Sound scientific research to inform asset management decisions

Posted on November 10, 2014

The recently established Chair in Maintenance Engineering in the Centre for Asset Integrity Management (C-AIM) in the Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering at UP, has received strong funding support from Weir Minerals Africa, a company that delivers engineering solutions to customers in the minerals, oil and gas, and power markets. This support will enhance the masters and PhD research programs offered by the Centre, with special emphasis on condition monitoring and mechatronics systems. The support from Weir Minerals is further testimony of the relevance of the Centre to industry, as other prominent companies such as Exxaro, Eskom and Rand Water have also committed funding support for the next five years.

There is a rapidly growing need to optimally manage the integrity of physical assets over their entire life cycle. Engineering assets, a term that usually refers to physical assets such as machinery used in production processes, have acquired strategic and sensitive business and social roles in modern socio-economic, political and technological settings, a fact which has led to these assets increasingly being used past their original design lives in lieu of growing safety and environmental concerns and continuous financial pressure. Trends like these require an in-depth understanding of all aspects of the asset management process and gives rise to a need for a new generation of engineers and scientists to be educated with a proper understanding of the asset life cycle and the interdisciplinary nature of this process.

UP’s Centre for Asset Integrity Management (C-AIM) explores a wide range of aspects pertaining to the structural integrity and performance of physical assets such as power generation equipment, petrochemical plant, water utility and mining equipment. The Centre is considered to be unique in that it integrates its analysis and testing capability in assessing the structural integrity and performance of physical assets, with sound scientific research to inform asset management decisions.

The research done by the Centre spans a broad range of disciplines and cover many aspects of the asset life cycle of complex mechanical systems. The Centre is well-established with an excellent computational and experimental infrastructure and also boasts a strong research program focused on vibration monitoring of rotating machinery under fluctuating load and speed conditions, which has been active since 1999. While the Centre primarily focussed on vibration, structural dynamics, integrity and fatigue assessment and modelling of mechanical systems in the past, and this still remains the core of its technical expertise, very significant and rapidly growing industrial support has allowed the centre to expand its activities. Current research encompasses a broader multidisciplinary focus on the entire life-cycle and now includes aspects such as equipment reliability, optimisation of maintenance decisions, maintenance management, non-destructive testing, condition based maintenance, as well as statistical and financial modelling and analysis for optimisation of returns on assets.  

Commenting on Weir’s funding partnership with the University of Pretoria in an article published on in August, Christian Stehle, engineering and development manager at Weir Minerals Africa, said: “We have intensified our investment into the future of South Africa’s engineering sector by co-funding this academic research position which we believe will greatly benefit local industry. At the same time we’ll be contributing to the imperative training of engineers at Masters and PhD level. Some of these post-graduate students could eventually join Weir Minerals Africa, while others will move into the greater South African engineering sector.”

The Director of the Centre is Professor Stephan Heyns ([email protected]), who is supported by 20 high-calibre academic, research and technical staff members.  

- Author Ansa Heyl

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