NASA expert to feature at Engineering Community Conference 2016

University of Stellenbosch educated Dr. Jakob J. van Zyl, associate director of Project Formulation and Strategy at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to give keynote address on Curiosity Rover’s journey to Mars.


An artist’s impression of Curiosity on the Red Planet (Graphic: NASA)

The second Engineering Community Conference (ECC), hosted by ESTEQ every second year, has announced an exciting lineup of keynote speakers and presenters for this year’s conference that takes place at the CSIR International Convention Centre, Pretoria, Gauteng on Thursday, 17 March 2016.

Heading the list is Dr. Jakob J. van Zyl, an associate director at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, USA and one of the team members behind the Curiosity Rover mission to Mars.


Curiosity labelled

The ECC is focused on providing engineering teams from all industries the opportunity to share their experience and ideas around the use of technology to develop better products and systems.

Additionally the mission of the ECC is to provide delegates with the latest information on the strategies and technologies that can be used to enhance concept development, design, simulation, testing, manufacturing, 3D visualisation, analytics and business performance, say the organisers.

Various community groups will focus on the use of engineering software and hardware in the following areas:

• Product lifecycle management, design and product development
• Simulation and virtual product performance
• Physical testing and data analysis of actual product performance
• Simulation, 3D visualisation and analytics for product and manufacturing process definitions

Denel’s SARA (South African Regional Aircraft)
One of the presentations will be on Denel’s SARA (South African Regional Aircraft) concept unveiled at the Africa Aerospace and Defence show in September 2014, a collaborative project with technical and government institutions, including universities. Aimed primarily at the African market to serve low-density routes, the SARA project will also build on Denel’s skills development initiatives to groom engineers and technicians in the aerospace environment.


SARA has emerged as a twin-turboprop aircraft with a range of approximately 1 500 nautical miles and maximum take-off weight of 8 400kg. A high-wing configuration has been adopted, with the wing mounted above the fuselage so that the cabin remains unobstructed. The fuselage has a ‘wide-body’ look that allows four-abreast seating in a 2+2 layout.

From Matieland to Mars
Dr. Jakob van Zyl, born in Outjo, Namibia, received his first degree in electrical engineering from the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa in 1979. He followed that with a master of science degree in electrical engineering in 1983 and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1986, both from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA. He holds two patents and 17 NASA certificates of recognition. He joined NASA’s JPL in 1986.

Other topics
Other topics and case studies to be presented at the ECC include:

• RBIs approach in performing Life/Fitness for Service (FFS) assessments using nCode Design-Life
• Iron ore stacker remaining structural fatigue life assessment
• Load reconstruction using strain gauge data on an engine cross-member
• Failure analysis of a stone crushing machine using NX Advanced Simulation
• Modelling fracture toughness using inverse finite element analysis and the Small Punch Test
• Experimental and FEA comparison of a bogie for fatigue prediction

For further details on the ECC visit the website: or contact Susan Krüger, Events & Office Manager at ESTEQ on TEL: 012 809 9500, email or visit