Change the world

2018 - 2019

Practical industry research and development



Professor Igor Gorlach

The Isuzu Chair of Mechatronics is a platform for international engagement, mentorship and practical industry research and development. It has facilitated the completion of numerous projects to date and boasts a strong project pipeline.

As part of undergraduate and postgraduate training, it is important to expose mechatronics students to real-world industrial projects where they develop practical skills that serve them well in the job market,” says Professor Igor Gorlach, who holds the Chair, currently in its tenth year, and renamed the Isuzu Chair of Mechatronics in 2018.

Prof Gorlach meets with engineering managers at Isuzu to identify suitable projects for mechatronics students in their third and final (honours) years as well as master’s students. “Through research and innovation, the Chair encourages and facilitates cooperation between industry and academia with the aim of enhancing human capital development in the automotive sector,” he says.

Student exchange interns visit from partner universities in Germany, such as Reutlingen University and Aachen University to engage on projects. Similarly, the Chair also sends Master’s students to universities in Germany. The students are supervised by Prof Gorlach as well as Isuzu’s engineers to achieve the required project outcome. Ultimately, the successful projects are implemented in the factory, sometimes exactly as the students designed them, and at times with small modifications.

Projects the third year students worked on in 2018 include:

  • Designing a torqueing station for automatic transmissions for Isuzu bakkies;
  • Improving the material supply chain of the Isuzu truck cabins from the storage to assembly    area. The objective was to design a reconfigurable platform to reduce the number of trolleys;
  • Developing a method to handle truck chassis that are shipped in containers from Japan. The students designed a trolley to do this;
  • Designing a trolley to safely transport truck fuel tanks from the storage area to the truck chassis on the assembly line. The aim of this project was to design a universal foldable trolley to support all types of trucks on the new assembly line at the Struandale plant.

Over the years, the industry has contributed funding of more than R4-million, allowing the Chair to financially support students in building prototypes as well as projects that are successful enough to be commercialised. Examples include the development of a low-cost Autonomous Guided Vehicle for production material handling and a CNC controlled VIN number scribing machine for truck chassis.

The Chair also sponsors trophies and prize money for the top achieving mechatronics students, which are presented by Isuzu representatives at the annual Merit Awards Ceremony.

Academic support programme

The Department of Mechatronics, together with the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Media (CTLM), developed a Mechatronics Engineering Mentoring Programme (MMP) for engineering students, an initiative currently in its seventh year.

The aim of the programme is to increase the pass rate of engineering students through mentorship, as well as to provide general support for students in adapting to university life, especially those who come from previously disadvantaged communities. Within the department, senior students are identified to serve as tutors for the first year mechatronics students and to individually assist them with the content of their courses. “It has certainly made a positive impact and improved our first year pass rate,” says Prof Gorlach.