The current constraints faced in transportation engineering include a dire lack of civil engineers compared with other countries. In their Infrastructure Report Card, SAICE indicates that in Europe, North America, India and China there are 130 to 450 people per engineer. In South Africa this ratio is 3 200 to one – a tenfold disadvantage. This equally applies to technologists, technicians and artisans with the result that there is a lack of quality personnel throughout the transportation sector resulting in technical skills gap with regard to project quality control and quality assurance. The current challenges in the transportation engineering sector in South Africa include:
The need to train the required number of engineers, technologists, technicians, artisans etc. in order to address the current skills gap;
Limited training facilities for the training of material testers and no national facility for accreditation of material testers;
No national reference materials testing laboratory for road materials in South Africa that participate in international proficiency schemes ran by relevant authorities in the US and Europe to ensure international accreditation of material testing performed in the roads industry in South Africa;
No national reference materials testing laboratory that assists with providing objective evidence that the commercial laboratories utilised by road authorities are proficient or competent to perform quality control and quality assurance in transportation infrastructure construction;
No reference material testing laboratory for independent verification of test results on road projects; currently one commercial laboratory has to be used to verify another;
The need to re-establish an R&D competence (people and facilities) that is world-renowned and ensures a pipeline of new Master and PhD Degrees, innovative solutions and advice to the transport sector, and
The need to strengthen the relationships between the CSIR and universities that conduct training and R&D in transportation engineering.
Against the above backdrop a collaborative effort between SANRAL, the University of Pretoria (UP) and CSIR was initiated to establish an Integrated Education, National Certification, National Reference and Research Laboratories Facility. The objective is to ensure maximum co-operation between the parties in order to create the critical mass in laboratory facilities and human resources to address the above challenges efficiently and avoid further erosion of current remaining skills. This will enhance the quality and quantity of the outputs as well as avoid costly duplication of laboratory facilities.
The facility will be housed in the newly developed Engineering 4.0 facility, and will consist of the SANRAL National Road Materials Reference Laboratory, SANRAL Training laboratory, an Accelerated Pavement Testing facility, an Active traffic track and an upgraded Concrete research laboratory. The facility also provides for a small reception and auditorium area, with following phases focusing on expansion of the laboratory to other Civil Engineering disciplines, as well as related disciplines.
The vision with the facility is to provide an internationally renowned platform for academic and vocational training support in transportation infrastructure materials testing, a national transportation materials reference testing platform and high quality research facilities and skilled staff.
In the current scenario in South Africa where there is a dearth of civil engineering and other transportation engineering related skills, it is vital to ensure that critical mass in these areas are developed and maintained. This can be achieved by optimising the utilisation of current facilities and staff available at the UP, SANRAL and CSIR through a managed partnership.
The partnership will provide the following:
High quality facilities to provide a platform for quality training, reference testing and research in transportation engineering;
Unified effort to train engineers, technologists, technicians, and materials testers for the transport engineering sector resulting in increased number of civil engineers, technologists, technicians and material testers skilled in transportation engineering as well as post graduate output, and
A pipeline of transportation engineers that have been exposed to the latest technologies and methods that will be taken up in government, SANRAL and industry.
The main benefits to South Africa will include:
Increased availability of technical skills in transportation engineering (numbers);
Improved skills of transportation engineers, technologists and technicians (quality);
Cost savings due to improvements in design, construction, maintenance and management of transportation infrastructure;
Better performing transportation infrastructure due to improve quality control and the associated reduction in user operating costs, and
Less impact on the environment from transport infrastructure construction and maintenance.
Construction of Engineering 4.0 started on 1 August 2018 and it is expected that completion of Phase 1 will be reached by February 2020. This site provides visual progress of the construction.
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