You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2013.

The frailty of the global economy in the wake of the recession has made innovation an imperative for companies looking to withstand 21st century business challenges. There is no doubt that the ability to innovate in general plays an important role in a country’s ability to sustain its global competitiveness. A major lesson from the 2008/9 recession, as exemplified by some countries –notably those based in Asia –is that innovative countries that strategically prepare for the worst barely flinch in the face of adversity… (more)


I recently attended NI Week –held annually during the first week in August in Austin, Texas, the USA headquarters of National Instruments. Attended by some 4000 engineers and scientists, the buzz is about engineering and technology. He says we need to make engineering cool! Besides all the great developments and innovation that engineers are delivering today, there is a fundamental disconnect: “where will the engineers of the future come from?.” Students don’t think that engineering is cool, to use one of their expressions!… (more)


Before answering the question on automation’s role in reducing business risks in mining, one would need to consider what the business risks are and how automation can assist in risk reduction. At the recent Automation University Classic 2013, x’s Global Solutions division South Africa listed ten top business risks according to Ernst & Young’s Business risks facing mining and metals 2012-2013: resource nationalism, skills shortage, infrastructure access, cost inflation, capital project execution, maintaining a social licence to operate, price and currency volatility, capital management and access, sharing the benefits and fraud and corruption… (more)

Dr. Johannes Auret is a director and explosion prevention specialist at Explolabs and Certex. He has a PhD in engineering, and worked for the CSIR and SABS before joining Explolabs in 2001. He is active in industry standards development and has convened various working groups. Dr. Auret has published numerous technical articles and is a regular speaker and author. Tel: 011 316-4601, He answers questions on explosion protection… (more)

Over the past few years a number of independent companies have been launched with the objective to build both long distance and metropolitan based optical fibre transmission networks, in order to meet the demand for domestic connectivity that has been created in South Africa. Should we not be sharing infrastructure when building optical transmission links –both nationally and within metropolitan areas?… (more)

This month’s winning letter from Michele Rivarola focuses on the issue of how long it takes to complete the process of professional registration… (more)

The 2013 Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference (SATNAC) was held at Spier Wine Estate, Stellenbosch, Western Cape from 1 – 4 September. A high note was struck at the start of SATNAC 2013 on 1 September with the welcoming address by Prof. Brian O’Connnell, vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Western Cape. He told delegates that our future lies in connecting and understanding. “South Africa has a triple challenge, to build a democratic state, integrate itself into the competitive arena of international production and finance and reconstruct domestic social and economic relations to eradicate and redress the inequitable patterns of ownership, wealth and social and economic practices that were shaped by segregation and apartheid. A school is not just a tool for youth, but is a resource for the entire community it serves. A new breed of teacher/facilitator must be trained and recruited to do away with download-style pedagogy, and rather serve as curators of ideas and enablers of creativity and innovation.”… (more)

802.11ac is the latest IEEE standard for wireless LAN (WLAN) network technology, and is expected to be ratified by end of 2013 or early in 2014. The Wi-Fi Alliance has already begun certification programs. It is expected that certifications and equipment will be rolled out in at least two phases, with the first phase happening now, and another phase to realise all of the IEEE specification’s enhancements coming at least a year from now. Several access points (APs) and client radios supporting the 802.11ac draft specification have been released in 2013 and are shipping with this first phase of enhancements… (more)

The use of solar powered cellular communications systems is well established. Therefore the protection of the interconnecting cables, operating in harsh environment, is an imperative. The harsh environment conditions which are prevalent along the rail line from Sishen in the Northern Cape to Saldanha Bay, some 1000 km to the south, requires a tailored, to specification, reliable cable protection system to meet these demands. The whole system needs to comply with the concept of an “intrinsic safety” for the whole installation… (more)

In today’s ever-developing technology environment –characterised by the daily introduction of new technologies and services –users have become accustomed to continued upgrade and replacement programs. The iPhone5 replaced the iPhone4 and Windows 8 replaced Windows 7 (or maybe not quite!). The general expectation is that anything new today is an improvement on what was there before… (more)

The embedded internet: it is estimated that there will be 15-billion connected devices by 2015. Various forces, including political, economic and social, are driving the need to tightly couple embedded devices and sensors with established applications… (more)

South African production companies can be more competitive in the global market by utilising the latest digital manufacturing software technologies. Within the digital manufacturing landscape, the following areas are discussed in this article: assembly planning and validation, robotics and automation planning, and plant design and optimisation… (more)

Operator alarms should be the first line of defence in every plant but all too often are more of a nuisance than an aid to the operator, exposing them to more process excursions and an increase in opportunities for failure, thereby detracting from the plant’s overall safety capability… (more)

It has been seen that the total level accuracy of a spectrum analyser is a key parameter to understand the ability of the instrument to measure the power level of signals being captured and analysed. EngineerIT provides an overview of the White Paper: “Understanding amplitude level accuracy in new generation spectrum analysers.”… (more)

Getting a product to market on time and within budget can be bottlenecked by electromagnetic interference compliance testing during the product development proceess. To ensure successful electromagnetic interference (EMI) compliance testing, pre-compliance testing has been added to the development cycle (Fig.1). In pre-compliance testing, the electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) performance is evaluated from design through to production units… (more)

One of the crucial points in production of malt whisky is ensuring the spirit cuts are done at the correct strength. Since controls were introduced to discourage the production of illicit spirit in 1823, this has been done using a combination of hydrometers and thermometers in a spirit safe… (more)

Managing the fly ash inside electrostatic precipitator (ESP) hoppers presents significant challenges. While avoiding the risk of pollution is extremely important, operation and maintenance costs must also be managed. The lack of decision support information due to zero visibility is one of the factors making this application so hard to monitor… (more)

Lightning strikes of a km or more away can cause damage to sensitive equipment as a result of induced voltages. When lightning strikes a nearby tree, building or pole, the fast-moving high current generates large electromagnetic fields. These electromagnetic fields induce highspeed surge currents into electrical, data and communication lines with resultant high voltage spikes… (more)

Low power is often considered a central tenet of green product, but the nature of the low power is rarely clarified or quantified. The requirements for a low-power microcontroller (MCU) will be dependent upon the application. Minimum power mode: This will be used in an application such as a battery-operated thermostat… (more)

Since the Independent Communications Authority of South Afrcia awarded two 5 MHz frequencies to the South African Radio League (SARL), there has been a lot of activity on 5260 kHz showing some interesting propagation patterns around South Africa and with amateur stations in Israel and the UK and USA. The SARL is now taking the studies to the next level with the introduction of an automated beacon system… (more)

  • African mobile telecom market growing at over 21% pa
  • Asian firms develop satellite technology
  • Seacom, France-IX partner to interconnect African internet firms
  • Ethiopia signs US $1,6-billon deal with Chinese “spy” firms
  • Second phase of Kenyan digital project to start soon
  • Simbanet deploys GPON fibre technology in Dar es Salaam
  • Zimbabwe regulator slammed for ordering Econet tariff increase
  • Satellite link takes connectivity to remote parts of South Sudan
  • Uganda sets up high-tech unit to fight cyber crime
  • Satellite and digital broadcasting a boost for Nigeria’s economy… (more)
  • Not just another gaming mouse
  • Have it all in one place, on the go
  • Sonic ear for improved iPad sound
  • Get the picture with multiple camera modes… (more)

The solar PV industry reports that panel and equipment prices keep falling as volumes increase and economies of scale become more significant. One wonders what the implications would be if a million homes in South Africa were to be fitted with self-generation equipment.Roof-top solar water-heaters have been installed on many houses which give some relief to Eskom’s over-strained grid. Admittedly, those are not generating electricity, but they certainly aid in reducing electrical demand by pre-heating the water before it goes into the geyser. Pursuing that idea further, I wonder what the implications would be if 5% of the 18-million homes in South Africa were to have PV panels and equipment installed to generate the power they need for their low energy requirements such as cellphone chargers, entertainment equipment, security equipment, WiFi routers, and the like… (more)

Some years ago, a senior Eskom Executive told me that at the heart of Eskom’s business model was “big coal, big nuclear and big networks”. I can’t think of a more Neanderthal business model… (more)

The debate surrounding hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of the Karoo’s potentially massive shale gas reserves continues to rage. There are strong arguments both for and against harvesting the gas which could potentially alter South Africa’s energy and development outlook for many years to come. The issue has also triggered major legislative changes… (more)

Voltage dips or sags often causes equipment to trip which in turn results in lengthy delays with resultant production and revenue losses. Good power quality is essential to overcome voltage fluctuations, but all too often this is not available at mines in remote areas which may be connected to inadequate power supplies or powered by generators… (more)


Isaac Kruger, MV standardisation manager at Schneider Electric South Africa is concerned that because South Africa has not participated in the work of sub-committees or working groups in many of the MV standards developed by SC 17A and SC 17C, which are now used extensively in the electricity supply industry, it will have to accept what the international community has decided, or design its own with accompanying costs… (more)

Sir, I must caution at the outset that I am not intending to announce a competition related to distribution, and I indeed apologise if the heading created the wrong impression. I mean, however, to draw your erudite reader’s attention to the necessity of creating competition in the distribution industry. These thoughts were prompted by an interesting case serving before the Competition Commission. A large, virtual monopoly that dominates the market for its product in South Africa stands accused of undermining competition at distribution level because of exclusive arrangements with its own appointed distributors to the detriment of independent ones – at least, that is what is claimed… (more)

Large scale storage of electricity is becoming an increasingly important sector of the industry, with applications in generation, electric vehicles, load balancing and many other areas. Research is focused on developing new technologies as well as improving and advancing older systems. The cost of storage, which has been regarded as prohibitive in the past, is deceasing as a result, and the capacity of storage devices is increasing, making storage a valuable component of generation and distribution systems… (more)

The virtual power station (VPS) concept combines a number of separate distributed resources to behave as a single larger resource, to make additional generation capacity available on the grid. The resources may be generation plant or curtailable loads. Eskom has recently added its own generation to the portfolio of its demand management program… (more)

Letters to the editor this month focus on Eskom and the cost of coal price controls, a response to an article by Chris Yelland, and on the allure of old radio receivers… (more)


The Cigré B5.31 brochure describes a generic setting management process, based on the “best practises” of utilities based around the world. The process requires that all the changes that could affect the settings of a protection relay during its life time are identified, controlled and validated. This is necessary to ensure power system security is maintained, even during constrained operating scenarios… (more)

Energy efficiency has a significant impact on energy savings and, according to Schneider Electric, technologies designed to lower energy costs could cause unexpected power quality issues… (more)

With a number of tower blocks in downtown Johannesburg, ABSA has made use of rooftop space to construct the largest groundmount style rooftop based PV system at a height above street level in South Africa… (more)

Telecommunications networks using radio or optic fibre based systems require power at all points in the network. In rural areas grid power is often not available in the area, or close to the site of the installation. Equipment consumption is usually less than 1 kW, and the cost of providing a grid connection for low consumption is prohibitive. In these cases solar PV systems provide an ideal alternative solution… (more)


An analysis of the economics, thermal characteristics and development of heat pump water heaters in South Africa… (more)

Motors, lighting, facility wiring, distribution panels, protective devices, transformers and switch gear all experience a wide range of phenomena that combine to create energy losses. Identifying and calculating the sum of all losses is an extremely challenging engineering proposition that requires knowledge of all factors that impact operating efficiencies… (more)

Scientists involved in oil analysis have long debated the issue around diagnosing oil sample results according to trends versus “limits”. Limits are not used at WearCheck and never have been, says John Evans, the company’s diagnostic manager. Most limit tables produced by OEMs contain a rider that says it is also important to consider trends as well as the published limits… (more)

The workshop on developing standards for LEDs held during last year’s Industrial and Commercial Use of Energy (ICUE) Conference was found not to have had the desired effect on the lighting industry yet; transformation in the industry, including the drafting of standards, is taking longer than anticipated. We used a return visit by Lighting Science technical executive Fred Maxik to stimulate once again the drafting of standards regulating LED products entering the country… (more)

Speaking at an ECA(SA) Presidential Awards function in Johannesburg, ECA(SA) national director Jill Godden said the electrotechnical market has “tremendous potential”, yet is subject to great change… (more)

Advice on, among others, load calculations for chillers; extractor fans in toilets; double-pole switching for equipment; back-up for theatre curtains and calculating total load on lighting circuits… (more)

A reader disagrees with advice given in our “Experts Q&A” column: should capacitor banks on LV open panels be switched off when the site’s generator is in use?… (more)

A German luxury vehicle manufacturer attracted a lot of attention in 2006 when it advertised that it had “filed 9621 patents” during the development of its new model sedan, compared with NASA’s 6509 for the space shuttle… (more)

South African middle and high income homes use 50 mm diameter reflector lamps for general lighting, but these weren’t designed for this purpose… (more)

The adoption of LEDs in the entertainment lighting market has been driven by a number of factors but one aspect which has had a particularly positive impact is the evolution and diversity of LED packages… (more)

It may well be possible to unlock substantial energy savings in production plants’ energy bills by replacing conventional AC motor starter equipment with variable speed drives (VSDs) and a simple control system… (more)

New torque measuring systems which are fast, accurate, flexible, inexpensive, require less maintenance and are simpler to install… (more)

Digitally compensated pressure transmitters show the limits of what is possible. The more important it becomes to have measuring accuracy, the more focused the pressure transmitters available on the market are on certain applications… (more)

The manufacturing industry relies increasingly on unified data communication and automation systems. High-performance cabling solutions help enhance productivity and streamline operation… (more)

A recent study by IBM shows that power quality problems cost businesses in the USA over $15-billion per year. These problems are caused mostly by increasing density of equipment on fabrication floors and data centers… (more)

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