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Our last issue had some examples of outstanding South African achievement, and there are many more. I recently came across an entertaining book called Fifty Flippen Brilliant South Africans and one who stood out was Elon Musk. Having made his name with PayPal and space launch vehicles, he hit the news again recently with his proposal for the Hyperloop, a subsonic air travel machine. I also love his exploits with electric cars. When he took over Tesla Motors, his goal was to reinvent the auto industry. This he is doing in a futuristic factory where massive rolls of aluminium are transformed into the most modern car on the road by swarms of specialised robots. It’s worth a visit to to see them in action (or follow the link on the Motion Control website). His next car is a submarine as he just bought the Lotus-Esprit based submarine featured in The Spy Who Loved Me. The car was the highlight of the memorable movie scene where 007 drove it off a pier and then turned it into a submarine. Disappointed to find that it doesn’t actually do that, Musk says he is going to upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real.

Precision engineering

We also have an interview with another amazing South African, master mariner Nick Sloane, who in a daring and unprecedented engineering feat masterminded the righting of the Costa Concordia with less than a degree of torque across a structure three rugby fields long. As Nick said – a pretty impressive achievement.

At Festo’s recent 40th birthday celebrations another example of precision was proudly on display – a mechanical calendar clock with an integrated infinite calendar up to the year 4900 and an astrolabe in the form of an astronomical clock. This elegant piece of engineering was conceived, designed and built in his spare time by a former director of research and development at Festo.

More world firsts

In another world first, we see how Dynamic Fluid Control has proved that its Vent-O-Mat air release valve is the most effective in the world for the protection of pipelines against damage caused by vacuum. Yet another one comes from DCD Rolling Stock with its patented passive hydraulic steering system for locomotives. This has revolutionised international railway logistics by increasing the lifespan of the average locomotive wheel by three times while reducing track wear by 60%.

Our robotics feature covers the world’s smallest flying robot, which mimics a fly, one of the most agile flying creatures – as anyone who has tried to swat one knows. The Economist recently described how animals perceive time using a measure called the critical flicker-fusion frequency, or CFF. This measures how fast an animal’s eyes can refresh an image and thus process information. For people, the average CFF is 60 Hz but flies have a CFF of 250 Hz. A rolled up newspaper that seems to a human to be moving rapidly appears to them to be travelling through treacle. This shows the magnitude of the Harvard research team’s achievement.

Future of hydraulics

A recent presentation by the president of the US motion control company Price Engineering at the 2013 Fluid Power Expo outlined six challenges facing the fluid power industry. These are: increasing energy efficiency, improving reliability, building smart components and systems, reducing size and weight, reducing environmental impact and improving and applying energy storage and redeployment capabilities. All these themes come up in Motion Control on an ongoing basis.

In our cover story we highlight Hydromobile’s patented electro hydraulic actuators which were developed in response to the market’s need for customised hydraulic systems. Hydromobile’s highly qualified technical team can tailor each actuator to the specific needs of a client. PECS has a new range of brakes and clutches from the US company, Gummi. Anyone taking a drive on the N2 south of Port Elizabeth will be aware that wind power is starting to making an impact in this country, and our Hydac story covers brake control units for wind turbines. Axiom Hydraulics has news that supplier Sun Hydraulics made number 42 on the prestigious Fortune magazine list of the 100 fastest growing companies in the world, while Parker has a patented solution for wheel loaders that simplified the connection of extension devices to a hydraulic supply for Volvo. Our last but not least innovation is Hytec’s story about Bosch Rexroth’s hydraulic drive which enabled Redbore to revolutionise the mining and drilling industries with the first direct drive drill that is able to drill overhead, saving on costly tunnel development.

Kim Roberts


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