Catalysis Test Units
8 August 2012
Catalyst Test Units have been manufactured in the Centre for Catalysis Research in the Department of Chemical Engineering for a number of years. The streamlined, professional-looking units are mobile, skid mounted and modular and are a far cry from the 'rigs' that one would typically find in a research student's laboratory, which are generally a "Heath Robinson" amalgam of piping and wiring!
What started as an internal requirement has spread to the production of test units for industry as well as other universities in South Africa. Their modular construction has allowed a level of standardisation and also the rapid interchange of malfunctioning components, with off-the-shelf spares, minimsing research downtime. Of note are the enquiries that are being received from Europe and the UK.
Routine manufacture is not the mainstay of a university and currently a potential spin-out company is being incubated within the university to test the long-term viability of the operation by ring-fencing costs to ensure that all overheads are considered. The team behind this, Prof Jack Fletcher, Dr Rein Weber and Stephen Roberts are excited by the opportunity and initial assessment of the opportunity is very positive.
There are also challenges relating to the long lead times associated with imported components, management of working capital for these expensive items as well as cost-effective bulk purchasing. The fabrication of many of the components are outsourced locally within the Western Cape, taking pressure off departmental workshops, but also sustaining small businesses in their network. Getting everything together in a co-ordinated fashion to meet the construction targets takes project management skill and orchestration, which is ably managed by Cobus van der Merwe.