Matthew Slabbert, Mechanical Engineer – UJ APK 2019

My first vacation job was for David Brown, an engineering company that specialises in the design and manufacture of industrial gears and gear boxes. This presented an incredible opportunity to gain first-hand experience in the engineering field, as I was able to tour their manufacturing facilities and gain exposure to the manufacturing processes used by this company. The gears they manufacture have a wide range of types and sizes.

During my time there they were in the process of manufacturing a massive 12m diameter gear destined for a mining application. This gear was so large that it needed to be manufactured in three different pieces that were then pinned together. I assisted with assembling this gear and lining up all the components in order to set up the tooth cutting machine. 

I spent three weeks in the workshop and a further three weeks in the engineering office. During my time in the workshop, I was able to assist with the turning, milling, gear teeth cutting and assembly of these gear boxes and gained valuable insights in the day-to-day problem-solving involved in an engineering position. This allowed me to experience the challenges that the workshop dealt with in executing the designs and orders passed down from the engineering office. 

Stretched my capabilities

In the engineering office I was tasked with recreating a 3D model of a gearbox on the company’s software from a set of old drawings. This was far more intricate than the drawings and 3D modelling that I was exposed to during my time as a student at university and stretched my technical abilities. After accomplishing this task, I felt more confident and capable with the modelling and design assignments which were given at university. 

I learned many valuable lessons from this experience. Life in the engineering field is vastly different from what is studied, and a great deal of learning happens on the job. I would encourage every student to take the opportunity when vacation jobs arise to broaden their knowledge and give themselves a realistic expectation for when they enter the work environment. The more exposure you get in the engineering industry, the more likely you are to know what field you would like to explore and work in.

3 Responses

  1. Dear SAIMECHE .
    As a retired miner ( 70 ) ,
    reflection reveals that exposure to hands on practical industrial experience from an early age is an invaluable contributor to a progressive engineering career .
    Thank You .
    Ivan .

  2. In the mid 1960s a tertiary level “technician’s” course was introduced at what were then termed Colleges of Advanced Technical Education. The course consisted of four six-month semesters of academic work and four six-month semesters of approved practical experience in Industry. The idea was that in each year of the four-year period there would be an academic semester and a practical semester.
    Many that successfully completed the course went on to obtain the Government Certificate of Competency, in either Mechanical, or Electrical Engineering, depending on the orientation of the relevant technician’s course.
    Numerous very successful engineering companies were set up and run by graduates of the course(s).
    Very sadly the original system has been abrogated and the excellent six-month semester appraoch discontinued.

  3. I believe that technology has so mesmerized us that the focus in education has become on analysis and modelling. It is a real battle on what to include in a very short 4 years before being sent into the world, and there is indeed an element of “this part they will learn on their own”. Teach the student what they cannot learn independently from experience and exposure. Hardware and its execution is indeed “hard” and it is a tough learning curve. Buildup of tolerances, distortion, strength versus rigidity, mechanical interactions between materials – There are many pitfalls. Time in execution is very necessary.

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