#DiscoverNWU– Instrument Making

#DiscoverNWU– Instrument Making

When you hear the words “instrument making”, what is the first image that pops into your mind? Is it an older gentleman quietly making a violin in a dimly lit room? Or maybe a piano being put together piece by intricate piece? If this is what you imagined, great (but incorrect) minds think alike.

That type of instrument making is called luthiery and is quite a bit different from what the NWU’s Instrument Making Department specialises in. Though if you were to ask them, they could probably weld together a metal guitar or glassblow a trumpet for you.

Our beloved mascot, Eagi, was invited to discover what makes the Instrument Making Department so unique to the NWU (and to the North-West Province as well)

If you can conceive it, they can create it

Nestled in the Faculty of Engineering’s Block G on the Potchefstroom Campus, when you walk through the doors of the Instrument Making Department, you are transported to an engineer’s, mechanics, or hardcore crafter’s/hobbyist’s dream workshop. Every tool you can think of lines the walls and there are machines of every shape and size. The machines are oiled and ready to help you create your latest mechanical invention.

The NWU’s Instrument Making Department is an active workshop that specialises in the development, creation, and repair of scientific and mechanical equipment. You have probably walked past something they have worked on or used a test tube or lab beaker that was glassblown in that very workshop!

The country’s coolest mascot, Eagi paid a visit to the Instrument Making Department. Let’s take a look at Eagi’s top 3 highlights of the day…

The modern machine magician.

If there is one machine that Eagi was excited to see in action (and has since made a long list of things for it to make), it was the 5-axis CNC machine.

Used worldwide by the scientific, medical, military and even aerospace industries, the CNC is known for creating the most intricate, smooth, and precise shapes such as compressor blades and turbines, engine parts, as well as medical implants and stents.

How does it work? Well, putting it simply, it works in 4 steps:

Step 1: Design your creation through AutoCAD (a computer program that allows you to design and draw in 2D and 3D).

Step 2: Send the design to the CNC machine.

Step 3: Ensure the material is secured safely in the machine, and the design is uploaded, then press start.

Step 4: Relax (like Eagi) while the machine turns a solid block into the most elaborate and precise object of your dreams.

Now, there are actually a few more steps, which include picking the correct material for the creation, following safety measures, and making sure the machine and all of its parts are working correctly. But with professionals like Trevor van Niekerk, the process seemed quick and easy from start to finish, and we left with an Eagi-sized aluminium die for Eagi to show off at the next #NWUFamily Monopoly game night.

Did you know?
CNC machine: Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine can move and cut pieces/blocks of material into whatever shape you design from either a design developed on a software programme like AutoCAD or by using the controls on the machine itself. There are 3-axis and 5-axis CNCs in the Instrument Making Department: 3-axis: the workpiece is fixed in a single position. Movement is limited to X (left to right), Y (front-to-back) and Z (up-and-down).5-axis: Has the X, Y and Z movements, but also A and B, which the tool rotates around.
Trevor show Eagi how it works.
Before: an aluminium block snuggly secured
During: The block slowly being transformed
Eagi receiving his gift!
A close-up of the Eagi-sized dice
A close-up of the Eagi-sized dice

Exhale with vigour/glass whisperer

With a new dice in hand, Eagi was off to the next part of the visit (and quickly left it outside of the room after taking a peek at all the VERY breakable scientific objects inside).

Now, if you happen to study or work in one of the scientific fields, then you could very well be using a test tube, pipette, beaker or Wurtz flask that was made or repaired by our very own Instrument Making Department. At the NWU, they work specifically with scientific glassblowing, and we are proud to know they are the only ones in the whole North West Province!

Trevor, who has been a glassblower for over 10 years, explained that not only do they repair glass, but if there is something you need and you can’t find anywhere, you can take/draw a picture of it, and he will make it for you. But of course, we know what you really want to see… The glassblower in action!


Heating, melting, cutting, soldering, and so much more…

The Instrument Making Department works hard to make our research and work just a little easier. BUT it’s one thing to discover what they do, and quite another to see an end product!

Tip: If you are on the Mahikeng or Potchefstroom Campus, you can visit one of their cool creations… The creation houses very special equipment that our researchers use to look at the past day and night. Can you guess what? When first looking at it, you may think it is the egg from which Eagi hatched, but it actually houses very sensitive telescopes that are used to research the sun and stars (the sun at the Potchefstroom Campus, and the stars at the Mahikeng Campus).

Trevor explained that the fibreglass sections were manufactured externally, but the Instrument Making Department worked on the design and motorisation while also constructing each dome.

Did you know? The dome and telescope at the Mahikeng Campus can be controlled from anywhere in the world.
If a student or researcher needs access to the telescope (and the lead researcher in charge might be away at a conference), they can open the dome and operate the telescope remotely through a programme or app.

Discover a Department…

We all have such busy schedules, filled with prepping for classes, assignments, exams, and research (both staff and students… see… they all have something in common, hehe), that we rarely “think” we have time to stop and smell the spot-welded roses.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: