The Technology and Innovation Unit, as an element of the Office for Research and Development of CUT, is primarily involved in the following spheres of influence:
The unit is responsible for the facilitation of the transfer of new technology, irrespective of the field of application, to business and industry. A good example of this activity is with respect to additive manufacturing technologies – formerly known as rapid prototyping. The Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM) embarked on a process of developing its infrastructure and skills-base in this area about ten years ago, at a time when this was cutting edge technology with only approximately three such machines in South Africa. During this time CUT’s position in this field of specialization improved to such an extent that it became the leader in terms of such technology in South Africa. This created a position where the rapid prototyping principles introduced by CRPM to South Africa, became accepted by the local industry to such an extent that there are approximately 200 such machines in South Africa at the moment, whilst the utilization of such is starting to have a very important impact on the local prototyping and manufacturing economy. Revolutionary technology was accessed by CUT and subsequently introduced and spun out – hence transferred – by this unit to the South African manufacturing community. The same principle holds true for new product development processes under the auspices of the Product Development Technology Station (PDTS).
The ideal would be for completed research by CUT researchers to be commercialized in the form of new inventions. Hence, the Technology and Innovation unit is supporting staff and students with the protection of intellectual property and by providing incubation facilities and commercialization support. This normally takes place by incubation on campus in the institutional incubation facility, but also off-campus through the formation of a so-called virtual incubator. In many cases entrepreneurs are also technically supported through structures such as the Product Development Technology Station.
There are two primary goals in addition to the commercialization of completed research that CUT is striving for in terms of innovation, namely support with the establishment of new enterprises by Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMME’s) – both on and off campus – and assistance to corporate entities with the development of new products and processes. Lastly the unit is also taking part, on behalf of CUT, in the support of the Free State Provincial Government’s Regional Innovation Centre with the aim of improving the standard of living of the inhabitants of the province.
Support is provided to staff, students and new start-up enterprises or SMME’s – that might, or might not be making use of the services of CRPM or PDTS - with respect to the formal establishment of viable enterprises, development of products for commercialization and assistance with the identification of funding mechanisms to support such endeavours. Available knowledge with respect to the commercialization and funding of innovation is availed in the interest of the CUT and regional economic development in general. These activities include renting of office space in the Science Park Incubator to new start-up enterprises in an attempt to the launch of new enterprises. These entities are accommodated for a maximum period of three years, bearing in mind that the preferred nature of business activities in the incubator is in the field of high-technology and innovation.
The Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM) at Central University of Technology, Free State (CUT) specializes in Additive Manufacturing (AM), better known as 3D printing. The CRPM was established 1997 as a centre for commercial work as well as research using Rapid Prototyping, Rapid Manufacturing, Rapid Tooling and Medical Product Development technologies.
The Product Development Technology Station (PDTS) is involved in product design, prototyping and short run production. We develop new ideas into products, or improve existing products with detailed engineering, in this way we support businesses and individuals through the entire new product development process.
The Bloemfontein FabLab was established in 2006 by the Department of Science & Technology (DST) and implemented by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). It is a concept that originated as the educational outreach component of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) NSF-funded Centre for Bits & Atoms (CBA). A FabLab consists of a suite of off-the-shelf, industrial grade, digital fabrication tools, an electronics workbench, computers, programming tools, and is supported by open source design software.
The Board of the Medical Research Council (MRC) approved the establishment and financing of a Medical Device Innovation Platform – represented by four traditional universities and the CUT. It is recognised that technology, and more specifically medical devices, are playing an increasingly important role in healthcare globally. The healthcare challenges of the African region as a whole, and South Africa in particular, have resulted in a need for increased activity and government support in medical device innovation in South Africa.
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