Project plan for the accreditation of SANRAL’s facilities in Engineering 4.0 takes off

Posted on June 02, 2021

The University of Pretoria’s state-of-the-art Engineering 4.0 Complex on its Innovation Africa @ UP Campus in Hillcrest was developed through a collaborative partnership between the University of Pretoria (UP) and the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL).

The facilities that form part of this complex were initially established to address the challenge posed by a shortage of training facilities and independent testing laboratories in South Africa. This led to the development of the Integrated Laboratory Facility (ILF), an integrated education, certification, reference and research facility that is operated in a collaborative arrangement between UP, SANRAL and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The SANRAL National Roads Reference Laboratory is one of several laboratories and training facilities housed in the ILF. Once accredited, it will be the first independent road materials reference testing facility for the road construction industry in Africa. While standard testing will mostly be conducted on road materials originating from SANRAL (for national roads projects), but also from the provinces and even neighbouring countries, the laboratory can also conduct reference testing for private customers.

Since the official launch of the complex on 30 November 2020, progress has been made in preparing the laboratory for accreditation. This has included the appointment of a Facility Manager, Abdul Esakjee, in March 2021, who has been overseeing the commissioning, installation and testing of the laboratory equipment. Accreditation of the laboratory by the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS) is necessary for it to be recognised as an independent reference testing facility. This will ensure that its calibrated results become the standard for the properties of road materials to which field data can be compared, and for it to be able to characterise materials for appropriate construction.

A prerequisite for accreditation is adherence to ISO 17025. This is the standard of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) for testing and calibration laboratories, and covers all the requirements a reference laboratory would need to comply with to be considered an independent laboratory, able to perform competent calibration and testing that will deliver trusted results.

An accreditation project plan has been developed, which includes operational plans for the laboratory’s quality management systems, environmental management systems and occupational health and safety systems. The project plan was launched at the beginning of May 2021, with various milestones for individual tasks in order to adhere to the requirements for accreditation. The project plan covers a period of 12 months, after which it is anticipated that the laboratory will comply with the criteria for accreditation by an independent auditor.

Human capacity development

In addition to reference testing, the ILF will also focus on the training of material testers. This is in alignment with the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (PC4IR), on which Esakjee served as a Commissioner.

The particular recommendation that it hopes to address is investment in people (human capital) to help them acquire the skills to navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which will “leapfrog our youth into productive work and reskill current workers for job retention and ongoing productive work in the economy”. This recommendation requires learners to obtain stackable competencies, which are micro-credentialed, industry-aligned and allow people to enter and exit the system at multiple points as part of a lifelong learning process. 

In response to this call of the President to develop human capacity in 4IR, SANRAL is collaborating with UP, the Southern African Bitumen Association (SABITA) and related partners to develop short courses for the training of material testers. The initial certificate course will be offered through Enterprises UP, making use of the facilities at Engineering 4.0, and presented by specialists from industry, in collaboration with academics from UP’s Department of Civil Engineering.

In accordance with the recommendations of the PC4IR, once they have completed the course and qualified as material testers, candidates can be integrated into meaningful, productive work that will benefit the economy. This certificate course can then be followed up by subsequent industry-related courses to eventually build up to a diploma to increase their employment prospects.

It is envisaged that this course will be launched in the latter part of 2021.

The University of Pretoria appreciates the support of SANRAL in this endeavour.

- Author Department of Institutional Advancement

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