UJ pioneering inventor reimagining the future of modern manufacturing processes

Professorial Inaugural address: Prof Esther Akinlabi

Welding is an essential part of the manufacturing process to join metals in similar or dissimilar configuration to build structures for industrial applications. Forge welding and brazing were the initial processes which humankind used extensively across the history until the end of 19th century.

According to Esther Akinlabi, the Vice-Dean of Teaching and Learning within the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), the field of welding was ever growing over the last century and has continued to grow extensively.

Professor Akinlabi pointed out that new welding processes and methods are emerging according to the requirements of modern manufacturing processes when she delivered her inaugural address, ‘Joining: All about Life’ in the Council Chambers, Madibeng Building, Auckland Park Kingsway Campus on Monday, 26 February 2018.

“The invention of friction stir welding two decades back transformed the industry as an advanced technique to overcome the fusion related issues and to reduce the weight of assemblies. Friction stir welding is a promising solid-state welding process to overcome the issues associated with the melting of substrate material during fusion welding. The technology is being absorbed into aeronautical, aerospace, automotive and other industries for several applications to provide lightweight sound joints,” said Prof Akinlabi.

She highlighted the benefits of friction stir welding process as an energy efficient and a green technology process in the field of welding.

“Recently, laser metal deposition (LMD) has gained much attention as a proper method to develop single and multiple layer homogenous or functionally graded coatings on metallic substrates to improve wear and corrosion resistance. Our research findings showed that LMD is useful to improve wear and corrosion resistance of titanium and its alloys and stainless steels. The coatings can be made functionally graded to vary the properties along the thickness direction which is beneficial for biomedical applications such as hip joint replacement,” she said.

Prof Akinlabi concluded her address by observing that the future direction is to design and manufacture cost effective bench size friction stir welding and laser-based additive manufacturing machines for small-medium enterprises to harness the full benefits and potentials of the technologies.

Prof Akinlabi holds a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, now Nelson Mandela University in 2011 and was the 2014 recipient of the UJ Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Award for Innovator of the Year. In the same year she received the Excellence in Engineering and Technology in Academic Research Award at the Women in Engineering and the Built Environment Summit. She is a member of the South African Young Academy of Science and is registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa.

In the past six years, her research has focused on the field of advanced and modern manufacturing processes like laser additive manufacturing, in particular friction stir welding and laser material processing. Her other research work is focused on laser metal deposition and functionally graded materials of titanium-based alloys and other materials. Some of the studies she has been involved in focus on cladding titanium with titanium carbide for enhanced wear properties, the cladding of titanium alloy biological implants with hydroxyapatite for improved osteo-integration, and the cladding of Grade 5 titanium alloy with copper for improved corrosion properties for marine applications.

Prof Akinlabi leads and supervises a research team comprising 31 postgraduate students and seven postdoctoral fellows. She has successfully supervised seven PhDs and 17 master’s students. She has authored/co-authored 2 books, edited one and also over 200 peer-reviewed publications and filed two patents and has served as a reviewer to many international journals and as a guest speaker at many academic forums.

She is a Y2 National Research Foundation-rated researcher and a recipient of several research grants from inter alia the NRF (SA-Zambia Research Grant), the CSIR (various), TIA, TESP-ESKOM, the National Science Foundation (US), the Royal Academy Engineering (UK) and several UJ grants.

Read Esther AkInlabi’s Professorial Inaugural full address entitled Joining: All about Life

Prof Esther Akinlabi
Vice-Dean of Teaching and Learning: Prof Esther Akinlabi
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