Engineering students geared to participate in global innovation competition

by Mosima Rafapa

17 April 2023

Six students, Antonio Lopes, Bernice Ngwenya, Phuti Ngoepe, Khutso Makgoka, Clement Ramatsetse and Reandi Pieterse from the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environments (FEBE) are gearing up to compete in an international competition, "Invent for the Planet 2023" (IFTP), taking place on 20 April 2023.

IFTP organisers and mentors, Antonie Smith and Duanne Engelbrecht with the Executive Dean, Dr Grace Kanakana-Katumba, FEBE staff members and the winning team, the Greenies, with their protype.

Invent for the Planet (IFTP), is an annual global design competition hosted by Texas A&M University. Five final teams representing multiple countries will come together to present their final prototypes and pitch to industry judges.

From the 24 universities around the globe, TUT was the only South African University participating in the competition. Thirty-one (31) FEBE students from various disciplines participated in an intensive 48-hour design experience.

Competition build-up.
With each participating university being tasked to organise a local event, the event titled The Sun Never Sets on Innovation, kicked off on Friday, 10 February, led by Electrical Engineering lecturers and mentors, Antonie Smith and Duanne Engelbrecht.

Divided into six groups representing the Departments of Electrical, Chemical, Industrial and Mechatronics, the students had to tackle high-impact global problems such as affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitation and food waste by developing innovative, sustainable solutions and by building a prototype to be presented to a panel of judges at their local universities.  

Smith, also the event organiser and facilitator, provided ten design challenges sourced from industry experts and sponsors, to the groups. The design challenges ranged from solving issues pertaining to clean water and sanitation, communication in the event of disasters, affordable and clean energy and smart social housing, to name a few. 

The teams raced against time to research, conceptualise, work on the chosen problem and present the final product to a panel of expert judges. There was added pressure as they could connect online with other teams, see their progress and collaborate with those teams who chose the same problem. On Sunday, 12 February 2023 the six local groups were narrowed down to the top three after a panel of judges deliberated on the team that best solved the problem.

The winning team
Winning team, The Greenies, comprising Antonio Lopes, Bernice Ngwenya, Phuti Ngoepe, Khutso Makgoka, Clement Ramatsetse and Reandi Pieterse, students from the Chemical, Industrial and Electrical departments, tackled the global challenge of providing affordable and clean energy. They devised a “simple, cleaner generator of bio-gas that households would be able to produce on their own.”

Although the saying goes, teamwork makes dream work, there sometimes are challenges with working in teams. Third-year Chemical Engineering student, Antonio Lopes explained: “With sudents from different disciplines, the biggest challenge was putting the team together and agreeing on one idea. To see that vision realised was the biggest challenge for the entire weekend. Our prototype works like Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) but it is cleaner, while you can produce it on your own.

“We had knowledge about bio-gas and how it is made, but to be able to produce it in such a way that you can use it in your house, for me, personally  was new, having to figured it out and having to design it from scratch,” said Bernice Ngwenya, third-year student.

Smith said the event was aimed at teaching the students entrepreneurial skills for them to become industry-ready. He added that it is essential for the faculty to train students to solve high-impact global problems.

“Entrepreneurship and management skills are important. Students have all the technical skills but they are often not only confronted with strictly defined problems in industry, they are faced by real-world problems,” he said.

FEBE Executive Dean, Dr Grace Kanakana-Katumba said, 

“This is aligned with the Faculty’s strategic drive of innovation. We wanted to create an enabling environment for students to become innovative and invent different solutions for different problems. The University’s vision is to make knowledge work, we can do that in a practical manner by instilling principles of innovation in our students.”

Staff and students from the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment (FEBE) who participated in the Invent for the Planet 2023 (IFTP) competition.

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