The RGEMS Research Unit originated from within the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer engineering in 2005. RGEMS is developing high levels of technological expertise with respect to the design and development, commissioning and maintenance of automated production lines and subsystems, Machine Vision Systems and application as well as projects within the Renewable Energy sector in support of the extensive number of renewable projects currently underway in South Africa.

The three main focus areas of the RGEMS’ activities involve the following:

Energy Management (Renewable Energy; and Power Management):

The aim is to promote and undertake fundamental and applied research alongside pre-industrial development in the areas of energy technologies. We are engaged in cutting-edge fundamental and applied research underpinning sustainable energy technologies. Our activities are organised around a wide spectrum of mainstream and renewable energy technologies. Our mission is to address major scientific and technological challenges faced by the world in the 21st century and beyond in energy efficiency, emerging energy technologies and sustainability. We are also concerned with the social, economic and environmental impact of energy technologies.

Vision (Machine Vision; and Quality Systems:

The development of a Vision system involved the selection of various components that will work together in order to solve a vision problem. The vision system can solve various problems that include: Quality Assurance, Reconfiguration Verification, Orientation of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) and Control and Manipulator Vision Systems. Research in the different fields are on-going that also include vision tracking systems that is utilize to control AGV’s and other unmanned transportation platforms.

Automation and Robotics:

The SA manufacturing industry needs to develop similar levels of sophistication and automation as its international competitors. Also, manufacturing plants have to be managed extremely effectively to ensure the quality of manufactured products and availability of the relevant infrastructure. To support this need, the Research Group is developing high levels of technological expertise with respect to the design and development, commissioning and maintenance of automated production lines, assembly systems and subsystems.

What RGEMS can offer:

RGEMS research activities involve the effective integration of:

  • Sensing, recording and control of the operational parameters of manufacturing and material-handling apparatus,
  • Intelligent maintenance, including performance degrading prediction and scheduling.
  • Machine vision-based quality assurance and measuring systems,
  • Radio frequency identification technologies for inventory control,
  • Integration of robot arms with and without optical end-effecter control into a manufacturing line,
  • Optimisation of the functioning of vision-guided automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) in a dynamically changing industrial environment.
  • Automated record-keeping regarding the functioning of reconfigurable manufacturing and material-handling facilities,
  • PV panel parameter recording and analysis
  • Hybrid Renewable Systems

RGEMS can develop and implement systems for effective remote monitoring, control of reconfigurable manufacturing and material-handling facilities that comprises:

  • automated manufacturing apparatus;
  • conveyor systems;
  • linear and Cartesian robots;
  • automatic guided vehicles; and
  • QA apparatus with accompanying sensors and control systems.
  • It also includes supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.

RGEMS have presented/ can present short courses in:

  • Introduction to Programmable Logic Controllers
    • From a 3 to 5 day course depending on knowledge of people attending
  • Solar Energy Awareness Course
    • From 3 to 5 day course depending on outcomes of course
  • Software:
    • LabVIEW
    • HOMER
    • MatLAB
  • Hardware:
    • Arduino
    • PLC (Siemens and Allen-Bradley)
    • Microchip Microcontrollers
  • A team of four students from Central University of Technology, Free State (CUT) won the 2012 Siemens Cyber Junkyard Competition at the Misty Hills Country Hotel in Muldersdrift on 16 October 2012 for developing cutting-edge innovative engineering designs.


    The team is part of the research group from Evolvable Manufacturing Systems (RGEMS) research group in the school of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering that walked away with the winning prizes valued at R 90 000-00 of equipment from Siemens and Lappkabel for the school,  an iPad and exciting training opportunity  at Festo worth R 12 000 for each member.  Festo is the leading world-wide supplier of automation technology and the performance leader in industrial training and education programmes.


    This year’s project, which was in line with the industry trends, provided universities with an opportunity to showcase their capacity and creativity for developing cutting-edge engineering designs- a concept that helped to bring industry and education closer together.  The competition expected that teams to showcase technology at work in the form of a warehouse stacking system.


    CUT team was able to demonstrate how the system could produce orders in sequence from the exit conveyor with particular focus on simplifying the warehouse solution, identifying and stacking blocks from a conveyor. These warehouse solutions have become part of modern business despite being perceived complex and mathematical.


    Among the other universities that participated were: University of Cape Town (UCT), University of Johannesburg (UJ), North-West University (NWU), Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), Durban University of Technology (DUT), Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), as well as the Copper Belt University of Zambia. These teams learnt a number of concepts and applied them to complete their respective projects in an array of fields such as system integration, machine automation, position and motion control, energy efficiency, mechanical and electrical safeguarding, aesthetic design as well as presentation and marketing strategies.

    “Competitions of this nature, provides an exciting way for students to apply their theoretical knowledge, and also goes a long way in helping the country to meet the demand for the technologist, technicians and engineers of the future who have the practical skills and applied knowledge of concepts and equipment that make them unhesitatingly effective, creative, innovative and productive in the modern working environment.” said Prof. Herman Vermaak, team manager and the Director of the School of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering at CUT’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology.


    Some of the criteria elements used to decide the winning team were function, speed, efficiency, safety, innovation and marketing effort.


    Lerato Moroane, one of the team members, conveyed the team’s appreciation for the support they have received from the Centre for Rapid Prototyping Manufacturing (CRPM) at CUT and for providing the gripper fingers used in the project.

    Pictured are CUT’s winning team members, Johan Niemann, MTech in Electrical Engineering; Michael Ngandu, BTech in Electrical Engineering; and two final year students in the National Diploma Computer Systems Engineering programme Japie Janse van Rensburg, and Lerato Moroane. Dr Nicolaas Luwes, Team Supervisor and Lecturer in the School of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering accompanied the team to Milderdruft. Back: Prof. Herman Vermaak.

  • Prof. Herman Vermaak, Head of the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering and his team, Dr Nicolaas Luwes (supervising lecturer) and students Viann Bresler, Charles Hitchcock, Refiloe Malefane, Viwe Mqaqa, and Luke Rogers entered the cyber Junkyard national competition, an annual electrical design competition presented by Siemens.

    This year’s competition took place from 27-28 October 2014 at the Birchwood Hotel & Conference Centre, Johannesburg.  All traditional Universities, Universities of Technology, and FET colleges were invited to participate and showcase their innovation capabilities.

    The focus was the ‘Future of Manufacturing’. Previously, Cyber Junkyard participants had to recreate and improve a prototype innovation supplied, but this time around, students could engineer a solution to any industry problem they chose. Central University of Technology, Free State (CUT) students designed, developed, and constructed a BETTI (Best Educational Training Tool Innovation)

    BETTI is an intelligent maintenance or manufacturing assistant. It is an automated mobile toolbox with various functions, which will help the user in the maintenance or manufacturing systems. The creation consists of a touch screen HD display, with step-by-step instruction (video tutorials).  Companies can upload video tutorials onto BETTI’s system and tutorials can vary from equipment repair to workshops data update.

    BETTI consists of a motorised base that can follow a technician around with image processing tracking. The technician could also be able to drive it with a wireless remote control. The in-person tracking mode, can avoid obstacles. With the camera driven tool identification station on top, the robot can identify tools or parts and articulate what it is and how to use it (in her own soothing voice). This can also be used for quality control. The 220v AC inverter point that was added has a plug with AC power and comes in handy for technicians to plug in their appliances even when there is no wall socket. BETTI also has a solar charging station that can power up factory lights if it is not charging the on board batteries.

    CUT was amongst the top eight selected projects. Other contestants include:

    College of Cape Town  with a coffee bean toaster;
    Durban University of Technology (DUT) with a  automated cocktail machine;
    Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University with precision and intelligent farming technology;
    Nortlink College entered a  biogas micro office heating system;
    North-West University submitted a cup cake decorating machine;
    Tshwane University of Technology with a gravity warehousing system; and
    Wits University with an electrical microgrid.
    Central University of Technology too third place in this national competition and Siemens products worth R25 000, as well as training worth R7 000 and a Polaroid Induction speaker for each participant. The second place went to DUT and College of Cape Town was the overall winner of the day.

    BETTI the intelligent maintenance or manufacturing assistant.

    Team members, Luke Rogers, Charles Hitchcock, Dr. Nicolaas Luwes, Senior Lecturer at CUT (team supervisor), Viwe Mqaqa, Refiloe Malefane, and Viann Bresler entered the Cyber Junkyard national competition and took third position.

  • Passionate craft brewers from the Centre for Applied Food Security and Biotechnology (CAFSaB) in the Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences made their debut at the prestigious SAB Intervarsity-Brewing Challenge and won accolades for CUT.

    The team, which runs a small operation, CUT Phehla Brewery under the leadership of Dr Hanita Swanepoel, won the Best Spirit award for the team with the most energy and innovative ideas, and 3rd place for their Trappist Speciality Monk’s Ale (brewed by Hanita Swanepoel).

    This challenge is the biggest internal event organised by SAB with 15 of the top South African tertiary institutions’ brewing teams set against each other. Brews were evaluated by some of the beer industry’s most prominent independent and accredited South African and international tasters.

    A year ago, something was brewing in the dungeons of the Old Dirk Coetzee Building where Dr Swanepoel, a post-doctoral research fellow at CUT, took up a new hobby of brewing. Her dream came true when she assembled a versatile team of microbiologists, food scientists, engineers, marketers, and graphic designers to open a brewery. This year, the team was on its quest to enter into the national challenge. They wanted their beer to be in the competition because it tasted good enough to share. “Once you’ve tried our craft beer, you will no longer want to drink from any other brewery”, Dr Swanepoel said.

    The brewery derives its name from Phehla which is one of the Mzansi’s urban legend stories. It is known and popularly believed among communities that a Phehla beer is brewed by a woman to ensure that her husband or partner will not have ‘a wandering eye’.

    “Beer is an alcoholic beverage but should be savoured and enjoyed responsibly;  and my vision is to be able to create a responsible and creative beer culture amongst our students,” she concluded.

     “Once you’ve tried our craft beer, you will no longer want to drink from any other brewery.” Proudly CUT ales

    Dr Nicolaas Luwes, Electrical Engineering; Jaco Faber, Electrical Engineering; Teboho Ntsinyi, Electrical Engineering; Dr Olga De Smidt, Yeast Genetics; Dr Hanita Swanepoel Product Developer & Brewer; Edrick van der Merwe, Microbiologist and Brewer; and Jaco Faul, Marketing & Management.

    Updated: 16 September 2016

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