Cluster MD, Andy Radford, says the need and business case for the growth of the composites industry in SA remains.

Composites cluster winding down

AFTER four years of operation, the Mandela Bay Composites Cluster has had to close due to funding difficulties. The Cluster was initially established by funding from the DTI as part of the national Cluster Development Programme and was co-funded by industry partners .

“As a result of funding shortfalls, that are expected to persist, and which preclude the Cluster from achieving its mandate, the Board at a meeting on 12 August, has decided to wind down the cluster,” said Cluster MD, Andy Radford

However, he was adamant that the need and business case for the development of composites and the growth of the industry, and South Africa’s economy through it, remain.

He maintains that the general acceptance of composites as ‘the material of the future’ is now coming of age in South Africa.

Radford is a passionate champion for the country’s composites sector and has been central in promoting the benefits of composites in manufacturing to South Africa’s economy. He says that he will remain connected to the sector nationally and globally.

Radford is currently working with the Coega Development Corporation to develop a natural fibre hub for the Eastern Cape. Having noted that the Composites Cluster highlighted the gaps in education and skills development, he is currently continuing his work in the composites space but is also working on online skills development. Working with Inkanyezi, Radford will continue to host the African Advanced Manufacturing and Composites Show which will include, as in the past, seminars and the Innovation Awards.

The cluster was started in 2016 from foundational work by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and critical input from Delft University of Technology advanced manufacturing hub head, Dr Kjelt van Rijswijk.   The cluster represented and advanced the interests of and commercial opportunities in the composites sector in South Africa. It proved a very useful resource to industry, new entrants, innovators and researchers as it collectively sought to do business with improved cost, quality and delivery, according to global best practice. Particular benefits, and cluster-oriented learning accrued to members of the cluster.

The cluster coordinated two trips to the JEC World expo in Paris and a fact finding tour to the UK’s Sheffield, Coventry and Bristol composites and technology innovation centres. During its years of operation, the Composites Cluster also hosted two very successful Advanced Manufacturing and Composites Shows in Port Elizabeth, aiming to support the development and use of composites as part of advanced manufacturing in South Africa.

The show proved to be an important trade and networking platform for roleplayers in the 4IR realm, including composites, automation, IOT, VR/AR, AI, Computing, 3D printing, lasers and robotics. The highly prestigious National Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Awards, backed by the DTI, was a key element of the initiative, which also included an exhibition, seminars, factory tours and stadium drone racing.