engineers pointed out that in terms of engineering structure and appropriate placement, the Navy has no lieutenant engineering posts and the Army has no engineering posts. Technologists stated that they would like better and more effective career management as well as functional promotion for technologists. Technicians too asked for better career management as well as more availability for posts and an urgent review of policies.


The forums then discussed optimal utilisation of engineering resources (personnel, equipment, facilities) to reduce outsourcing and the engineer’s forum stated that the different arms of service operate in silos and that various qualified members are not being used in their specific fields. Technologists asked for complete life cycle management as well as obsolescence management of equipment and systems. Technicians suggested that a sharing of resources would be useful in optimising utilisation of engineering resources.


When discussing the development of members for future opportunities and usage, engineers revealed that there is currently a poor flow of information in this regard and that it leads to members losing out on development opportunities. Technicians and technologists both made a similar point in wanting more involvement in future innovations for the DoD. Additionally, technicians thought that scarce skills should be developed as well as establish a dedicated engineering research and development capability to lead into manufacturing.


Technologists highlighted that they wanted to be seen as professionals and that the functions between an engineer and technologist need to be determined.


On the second day of the conference, the three forums presented their ideas and suggestions to one another and took a vote to elect a Department of Defence Engineering, Science and Technology Council (DEST Council). The council consists of four members of each arm of service, these being engineers, technologists, technicians and artisans. Lieutenant Colonel Samukelo Vilakazi, the Chairman of the DESTC, stated that, “The Council [DESTC] is driven by the ECSA [Engineering Council of South Africa] code of conduct and focuses on constantly developing ourselves professionally”.


The third day commenced with presentations by the South African Qualification Authority (SAQA), the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), Council for Built Environment (CBE), the Military Academy at Stellenbosch, Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), and town planners in the defence force. The point of these presentations was to assist engineers, technicians, technologists and artisans in understanding how, where and what they can study to achieve their academic goals.


The third day concluded with a cocktail evening where various generals and/or their representatives sat down with the newly appointed DEST Council. The DEST Council presented their findings from the forums on day one and two and implored their ideas to be taken further.


The fourth and final day included presentations from Gibela, Denel Overberg Test Range, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) as well as presentations on the regulations of drones in the DoD, rapid prototyping and a final presentation on the future of work. Gibela along with the presentation on the future of work spoke generally on how the 4IR is revolutionising the work place. The presentation by Denel Overberg Test Range showcased how they are installing cameras into aircraft to capture footage missiles and weapon systems being tested.


The CSIR did a presentation on optronic sensor technology for defence and security and told the conference that they are currently developing a multisector camera designed specifically for crowd policing and this is to be utilised by the South African Police Service. CSIR also have long range cameras capable of seeing up to 10 km, currently one of their cameras with a 5 km range is being used at the Kruger National Park to detect poachers. In addition, the CSIR is developing an autonomous car using various on-board sensors.


The regulations of drones in the DoD presentation revealed that more regulation is needed and is currently being developed by Lieutenant Colonel E Brand. The presentation on rapid prototyping involved 3D printing and its capability in the DoD. This was presented by Captain R Richter who believes that 3D printing can be used to quickly create parts for the South African Air Force.


Vilakazi concluded the conference in saying, “Since we are in the defence force, we need to keep abreast with what is happening within the industry and what is happening within the different technologies. Which is why this conference was very important and the theme, ‘DoD getting ready for the fourth industrial revolution’. That is why we need now, all services, to have a commitment and undertaking with the Engineering Council of South Africa which is going to pave the way of professionally developing all their engineering personnel.”


Vilakazi, along with his committee, plan to make DESTC an annual event where engineers, technologists, technicians and artisans can express and find solutions to the challenges they face, keep up to date with the industry around them and understand how to further themselves in development and education.