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CNC training facility at the Department of Forest and Wood Science brings new prospects for 2020
Author: Dr Brand Wessels
Published: 30/01/2020

​The opening ceremony of a new CNC training facility was celebrated on 21 January 2020 with great excitement and interest from various stakeholders including industry representatives, private sector, academia and media. Professor Danie Brink, dean of the AgriScience faculty, explained the importance of partnerships between industry and university in terms of training and development of future industry leaders. In addition, Dr Brand Wessels, chair of Department of Forest and Wood Science (DFWS) shared the department’s vision and plan to expand the current training facilities, to train students and - serve the wood products industry even better than is currently the case.
So, why was this facility established? The furniture industry in South Africa use a relatively small volume of our forest resources. It is, however, probably the largest job creator of all the primary and secondary wood processing sectors in South Africa. In 2010 the furniture sector employed roughly 46 000 people directly – which is why this sector is so important from a national perspective. BSc Wood Products Science students have an ideal background for the furniture industry. They are basically a combination of an industrial engineer and wood material scientist. But in the past so few graduates were produced that most were employed in the primary wood processing industries once they graduated. With increasing student numbers it is believed that in future the DFWS will also be able to serve the furniture sector with graduates.
To equip these students with some practical skills relevant to the furniture industry the Department started about three years ago with a long term plan to create 3 practical modules focused on the furniture industry. These modules will be presented during holiday periods. The first module is a basic wood workshop course and has been running unofficially for a while now but from this year it will become part of the BSc programme. The second module will be on CNC programming and use and will be presented for the first time this June holiday. A third module in industrial wood finishing is planned for the future. The recently commissioned 5-axis CNC machine is one of only a few in South Africa and has advanced design and manufacturing capability. Five-axis CNC programming and design will form a part of the Wood Product Science undergrad curriculum in 2020 and CNC training can potentially in future also be offered to non-students as a short course.
Funding for this new facility was provided by FPMSeta, the Faculty of AgriSciences, the members of the Sawlog research consortium including the Hans Merensky Foundation, Sappi, Safcol, and ForestrySA, and the DTI’s THRIP program.
For more info, contact Dr Brand Wessels at OR visit our website at