Change the world

2018 - 2019

Postgraduate and degree growth in engineering


Mr Karl du Preez

In 2018, the postgraduate engineering pipeline, the marine and maritime programme and the faculty’s engagement focus took giant steps.

“A major achievement was the introduction of the new three-year Bachelor of Engineering Technology in Marine Engineering, with the first 18 students registering; we aim to grow this to 75 first year students per year,” says Karl du Preez, the Director of the Advanced Mechatronics Technology Centre (AMTC) and the holder of the merSETA Chair in Engineering Development. “We are also developing a Marine Engineering Honours programme, which we aim to offer from 2022 and a master’s programme in the near future.”

Du Preez explains that the merSETA Chair, established in 2010, is making a significant impact in growing human resources in engineering in the Eastern Cape in order to enhance the manufacturing industry, economy, research outputs and the postgraduate engineering pipeline. “In 2018 the AMTC provided considerable support for postgraduate research, including  R1.6-million to fully fund nine master’s students and three doctorates,” says du Preez.

Lungisa Boswell Douse (a former Mechanical Engineering student), registered for his PhD in Naval Architecture at Southampton University in the UK, fully funded by the Chair, which is also funding lecturer John Fernandes’ PhD in Mechatronics at Nelson Mandela University. Once they graduate they will contribute to growing the PhD pipeline.

Dr Sean Poole, a former postdoctoral student of the AMTC, started his own 3D printing company in 2018 after having been part of the faculty team that built one of the largest 3D printers in Africa.

Du Preez says: “We are collaborating with him on new technologies in the field of additive manufacturing (3D Printing). In 2018 Dr Poole was also contracted by the Chair to lead a R10.9-million project to upgrade the Department of Industrial Engineering’s laboratory and training facility, develop Industry 4.0 technologies, upskill university and TVET College staff in these technologies, partner with industry and integrate Industry 4.0 technologies into both undergraduate degrees and postgraduate projects.”

Supporting both undergraduate and postgraduate projects and the operations of the AMTC is the Nelson Mandela University–Siemens Training Centre. Siemens SA donated three new 1500 hardware stations to the University (total value R1.3-million) which has equipped the training centre to offer all accredited courses on the new Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) Portal.

The AMTC is also accredited to provide industry-standard training in factory automation and drives. In June 2018 they hosted six universities from South Africa, West Africa and East Africa for a Siemens Automation Cooperates with Education (SCE) Training programme.



The merSETA Chair’s engagement priorities include:

  • Educational support to high schools
  • TVET College support and development
  • Women in Engineering support
  • Industry and student projects
  • Managing the merSETA bursary programme.

Some of the engagement activities towards achieving these goals were:

  • An engineering open day at Isikhoba Nombewu Technical High School, a rural school in Cofimvaba, Eastern Cape, displaying engineering projects and featuring racing drones;
  • Designing and manufacturing automation hardware for the East Cape Midlands and Southern Cape TVET Colleges and training their staff; and
  • The Renewable Energy Research Group’s design and commissioning of a solar water pumping station on a remote site in Riemvasmaak, Northern Cape.

€1-million partnership in Maritime Education

In 2018, Erasmus Plus, an international European Union-sponsored partnership, awarded a grant of €1-million (±R16-million) to an international consortium of six universities to ensure the highest global standards in their maritime engineering and nautical science degree programmes. Nelson Mandela University is the lead institution in the consortium. Participating with the university are: Satakunnan University of Applied Sciences (Finland), Southampton Solent University (UK), Hochschule Wismar (Germany), Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Durban University of Technology.

Mandela University Autonomous Operations (MAO)

As part of the Chair’s three-year (2018–2020) R15.7-million contract from merSETA, in 2018 the MAO: completed the design of a marine glider; designed, manufactured and tested a quadcopter for the security industry; and initiated the concept design of an unmanned vertical take-off vehicle.

The Chair also contributed to the design and manufacture of the winning Eco Car in the 2018 national Shell Eco Car competition. The vehicle travelled 220km on one litre of fuel, making the university African Champions for the third year in a row.

Mechatronics, or mechatronic engineering, includes electrical, mechanical and industrial engineering systems, robotics, systems, product engineering and all the technologies pertaining to Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), such as automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies, the internet of things, cloud computing and cognitive computing.