Academia and manufacturing can connect

It is quite sad to see how many people you come into contact with that have little or no knowledge of what happens in the manufacturing world and in particular the world of metal working. As chosen career paths there are many that do not want to get ‘their hands dirty’, which is generally the common perception of manufacturing. It is even more prevalent these days with the Internet growing at such a rapid rate. The opinion that all can be white collared workers is not a reality and would soon stop the world from turning.

As one colleague wrote: “There is little, if any, debate that there is a disconnect between the image of manufacturing held by many outside the field and the reality that those of us in the field experience every day.” He added on that: “That disconnect is especially acute in academia.” This is not far from the truth but could be argued that it is a harsh observation on his part. I do not dispute that academics do live in a world of their own and are not open to deviating from their thinking. The same could be said about engineers who think that their theory and ideas can easily be translated into manufacturing their product on a machine without having experienced the practicality of working on the machines.

I might not be trained as an artisan and have not had many opportunities to work a machine myself, but through the numerous hours that I have spent in machine shops, foundries and general engineering companies gathering information to write my stories I have come to appreciate the many different complexities that are associated with manufacturing. For example, the art of pouring hot metal into a mould to make a component that other components and products may rely on is tricky and only the experienced can say they are masters at it. Admittedly there are many tools that can aid the foundrymen these days but the countless variables that are still associated do not make it a perfect science.

I am in an enviable position – that is if you are interested in manufacturing – in that I visit a variable amount of manufacturing companies and I am never disappointed in what I see and learn. It was therefore encouraging to visit two entities recently where manufacturing and academia are connecting.

Who would have thought that the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town, the national centre for optical and infrared astronomy in South Africa, would need to have its own machine shop? And it has 5-axis machining capabilities. Once you visit the facility you realise why and it is a perfect example of where academia, or should I rather say scientists, are connecting with manufacturing. Read the full story in Shopfront Focus, further on in the magazine.

Even more fascinating was our next visit, which was to Atlantis Foundries, a foundry that is using technology that is now available to analyse, and as best possible, eliminate defects in castings before they get to the customer. Atlantis Foundries is striding ahead and making a statement to foundries worldwide and is probably the number one foundry in the world in progressing towards becoming a Smart Foundry. They have partnered with machine learning specialists and data solutions provider DataProphet to use artificial intelligence to their advantage and ultimately add meat to their bottom line as well as keep their clients happy, who are large multinationals.

If you look at the DataProphet website the perception you get from the photographs posted of management and staff is a bunch of computer geeks (sorry guys and girls). I can’t say they are or would like to be known as such because I have only met one of them and he certainly did not come across as a geek. Even one of the Junior Data Scientists has a Masters of Commerce in Economics following his BSc in Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Economics, and his bosses are even more qualified than him, but not much older.

Again, this is an example of ‘academia’ merging with manufacturing. I am sure there are many other examples, but these left a lasting impression on me.