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Research Units
Academics' Research
Professor Sarp Adali

During the period under review, research work was undertaken in the fields of composite structures, and nano mechanics. The postgraduate research under supervision involved the investigation of the fracture behaviour of nozzles of pressure vessels as a PhD project, the design of the chassis of the solar car, vibration control using piezoelectric actuators and optimal design under uncertainty as MSc projects. The work in nano mechanics involved further studies on the buckling and vibration multi-walled carbon nanotubes. Several papers on the above topics have been published in international journals. Conference presentations in 2013 included two conferences in Portugal, one in France and one in Durban. The fourth year design project “Antarctic Solar Tent” won the “Best potential for industrial application” award on the open day with the award decided by external judges.

Professor Glen Bright

Mechatronic and Robotic research is at the forefront of Advanced Manufacturing technologies development. This has been the main driver for the success of the research pursued by the Mechatronics and Robotics Research Group in Mechanical Engineering. 

Research in Mechatronics, Robotics and Advanced Manufacturing systems has continued to focus on autonomous mobile robots (navigation and guidance), Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems and quality control methods for Advanced Manufacturing Systems in 2013. Research in autonomous mobile robots was expanded to include an automatic field marking robot for sports fields and downhill kart that took place in the annual Gordon Murray event hosted by Glenwood High school.

Research continued in Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems, (RMS), for Advanced Manufacturing environments where a third generation machine was designed, assembled and tested. Research in control for Advanced Manufacturing Systems produced simulations and models. Results were presented as part of a completed PhD thesis and international publications. Quality control research continued to produce novel concepts for part inspection in custom production manufacturing systems. 

Mr Mike Brooks

During 2013, the Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG) graduated two Masters students, both working in the area of hybrid sounding rocket propulsion and airframe design. At present there are five postgraduate students continuing research in two primary areas: liquid-propulsion rocket turbopumps, and hybrid rocket design. In August of this year UKZN successfully static test-fired one of the largest hybrid motors in the country’s history when the PV-1 unit ran for more than 20 seconds producing peak thrust of 3 kilonewtons. 

Members of the Aerospace Systems Research Group conduct a static hot-fire test of the Phoenix PV-1 hybrid rocket motor, which produces maximum thrust in excess of 3 kN.

During 2013, research funding in the amount of R258 500 was secured through the CSIR/Armscor BALLAST Programme to support ASReG students in the turbopump development stream. In addition to ASReG activities, funding was secured for continuing research in solar energy resource assessment and technology development under the GSET group. The eThekwini Municipality awarded GSET a grant of R366 250 for the establishment of a solar radiometric network and the development of monitoring stations in the greater Durban area. Eskom awarded GSET a grant of R114 000 for continued development of a range of solar energy technologies, including concentrators and thermal management systems. UKZN’s collaboration with other universities remains strong, including solar resource assessment programmes with the United States National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and Stellenbosch University. Two Masters degree students graduated in 2013, both having worked on thermal management projects under GSET.

Dr Freddie Inambao

Research has continued to grow from strength to strength in the areas of energy production, utilization, management and efficiency. Completed research in 2013 are: An investigation of Solar powered Absorption Cooling Systems for Southern Africa and Combined Solar Assisted Space Heating and Air Conditioning System (HVAC). The on-going projects are: Modelling and Simulation of Hybrid Photovoltaic and Thermal Solar Flat Plate Collector; Energy Efficiency in Automobiles Industries; Reducing Noise in a Wind Turbine using Active Noise Control; Production, Evaluation and Testing of Biodiesel fuels: A case study of Moringa oleifera seed oil; Modelling and investigation of combustion of Biodiesel in a Turbocharged Diesel Engine; Design of a new, small and high efficiency Double Shroud Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine; Numerical Wind Resource Assessment of Kwazulu-Natal; Low Temperature Solar Thermal Energy Conversion System; Development of Alternative Energy Sources for Mobile Robot Platforms; Research, Construct and Validate the Performance of Water Cooling Photovoltaic Solar Power Application; Harnessing Energy through Piezoelectric Materials; Design and manufacture a Mini Baja vehicle: Mini Baja vehicle was placed third in the 2013 Sasol Baja Design category; Deep Sea Energy Harvesting. The Green Energy Solutions (GES) Research group which I head have published 14 International conference and 2 Journal papers.

Dr Freddie Inambao receiving the Best Paper Award from Prof. Saffa Riffat (middle) and a bottle of Wine from Prof. Hongxing Yang on the left, at the 12th International Conference on Sustainable Energy Technologies (SET 2013) Conference in Honk Kong.

Dr Riaan Stopforth

Stopforth Mechatronics, Robotics and Research Lab, which houses the Mechatronics and Robotics Research Group (MR2G) Search and Rescue Division, the Mechatronics and Robotics Research Group (MR2G) Bio-Engineering Unit and Touch Prosthetics.

The MR2G Search and Rescue Division perform research, design and development of unmanned vehicles to assist in emergency and disaster situations. Research is being conducted on the design and development of land, water and aerial unmanned vehicles. Research has been focused on the development of a Search & Rescue Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones. Research is being conducted in mapping techniques to determine the location of victims within the disaster sites.

The MR2G Bio-Engineering Unit applies its engineering capabilities for biomedical research and technology development. By integrating expertise in electronics, artificial intelligence, micromachining and material technologies with biological and medical sciences, the MR2G Bio-Engineering Unit is uniquely positioned to conduct multi-disciplinary biomedical research. Research is being done on the design and development of robots and devices that will assist disabled people and surgeons. Research was conducted to design, develop and construct an exoskeleton arms and legs system that allows disabled people to have the motion of their arms and legs. A prosthetic hand was also designed and developed, which has resulted in the spinoff of Touch Prosthetics.

Mr Clinton Bemont

Characterisation of TRIP (Transformation Induced Plasticity) Steels

Multiple properties of TRIP (Transformation Induced Plasticity) steels are characterised and analysed in order to determine whether it is feasible to utilise TRIP steel as the basis for low cost, robust passive structural health monitoring sensors. TRIP steels undergo an irreversible phase transformation from paramagnetic austenite to ferromagnetic martensite when deformed. The phenomenon can thus be exploited to form the basis for cheap, robust peak load monitoring systems that can be applied to monitor structures and components that cannot currently be efficiently monitored. Several TRIP steel alloys have been designed and tested for their transformation performance during deformation. Further characterization of TRIP steels is being undertaken to optimize them for sensor applications.

Direct rolling of titanium powder

South Africa is the world’s second largest producer of titanium ore but exports the vast majority of this in raw form or as titanium dioxide pigment. Manufacture of titanium sheet by conventional methods entails multiple costly rolling and annealing cycles. Direct powder rolling of CP titanium as well as pre-alloyed powders holds promise in significantly reducing titanium processing costs, particularly since titanium powder is produced by the new beneficiation processes that are replacing the expensive Kroll process. However the direct rolling of powdered titanium poses certain challenges because it is difficult to avoid porosity and improve density. The current project investigates methods to form high density titanium sheet from direct powder rolling. Forming and shaping of titanium sheet may also be investigated. 

Dr Jared Padayachee

During 2013 research continued in the area of Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems (RMSs) and Reconfigurable Machine Tools (RMTs). The concept of Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems (RMS) was formulated due to the global necessity for systems that are able to economically vary production quantities and mass produce customised products. A full scale gantry type RMT was researched, designed and constructed. This machine is a 3rd generation RMT constructed at UKZN and showed significant improvement from those constructed in 2010 and 2012. The highly modular machine was able to display a transformable mechanical architecture which enables a manufacturer to cope with high product variety and customization. The platform that was constructed in 2013 is being used for further experimentation into the design of Hybrid Parallel-Serial Machine Tools. A Hexapod Worktable is currently being constructed for the RMT; the CAD Model is shown in Figure 2. This configuration is the first of multiple Hybrid RMT configurations that are being experimented with. 

Research has also continued into the development of a software framework for the design of RMSs. A framework has been developed to design a continuously evolving factory system to enable manufacturers to cope with product and market changes. The framework incorporates the Norton-Bass forecasting model to design an evolving factory that is optimized over 5-10 year horizon. Designs are optimized at the group and line analysis stages and are further optimized for factory evolution by dynamic resource redistribution within the framework; this is done by using a set of Linear, Mixed Integer and Quadratic Programming formulations and their associated solution methodologies.

Mr Jean Pitot

2013 saw the transition of the Sustainable Energy Research Group (SERG) into the Group for Solar Energy Thermodynamics (GSET), which Mr Pitot now leads. The transition was made to take advantage of group members’ existing interest and expertise in the field of concentrating solar power and to focus the group’s efforts on energy research problems that are of national and international importance.

In his personal capacity, Mr Pitot continued work on the performance modelling of the SUNSPOT concentrating solar power cycle, described in detail in the 2011 report. Work in 2013 has focused primarily on the continued development of component models and off-design modelling methodologies, in addition to the implementation of models and methodologies in extended duration simulations. Models developed include a novel generic compressor performance model for use in gas turbine and combined cycle modeling and an open volumetric air receiver model. The latter model relates to a variant of the SUNSPOT cycle that has been conceived to operate as a peaking concentrating solar power plant, which is the current focus of research.

Work on the novel solar furnace concentrator system described in the 2012 report continued in 2013 as part of a 6 month final year project. The project team, comprising two students, was able to demonstrate the operating principle of the concentration system and identified numerous areas of possible improvement. 

2013 also saw the initiation of GSET’s flagship project; the development of what is believed to be South Africa’s first solar furnace research facility. The project aims to develop a 5 kW (thermal) solar furnace that will primarily enable concentrating solar power and advanced materials research. Work on the project will start in early 2014 at both a postgraduate and undergraduate level. 
Dr Richard Loubser

Research has focussed on the wind induced vibration related failures on power transmission lines. The development of tools to analyse the condition of dampers for absorbing these vibrations has been investigated. A method of predicting the remaining life of the dampers is essential for planning of maintenance. Currently, research into the life of insulators is being conducted. This research is aimed at establishing the stresses induced within the composite material structure of the insulator and relating this to predicted life. Work has also been done towards understanding the stresses that are experienced in the conductors in the area of clamps and other fixtures on the line.

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