The power of engineering and technology
The advent of new technologies, coupled with the merger of information and communications technology and engineering, is presenting opportunities to advance new tools that can be used to better our world.
To be a world leader in the advancement of technology and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), South Africa needs to groom the best brains in the field and Doctor of Engineering in Materials Science and Engineering Monnamme Tlotleng (34) is the embodiment of that.
Pushing the envelope
Dr Tlotleng is a senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). His job focuses on laser materials processing with a specific focus on laser metals 3D printing, laser in-situ alloy development and functional graded material structures. As part of his job, Dr Tlotleng works on laser engineered net shaping and other directed energy deposition laser platforms. “The technology we use here pushes the envelope,” he said.
Dr Tlotleng’s job includes using 3D printing technology to create materials that have various real-life applications. These materials could be anything from titanium and aluminium plates to solid steel products.
“A doctor of engineering is someone who validates the science aspects but they must spin the applications of the science and come up with a prototype to show that they have satisfied the science,” said Dr Tlotleng.
Dr Tlotleng, who completed his doctoral studies in 2014 – within a year and nine months of registering, was ranked number one by the Materials Science and Engineering: C journal for work he published in 2014.
His doctoral studies, done through a partnership with the University of Johannesburg and the CSIR, discovered how titanium implants can grow human tissue, thus avoiding corrosion over time. He said the technology and techniques he used in the study are so specialised that they were then only available at the CSIR and the world-renowned Cambridge University.
“In my PhD, I wanted to come up with a process of making sure that titanium implants, in particular a hip implant, could have natural tissues grown on them. My approach was to coat the titanium implant with artificial bone material or ceramics and test to see if it could show bio-activities and integration thereof. I had to use a new technique called laser-assisted cold spraying,” said Dr Tlotleng.
He said the discovery could help prevent the corrosion of implants, which often leads to carcinogenic effects. His article on laser-assisted cold spraying of bio-composite of hydroxyapatite/titanium was chosen in 2015 as one of the best research and development articles by the Journal of Thermal Spray Technology’s Editor-in-Chief Christian Moreau.
Born in Mafikeng, Dr Tlotleng believes if South Africa correctly applies the 4IR advancements, it could help deliver services in a more efficient manner.
He said one of the challenges the public has to deal with is a lack of service delivery. Dr Tlotleng believes this can be remedied through innovative thinking, like having public servants do online submissions, which would be better recorded and monitored. This, he said, would help ensure that people are doing their work efficiently and speedily.
However, he believes that the connectivity brought about by the 4IR can be a game changer, allowing problems to be timeously identified.
“With the 4IR, government should know exactly where I am sitting at this very moment,” he said.
“If proper means are put in place, we could achieve deliverables every second,” said Dr Tlotleng. He explained that the 4IR has the capabilities to identify, in real time, that a clinic in Lotlhakane, for instance, doesn’t have Panado and then also in real time, to track where the Panado order is.
Although we fare well when compared with other countries on the continent with regard to technological advancements, Dr Tlotleng believes South Africa should create more specialised schools to better respond to the needs of a 4IR world.
Having matriculated at Letsatsing Science High School, a maths and science specialisation school, Dr Tlotleng said schools of specialisation have a strong technical and vocational content and help meet the country’s skills shortages.
He said too often, new university students have not been exposed to technology, which puts them at a considerable disadvantage.
After high school, Dr Tlotleng completed a Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Science with Honours in Applied Chemistry and Master of Science in Chemical Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand before going to the CSIR, where he completed his Doctoral Degree through the University of Johannesburg.
“I always knew I wanted to be a doctor in science or engineering but not medicine,” said Tlotleng, who obtained his doctoral qualification at the age of 30, as per his life plan.
Born in a big family, Tlotleng said he is lucky that his family allowed him to study further.
He is now determined to earn the honorific of ‘professor’ by the end of 2020.