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Turning academics into a marketplace advantage

Coastal KZN College, Tooling Centre of Excellence

Coastal KZN College students use NX and Solid Edge to gain real-world engineering skills

Engineering South Africa’s future

The largest college in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), with a geographic target ranging from Durban to the south coast, Coastal KZN College is poised to make a real difference in a disadvantaged area of South Africa. Catering to a wide range of adult learners, including those with limited academic qualifications, the college is proactively addressing the socio-economic needs of the surrounding area. A merger of three technical colleges, one college of education and various skills centers, Coastal KZN College now has the equivalent of 10,000 full-time traditional students and 380 staff members.

An important relationship includes Coastal KZN College’s affiliation with the Tooling Association of South Africa, as well as participation in the South Africa’s National Tooling Initiative. Thulani Ndlela, assistant manager of Coastal KZN’s Tooling Centre of Excellence (TCOE) within the Mechanical Engineering Department, notes, “Our mission is to provide quality pioneering education and training to benefit the local community and South African society as a whole. There is a particular shortage of skills in tool and die making and we aim to support manufacturing and growth by equipping students for the real world.”

Ndlela’s responsibilities at the college include forging links with industry. He first experienced NX™ software when he was visiting a company on a relationship-building trip. “We were already teaching CNC (computer numerical control) machining skills manually and together with our existing software. I saw this as an additional pathway for our students, who really need to understand the whole gamut of the development process, from tooling design through to manufacture. Our challenge was that we had a very limited budget.” Ndlela turned to local technology consultant, ESTEQ, a Siemens PLM Software partner. ESTEQ worked with Siemens PLM Software on a strategic partnership for Coastal KZN College. As a result, 50 seats of Solid Edge® software and 50 seats of NX were installed at the college in the spring of 2010.

A fast start for teachers and students

ESTEQ supplied training over a two-week period, first on computer-aided design (CAD) and then on computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). Within days of the installation, both teachers and students were introduced to the new software. Ndlela explains, “It was another exciting step for the college. Phase 1 of the implementation consisted of us all learning together. Both Solid Edge and NX are intuitive to use and we were able to use the training materials that came with the software to learn as a group. ESTEQ has been really supportive. Assistance is available over the phone or online and monthly visits are an option.”

The teachers, who will undergo more advanced training on NX and Solid Edge, are enthusiastic about the new program. According to Ndlela, the technology of Siemens PLM Software will have an exceptionally positive impact in the overall learning experience within the TCOE: “Solid Edge is relatively easy to use and students should, after basic training, have a general understanding of the principles of 2D and 3D CAD. Apart from being well-suited for CAD, it also has the scope for going beyond 2D and 3D toward machining applications. After a period of time, students will begin to explore the CAD/CAM capabilities of NX by completing a simple design and posting it to a CNC machine in the tool shop.”

Ndlela was particularly keen to find out how long it would take a typical student to pick up drafting. “I knew that we had to understand how fast someone can grasp the basics before we could put together a template for learning and design a formal course with the most appropriate objectives and timescales,” he says. He found that, for average students with some experience in technical or engineering drawing using a drawing board and instruments, it takes approximately 60 hours to cover the basics. Further practice is required to reinforce understanding and proficiency.

Raising aspirations and ambitions

The breadth of advanced capabilities that Solid Edge and NX provide has fueled Ndlela’s ambition for both students and lecturers at the college. He explains, “My aim is to generate some internal rivalry and aspiration that extends into external competition. Now that we have more than one international standard software system in place, we need to raise the capacity of lecturers and teachers so that they can assist students to compete in the world out there.”

Ndlela notes, “At the moment, students complete engineering projects within the college and compete with each other internally. I want to drive this further, take on other institutions in South Africa and see who can work to a brief and produce the best results. Ultimately, I’d like to see our students sit side-by-side with students from other countries.” Ndlela is keen to point out that learning is at the heart of these plans: “Competition is not just about winning, but also about engaging with colleagues and peers. It’s about networking and exchanging ideas so that we all benefit.”

Students have used Solid Edge to create components and selections of basic press tools and mold designs within the apprentice training provided by the college. The college has acquired a range of training accreditations and these have created the opportunity to offer higher-level courses for industry trainees already qualified in a trade.

Supporting development within South Africa

The college is pleased that it has more closely aligned academic learning with real-world requirements, thus better preparing students for future employment. “Adding Solid Edge and NX to our existing software has enabled us to introduce our students to a greater variety of tools they will be expected to use in the future,” says Ndlela.

At the same time, the college is fulfilling its wider goal of supporting the development of South Africa. Ndlela notes, “Our students will be filling marketplace gaps in terms of design and engineering skills. We want them to be pioneers and leave here with the confidence to advance industry throughout South Africa.”

A spokesperson for ESTEQ, adds, “The Kwazulu-Natal area is a huge market in itself and the machining sector can benefit tremendously from the college having all the necessary software and equipment for mechanical design. We can now refer people to this college for training.”

Ultimately, while Coastal KZN College’s students are acquiring real-world product development and manufacturing skills, the college benefits in a number of ways as well, especially because its additional hands-on curriculum and facilities make it more attractive to new students and industry. Typically, a strong academic reputation, especially one in which students attain practical job skills and experience, means greater student enrollment, which means more funding. “Everybody wins,” says Ndlela.

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