RAPDASA (Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa) was officially launched
during the first annual international conference, held in 2000 at the CSIR, following
a number of meetings held nationally, to establish a community of practice. RAPDASA
embraces the complete product development value chain (starting from idea/concept,
to design, prototype development into manufacturing and commercialization). RAPDASA
aims to become a government-recognized activity or industry cluster/group, as it
currently creates strategic links between academia, science councils and industry.
It was started by volunteers, and is still being driven by individuals with a passion
for innovative product development.
South Africa had a late start with Rapid Prototyping (RP), with the first system
being available in 1991. Up to 1994 only three systems were available in SA. Through
active research participation from the CSIR and a number of universities, supported
by technology transfer programmes and industry awareness workshops, adoption of
RP technologies started to grow. Internationally, RP grew to the extent that several
country-based member organizations were formed, and an initiation meeting of the
Global Alliance of RP Associations (GARPA) took place during the SME Rapid Conference
in Dearborn, USA in 1998. South Africa was invited under the auspices of the Time
Compression Technologies Centre (TCTC) launched by the CSIR, and received an invitation
to become a member of GARPA through the launch of a national, inclusive organization.
Last mentioned gave rise to a RAPDASA planning/launch meeting held at the University
of Stellenbosch, which culminated in the first RAPDASA international meeting held
in November 2000 at the CSIR, and the election of a 1st RAPDASA management committee,
also at the 1st AGM held during the conference. RAPDASA has been a pillar of strength
since then, with an annual international conference being presented. As SA’s RP
awareness grew through the RAPDASA and independent activities, so did the availability
of RP platforms in SA. SA also became a benchmark for other countries / late adopters
to follow, as slowly a position of following became a position of leading through
RP implementation and research has proceeded with the firm support of central government.
One reason for this is that the 1998 National Research and Technology Foresight
Project’s Manufacturing Report produced for the Department of Science and Technology
(DST, 1998) showed that manufacturers wishing to compete internationally should
focus on integrated product development, process and production system design to
speed up production time. The report also listed rapid prototyping and tooling amongst
the key technologies that would assist with this aim. This indicates that RP and
related technologies have been firmly established within the RSA government’s strategy
for industrial development for the past decade.
Government support for RP research has come both directly, through funding made
available to purchase RP systems, but also through funding a series of initiatives
where RP has been able to play a prominent role. For example, the National Product
Development Centre (at the CSIR) was initiated to be the hub of a national network
giving support to manufacturing industry. Members of the network at that time included
the Automotive Industry Development Centre in Gauteng, the Centre for Rapid Prototyping
and Manufacturing in Bloemfontein, the Global Competitive Centre and Stellenbosch
Automotive Engineering (both in the Western Cape Province), the Centre for Engineering
Research in Durban, the Automotive Components Technology Station in Port Elizabeth
and the Centre for Design and Manufacturing at Potchefstroom University. Many of
these centres also engaged in RP research and have been able to develop this aspect
further within the network through government funded technology transfer initiatives.
The network promoted active collaboration between centres with different RP systems,
and aimed to the benefit South African product developers.
RAPDASA and its annual conference
No discussion of RP/AM establishment in South Africa would be complete without reference
to RAPDASA (the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa). RAPDASA
was formed in 1999 to act as the representative organisation for those involved
in the RP and wider rapid product development (RPD) community within South Africa.
It has members from both research organisations and industrial companies, and since
its inception the mission was that the organising committee be composed in a manner
that reflects this diversity. RAPDASA is involved in range of activities that are
all aimed at encouraging the further development and usage of RPD technologies.
Most important of these is the annual conference that started in 2000. The conference
offers a platform for researchers and practitioners to share their knowledge and
experience with others. It has benefited from international participation from the
start, and which allowed attendees the luxury of also discovering what is happening
in the international RPD world.
The conference furthermore has become a hub for networking opportunities, and many
national and international collaborative projects and partnerships have in fact
been grown from the various RAPDASA conferences. A further consequence of this international
participation is that the conference has become an international information source
for RP developments in South Africa. RAPDASA is a member of GARPA (Global Alliance
of RP Associations) and first hosted a GARPA international summit at the conference
held in 2001, and then again in 2004. During a process that started in 2009 and
which was concluded in 2010, RAPDASA successfully nominated Dr Willie du Preez,
founder member of RAPDASA as one of the first GARPA International Fellows. The role
that RAPDASA has undertaken has contributed much to the progress of RP&M in
South Africa. A particular strength is that its remit is not limited to RP and so
the relationships with other RPD technologies and the product development process
feature widely in its activities. RAPDASA has never been an exclusive group or organisation,
and as participants grew, so did research involvement and outputs.