The annual Mechanical Engineering Open Day at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, a major highlight in the Engineering calendar, is set to take place on Wednesday 16 October at the Unite School of Engineering building, Howard College Campus. Fourth year engineering students will display months’ worth of hard work on 20 ingenious design projects to evaluators, sponsors, parents and the public.

The projects form part of the degree requirements in final year Design and Research Project modules, and groups of three or four students are allocated projects at the beginning of the year. The projects provide the opportunity to gain experience for the working world and put the skills learned throughout their degrees to the test.

Mr Shalyn Rabilall, Mr Thobani Mwandla and Mr Sashin Kuppan, supervised by Professor Glen Bright, Mr Christian Basson and Mr Erlank Slabbert, set out to design and build an electric-propelled hydrofoiled surfboard, and put their resourcefulness to work when a hydrofoil attachment fell outside of their budget to instead develop 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 in between a surfboard and jet-ski, particularly given that petrol engines are gradually being phased out of vehicles including those used for water sports.

‘Surfing in South Africa can really use technology in order to expand and introduce this much loved culture to new people and provide them with new technological opportunities to advance the sport,’ said team leader Rabilall.

The design exceeded the group’s expectations, particularly given that they began the process knowing little about the manufacture of this kind of technology.

‘We’re most pleased about the fact that we managed to produce an eye-pleasing board, and reinforced awkward areas, which developed when cutting sections of the foam out, with fiberglass,’ said Rabilall.

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

When viewing the project at Open Day, the group said they hope guests will unleash their inner daredevil to consider operating the board that they will be demonstrating, and they hope its design will reassure those who are concerned about safety while around open water.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied