Skip to content
HomeThe Faculty celebrates Engineering Professors’ academic achievements
Coetzee and Wang

The Faculty celebrates Engineering Professors’ academic achievements

[Article by Corporate Communications]

​​​Prof Corné Coetzee from the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering and Prof Rong-Jie Wang from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering recently delivered their professorial inaugural lecture.

Coetzee’s lecture titled ‘Modelling of granular materials: Discrete and continuum approaches’ spoke about how the software tools that he develops are used to improve the handling of granular materials in the mining and agricultural sectors and Wang’s lecture spoke about how his research on electrical machine technologies could help to strengthen the international competitiveness of the local industry and improve energy efficiency and power generation capacity.

In the following interviews Prof Coetzee and Prof Wang discuss their research and passion for their fields.

Prof Corné Coetzee develops software to improve handling of granular materials in mining, agricultural sectorsProf Rong-Jie Wang helps to improve SA’s energy efficiency, power generation capacity
Prof Corné Coetzee from the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University recently delivered his professorial inaugural lecture, titled 'Modelling of granular materials: Discrete and continuum approaches'. He spoke to the Division of Corporate Communication and Marketing about how the software tools that he develops are used to improve the handling of granular materials in the mining and agricultural sectors.

Tell us more about your research and why you became interested in this specific field.

When growing up, my family had a construction business with large earthmoving equipment. At first, it got me interested in the mechanical aspects of it. Hence, after school I studied mechanical engineering. Until late in my undergraduate studies, I wasn't sure what I would do after completing my studies. However, for my final-year research project, I worked on improving our understanding of the behaviour and flow of granular materials (particles) – something closely related to the earthmoving activities I often witnessed as a child. When I started with this project, my passion for research became immediately clear, and I had no doubt as to continue with a Master's degree and a PhD on the same topic.

Today, the focus of my research is the development of numerical tools (computer software) that can model and predict the behaviour of granular materials for applications in geotechnical engineering and bulk solid handling.

How would you describe the relevance of your work, especially for our South African context?

The software tools that we develop are used during the design phase so that improved bulk handling equipment can be designed, and also for solving problems with existing equipment where the performance is not as required. Applications are mainly in the mining and agricultural sectors – important role players in the South African economy and food security. In these sectors, most of the materials are in a bulk solid form, i.e., granular. Examples include conveyor belts and conveyor transfer chutes, and all equipment used for the handling, storage, transportation and processing of mined ore and agricultural products such as corn and wheat grains.

Can you tell us more about the impact of your research?

Improved equipment design means more energy-efficient equipment, less waste and pollution and higher production rates.

Which aspects of your work do you enjoy the most?

I mostly enjoy the challenge of solving problems, the unknown, going where no one has gone before – it feels like an adventure of discovery. Someone once said, “all models are wrong, but some are useful". Our models are based on natural phenomena through observation and measurement. Hence, with each new discovery, even the very small ones, we learn a bit more and can improve our models systematically.

The pandemic has changed the way we work and live. What has kept you motivated during these times?

The pandemic had no significant effect on my work or life. Knowing that it should at some stage return to normal, I simply continued with my academic activities.

How do you spend your free time away from lectures and research?

I love mountain biking, and with the magnificent Stellenbosch trails, I do my best to go riding after work, two to three days a week all year round. Not only does it keep me fit, but I can also clear my head without any interruptions. We also love to visit our neighbouring countries, mainly Namibia and Botswana for camping holidays.

(Watch the inaugural lecture here.)
Prof Rong-Jie Wang from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University recently delivered his inaugural lecture titled 'Electrical machine technology: Innovation and research'. Wang spoke to the Division of Corporate Communication and Marketing about how his research on electrical machine technologies could help to strengthen the international competitiveness of the local industry and improve energy efficiency and power generation capacity.

Tell us more about your research and why you became interested in this specific field.

My field of research is in electrical engineering. My research has focused on technology development, formulation of design theory and strategy, devising numerical simulation techniques, and critical performance evaluation of special electrical machines. I became interested in electrical machines during my postgraduate study at the University of Cape Town. My topic was on a linear hybrid permanent magnet stepping motor, which I found very interesting.

How would you describe the relevance of your work, especially for our South African context?

Electrical machines are widely used in major South African industry sectors such as energy, mining, chemical and transport industry. They play a pivotal role in the new industrial revolution brought forth by the development of e-mobility and renewable energy systems. The research and commercial development of electrical machine technologies could strengthen the international competitiveness of the local industry, improve energy efficiency and power generation capacity, and contribute to job creation in South Africa.

Can you tell us more about the impact of your research?

In terms of my research impact, the work on axial flux permanent magnet machines (used for power generation and electric vehicle applications), line-start permanent magnet motors (suitable for driving low-inertia loads) and magnetically geared electrical machines (for wind power and e-Mobility applications) are well recognized and referenced by peer researchers. The manuscript I co-authored with Professors JF Gieras and MJ Kamper on Axial Flux Permanent Magnet Brushless Machines (Springer 2004, 2nd edition in 2008), the first book in English entirely devoted to axial flux permanent magnet machines, has, according to Springer, “… proven its timeliness and value among a wide readership in electrical machines research field".

Which aspects of your work do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy researching on emerging innovative technologies and working with bright young minds.

The pandemic has changed the way we work and live. What has kept you motivated during these times?

Yes, it has been a trying time for most of us. It is helpful to set achievable daily goals and keeping contact with colleagues and students via online meetings.

Tell us something exciting about yourself that people would not expect.

Although my passion is now on engineering and science, I also have an interest in some humanities subjects such as literature and history. When I was in high school, I went on several field trips with a small team led by my history teacher trying to find answers surrounding the tragic ending of an ancient Chinese emperor.

How do you spend your free time away from lectures and research?

I enjoy watching movies, playing board games with my kids and taking long walks on mountains or beaches.

(Watch the inaugural lecture here.)