19 February 2013 – Contributions of both funds and equipment by electrical engineering group Actom over the past two years has enabled South Africa’s Wits University’s School of Electrical & Information Engineering to revamp its energy laboratory into a modern facility that is set to meet its teaching requirements over the next 30 years.

The laboratory was opened officially in February 2013 by the head of the School, Professor Fambirai Takawira, who stated that partnerships between the university and industrial companies are essential nowadays for the viability and success of both, as they need to interact with each other to best achieve their respective goals.   

The new lab comprises 20 workbenches for students and a lecturer’s bench. The facility is also equipped with data projectors and a video camera to provide live relays of experiments and presentations given from the lecturer’s bench that students can follow on a large screen. The old equipment in the lab that has been replaced was in use for over 50 years and consisted of ten benches containing equipment dating back to shortly after World War II.

The items of equipment in the new facility’s workbenches include instrumentation kits containing meters, switches, circuit breakers and indicator lights. Each bench is provided with a portable combo unit containing current and voltage transformers, with all signals from them capable of being viewed on an oscilloscope. Hardware installed in the benches includes isolation transformers, variable transformers, rotating machines, drives, inverters and resistive load banks.

The revamp of the facility also included installation of a modern distribution switchboard that can be used to individually enable power to one or all of the 20 workbenches.

Willie Cronje, the school’s professor of energy efficiency, energy processing, machines and drives, who was mainly responsible for planning the new facility, says, “In the old lab we could conduct only a limited range of experiments for 80 students per semester at most. Now we can provide a much more comprehensive range of experiments for double that number.”

Most of the equipment for the new lab was in place at the beginning of 2012, enabling the school to use it throughout 2012 as part of its second, third and fourth year courses. Installation of the resistors, the final items of equipment to be installed in the benches, was completed in January 2013.  “We designed and made the resistor assemblies in-house, assisted by interns who are on a special three-year internship,” Cronje adds.

Professor Rob Moore, Wits University’s deputy vice-chancellor, advancement and partnerships, says corporate partnerships contribute more than 50% of the university’s annual income, with the remainder coming from fees and the government subsidy.