Two South African entrepreneurs shortlisted for Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation

Hybrid five-axis machine tool, developed by Dr Lukas du Plessis, one of the nominees.

Now in its fifth year, and run by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation has shortlisted 16 startups from across Africa in a move to recognise their efforts to solve problems across sub-Saharan Africa.

The Africa Prize will give the innovators a chance of winning up to £25 000, a chance to develop skills and network and become part of a growing community of talented African engineers working to accelerate socio-economic development through business. The shortlist comes from six countries, with five female engineers among them.

Two South African innovations that are on the shortlist for the Royal Academy for Engineering’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, accelerated by the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi).

Du Plessis’s hybrid machine tool works on five axes to allow users to shape, cut, grind, shear and otherwise form metals and hard materials with more precision.

While five-axis machine tools do exist, they’re typically incredibly expensive, unaffordable to most African artisans. Du Plessis’ unique system employs simple design innovations – such as using granite as the base on which all work is referenced – to cut down on costs without compromising on agility and precision.

Developed over many years, du Plessis’ work started as part of a post-graduate degree more than a decade ago. After working in various industries the world over, du Plessis returned to South Africa to work as a lecturer, and revived his designs to turn an academic exercise into a physical device that could benefit the manufacturing industry at large in South Africa.