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South African Bright Minds

November 9, 2009

Filed under: additive manufacturing,education,event — Terry Wohlers @ 17:00

High school students—160 of them—came together last week at Walter Sisulu University in East London, South Africa. The purpose: to introduce them to additive manufacturing (AM) technology and plant a seed in the minds of these young people. The hope is for them to consider formal education or work in engineering, manufacturing, or a related area of rapid product development. All of the kids are currently in grade 10, so most have not yet decided what they will do after high school.

This one-day program was inspired, in part, by the annual Bright Minds Mentoring Program held each year at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ RAPID Conference and Exposition. The sixth one will be held in May 2010. The program brings 40-50 high school students to the event for a day and pairs them with practicing professionals who guide them through the exhibition and answer questions. Logistics and other considerations prevented the mentoring element from being a part of the South African program, but the format has allowed for a much larger number of students. Last week marked the third year for this “awareness creation” program, now being dubbed Bright Minds South Africa. The second annual Bright Minds UK program was held in October, so with it, the Bright Minds program is now on three continents and two hemispheres.

Last week’s event has been held in conjunction with the annual RAPDASA conference. RAPDASA stands for the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa. The 10th annual RAPDASA conference was held last week near East London, South Africa. Professor Deon de Beer of Vaal University of Technology, and formerly of Central University of Technology, has been a strong supporter of both the conference and awareness program from the beginning. He understands clearly the need to interest our young people in product development-related careers, as well as the need to build a pipeline of designers, manufacturing engineers, technicians, and others in this important field. While jobs in banking, law, and even medicine are important, they do not create national wealth like that of product development and manufacturing.

Deon and I were given the privilege to spend a couple hours with the students. Unlike some youth groups that I’ve encountered in the past, these kids were respectful, attentive, asked questions, and truly seemed interested. Most had never heard of additive manufacturing before, by any name, and had little or no exposure to methods of product development or manufacturing. I genuinely hope that they walked away knowing that AM as an option, even an opportunity, for them in the future. We explained that the technology offers many interesting applications and careers in industrial, artistic, biomedical, and entertainment sectors. If even a small handful choose to pursue it, it should make life better for them, South Africa, and the world as a whole.