The engineering team plays a vital and creative role in providing society with the services and products that they need, such as water, housing, transport, electricity, communication, manufacturing, entertainment, medical equipment etc. There are many different branches of engineering, with sub-branches under each.
At as professional level, there are three different categories of engineers: professional engineers, professional engineering technologists and engineering technicians and artisans. Graduate engineers are educated at universities while technicians and technologists study at universities of technology and FET colleges. For further information on professional engineer careers, refer to the detailed sections for each specific field of engineering given elsewhere.
Engineering technologists are educated and trained to solve complex engineering problems. They are required to investigate and analyse these problems carefully, and, if they have the necessary experience, plan their solutions accordingly.
The work may be of such a nature that standard engineering methods may easily be applied to solve them. On the other hand, new approaches may be necessary if specific problems are encountered. This may involve designing new processes, equipment, structures and anything else that may be necessary.
They will be required to supervise the execution of the work. Each member of their staff must have specific tasks allocated to them to see that the work progresses satisfactorily. It is important that regular meetings be held with the staff on site and elsewhere to ensure this. On top of all this, they must take full responsibility for all the work done under their control.
An engineering technician is the most practical of the professional engineering qualifications. Technicians possess a high degree of skills required for manual work; however the application of these skills requires a fairly high degree of scientific and engineering knowledge and a considerable amount of experience.
They will have received their education and training at a tertiary institution in South Africa, usually a university of technology. Apart from the theory dealt with in the classroom, the syllabi include instruction in laboratory / measurement techniques, drawing office work and workshop practice, where applicable.
Examples of the work done by technologists and technicians in the main engineering sectors are described below:
Aeronautical engineering: they design, plan, develop, manufacture and test aircraft, missiles, satellites etc. Technologists are involved with the testing and safety of the aircraft while the technicians gather information, make calculations and perform tests
Agricultural engineering: they are responsible for designing structures and machinery for farming purposes, such as dairies and wine cellars, irrigation, water storage and drainage, soil conservation and processing, and the transport, storage and processing of agricultural products. They are also involved in the research and development of agricultural production systems.
Chemical engineering: they are concerned with the manufacturing of chemicals on an industrial scale, as well as with the industrial processes that convert raw material into products with a higher economic value through physical, thermal or chemical changes.
Chemical engineering technologists and technicians are qualified to undertake a wide variety of activities. They research, develop, design, construct and operate the plants required to make a variety of processed products from bricks, metals and plastics to chocolate, soap and cheese.
Civil engineering: civil engineering projects involve the control and adaptation of the physical environment to mankind’s advantage. This includes the design and construction of bridges, roads, docks, airport runways, railways, tunnels, reservoirs, canals, sewerage and drainage systems, gas and water supplies and other large structures.
Electrical engineering: they are involved in the design and testing of equipment before it leaves the factory, or in the installation and testing of power plants.
The technologists are concerned with the maintenance of advanced equipment or control systems, with research and testing. The technicians assist the engineers with the monitoring of the generation of power and the distribution of electrical energy to the end consumer. There are numerous areas of specialisation in the field of electrical engineering.
Electronic engineering: micro-electronics has caused a revolution in the field of electronics and makes it possible to produce more sophisticated, smaller, cheaper electronic products such as computers, microwave and satellite communication systems, electronic medical equipment, as well as control systems for aeroplanes and missiles.
Electronic equipment is designed and developed by a team consisting of the electronics engineer, technologist and technician. Engineering technicians implement, install and carry out the maintenance of the engineering teams’ designs. Technicians usually work in fields such as telecommunications and computers.
Industrial engineering: : they design and develop facilities for the economical manufacture of products. There are many fields of specialisation, such as household equipment and furniture, equipment for cars, the interiors of aircraft and medical equipment. Emphasis is placed on the application of industrial processes and staff utilisation. The functions are a combination of engineering and business administration.
Mechanical engineering: they deal with all kinds of machines and are involved in the manufacture, construction, layout, operation, maintenance and supervision of moving machinery and mechanical appliances. Activities include transport, power generation, air-conditioning and other services such as water supply to mines, factories and large buildings.
Metallurgical engineering: they are involved in extraction of various kinds of metal from ore. The ore is crushed, concentrated and then processed to metal, either through a melting or chemical process. They are also required to determine the cause of defects in metals and propose possible solutions.
Mining engineering: they ensure effective and safe production. They often work with other engineers and technical management. They are engaged in ore extraction activities from both underground and from the surface workings. Technicians fine the most economical and practical ways of extracting metals from ores.
The engineering technician’s work consists of both intellectual and hands-on work. In large companies they may be employed in a highly specialised capacity, using sophisticated techniques and equipment. The work environment varies including laboratories, offices, factories and production sites.
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