Innovation could be the gateway towards a better future in South Africa. New and better products, improved services, and ground-breaking new methods could be the driver of wealth if harnessed and developed.  Innovation can also lead to new businesses and improved employment opportunities.

Engineering students and staff at the North-West University are collaborating with companies on a number of high-tech projects, developing new products and solving difficult problems. The aim is to make South African companies more competitive and profitable, by leveraging the expertise available at the university, and unlocking the potential of post-graduate students.

The Innovation Support Office in the faculty of Engineering at the Potchefstroom campus employs a team of dedicated project managers that assists companies in identifying suitable government funding support programmes; assist in writing project proposals and managing projects towards successful completion. The Innovation support office also helps companies in identifying expertise at universities, and can help in building networks of expertise in order to solve multidisciplinary industrial problems.

For example: Students from the North West University, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the University of Pretoria, are now part of a unique research team that is supporting development work  in collaboration with Denel Aviation. In the same way, groups of engineers, researchers and students are collaborating with companies as diverse as Necsa, MTech Industrial, and numerous small businesses.

André Hattingh from the Innovation Support Office at the Faculty of Engineering, NWU, says the Engineering Faculty received around R32 million from the government to support various industry initiated projects. The Technology and Human Resource for Industry Programme (THRIP) was specifically developed by the government to promote cooperation between universities and the industry. The purpose of this funding is to tackle projects of which research inputs can be beneficial to the different industries. Cooperation is therefore mutually beneficial for universities as well as for the company because our postgraduate students get research opportunities, and the company can implement the expertise gained from it.

One of the main benefits for a company to collaborate in state sponsored programmes such as THRIP is that it can develop a long-term strategic relationship with a university research group, leading to a continued output of ideas, educated students, and artefacts. Dedicated laboratories, with expensive test and measurement equipment can also be developed that can support both strategic directed research as well as blue sky research. The research done in a THRIP project usually leads to a prototype which could then be further developed by using one of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) support programmes.

The Innovation support office currently manages more than seventeen projects. More than eighty students from different universities are financially supported and more than twenty companies are involved. Most of these students are post-graduate students, working on industry linked projects. Students working on these projects acquire relevant skills because of the continual technology transfer between university and industry and are more ready for the place of work after graduating.

For more info contact Andre Hattingh at 018 299 4023 | 0833778581 | [email protected]

Article issued by North-West University