Teams demonstrate their desktop 3D food printer, mobile security robot and electric surfboard at the Mechanical Engineering Open Day.

Security Robot, 3D Food Printer and Electric Surfboard on Show at Mechanical Engineering Open Day

A mobile security robot, an electric surfboard with a water jet attachment and a desktop 3D food printer were standout design projects on display at UKZN’s annual Mechanical Engineering Open Day on the Howard College campus.

Fourth-year Engineering students displayed 20 ingenious design projects which form part of degree requirements in final-year Design and Research Project modules.

Groups of three or four students are allocated projects at the beginning of the year giving them the opportunity to gain experience for the working world and put skills learned throughout their degrees to the test.

Students Mr Kasheel Kasipershad, Mr Darryn Gopaldass and Mr Muziyanda Hlabisa, supervised by Mr James Collins, designed the indoor mobile security robot intended to replace patrol officers as modern security adapts to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Using line tracking and obstacle avoidance, the robot is able to navigate autonomously, and thanks to the installation of a Bluetooth controller, can be controlled remotely by way of a mobile app.

Using a camera and a passive infrared sensor (PIR), the robot is able to detect intruders and alert its central control room via email or SMS.

‘The desktop mobile security robot has the potential to pave the way for a variety of different technologies that could change the security industry,’ said group leader Kasipershad. ‘It provides a 24/7 sophisticated quality dependent security system that will offer a sense of security.’

The aesthetically pleasing robot, with its WALL-E like features, boasts a simple assembly process and was a great triumph for the team, who were pleased with their brightly coloured and appealing design. Group members had to be resourceful in their problem solving, abandoning a four-wheel drive system in favour of a rear-wheel drive one after a motor failure. They also worked on machining a wheel adaptation to be mounted onto the frame.

With this technology becoming increasingly popular, the team looks forward to seeing this design of robot offering more permanent security solutions where needed.

Some Open Day visitors met the friendly-looking Security Robot which was moving through the venue with the purpose of detecting humans and sending a response to the control panel.

Three other UKZN students – Mr Nzuzo Nene, Mr Aravind Arunakirinathar and Ms Divya Naidoo, who were supervised by Mr Avern Athol-Webb – developed the desktop 3D food printer with a gear pump design that eliminates the need to constantly replace syringes.

Naidoo said that 3D printing of food represents a new frontier in the culinary industry, where printers are being used to save time and effort, and to pioneer elaborate and original designs and ingredients. They are used throughout the culinary world in commercial kitchens, bakeries, confectionaries and by hobbyists, while NASA commissioned a 3D food printer design for use by astronauts on deep space missions.

Naidoo highlighted the potential for 3D printers to be used to combat the global challenge of food scarcity by producing healthy, nutritious food on a mass scale.

For their design, the team noted that in order to print foodstuffs, food is required in a liquid or paste form for extrusion, with existing 3D printers using syringes to deposit the food onto the print bed. The group focused on improving this syringe mechanism to eliminate the need to swap out syringes when the food is depleted, and achieved this by developing a unique gear pump extruder inspired by ChocoL3D’s chocolate extruder. To test this design against existing syringe mechanism counterparts, they developed a syringe pump that will print the same foods as the gear pump and compare print resolution, height and accuracy.

The group also focused on the print bed, as regular 3D printers usually make use of a heated print bed for materials going from a solid to liquid state, the reverse of what happens in a 3D food printer, leading the trio to design a cooling bed with thermoelectric coolers.

At the Open Day, the team used chocolate as their printing material, although the printer can accommodate other types of food if small adjustments are made to its settings. They demonstrated their extruder designs and undertook experimental tests on different types of chocolate as well as showing visitors a video or live demonstration of their syringe pump icing a cake.

The electric surfboard with a water jet attachment was created by fourth-year Engineering students Mr Shalyn Rabilall, Mr Thobani Mwandla and Mr Sashin Kuppan, supervised by Professor Glen Bright, and Mr Christian Basson and Mr Erlank Slabbert, who originally set out to design and build an electric-propelled, hydrofoiled surfboard but when it fell outside their budget they decided instead on an electric surfboard with a water-jet attachment.

Inspired by a launch video by Samsung that depicted a family using products similar to jet-skis, the group decided to explore the design of a product that fell between a surfboard and a jet-ski, influenced by the fact that petrol engines are gradually being phased out of vehicles, including those used in water sports.

‘Surfing in South Africa can use technology to advance the sport,’ said team leader Rabilall.

The design exceeded the group’s expectations. ‘We’re most pleased about the fact that we managed to produce an eye-pleasing board, with reinforced awkward areas,’ said Rabilall.

The group had to be creative when it came to fibre-glassing the side of the board with a curvature, and achieved this by cutting thin strips of fibreglass and layering them side-by-side across the circumference of the board. They also used 3D printed components for the water-jet attachment, demonstrating the effect that such printing has had on the design and manufacturing industry.

Words: Christine Cuenod

Photographs: Supplied