The development and application of composites in manufacturing in South Africa is accelerating up a steep growth curve, according to the country's national composites collective, The Mandela Bay Composites Cluster.
Created with support from South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry, the Cluster has implemented projects to boost the productivity of local manufacturers and establish value chains to commercialise South Africa's emerging composites resources.
Managing Director Andy Radford said the Cluster had mapped the value chain for the production and application of Basalt in composites and was at an advanced stage of securing local and global beneficiators and buyers for the mineral for use in composite materials.
"The country, and particularly the rural areas of the Eastern Cape have vast dolorite reserves, from which global-standard Basalt can be viably extracted'', Radford said.
"Basalt fibre mined from dolerite in the poorest regions of the Eastern Cape could be an economic game changer for the region. Processed at Mthatha, Butterworth, East London or Coega, basalt product such as re-inforced bar can be shipped to Europe through France, Radford said.
The Cluster is doing the same with a crop grown largely in Kwazulu-Natal called Kenaf, the fibre of which is used in the production of composite components, including at the Mercedes Benz automotive plant in East London.
Closer to home Radford believes that composites provide South Africans with solutions to unique challenges and that could transform communities.
"South Africa has a legacy based on iron, steel and other metals, yet our global competitiveness in steel is marginal. Metals are heavy, they rust and have driven industrial and engineering thinking in South Africa up until now.
"Composites can provide new avenues for industrial and economic competitive advantage and we are showcasing this by creating a composites corridor in Port Elizabeth, where composite applications will replace metal and cement where appropriate.''
"From man-hole covers, streetpoles and railings to motorised drones, composites are the answer to several age-old problems and new opportunities.
"In Africa composites can be manufactured anywhere. You don't even need electricity. In fact rather than using energy, resin-based thermoset manufacturing is exothermic - it gives off heat.''
The Cluster is driving collaboration with French companies, as part of a DTI-driven France-South Africa business forum. France is acknowledged as a global leader in composites within aviation and boat-building.
A delegation of 10 French companies will visit South Africa on an incoming trade mission from June 27-30 with a focus on boat building and composites, which is why the MBCC will work together with SABBEX (South African Boatbuilders Export Council, www.sabbex.co.za) to maximise the opportunity.
Any organisation interested in taking part in this incoming trade mission is welcome to share with the cluster in advance what products or partnerships would be of optimal benefit, who can then ensure that business meetings match.
Cluster Technical Director Dr Kjelt van Rijswijk has developed a one-day introductory course on composites, titled Think Composites! at which practical samples of various materials and technologies and a course book with CD are included.
van Rijswijk says the course is aimed at giving engineers and manufacturing or supervisory personnel a "concise view of the opportunity, process, materials and thinking applicable with advanced manufacturing. ''
The Cluster can be reached through the website www.mandelabaycompositescluster.co.za or by email to Kjelt van Rijswijk: firstname.lastname@example.org or Andy Radford: email@example.com