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Iconic statues and a giant shoe reveal VUT's hidden talent

By Azande Ralephenya

There are many hidden gems in the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) community; those who have travelled a long journey with this institution and are dedicating their talent and time, contributing towards the wealth and welfare of the community VUT serves. Alwyn Taljaard, Head of Robotics and Milling Department, is one such individual and a proud VUT alumni.

In preparation for VUT's 50th Anniversary celebrations, Taljaard is working on a giant shoe, which will double as a sun dial for the VUT Science Park. The sculpture will be unveiled for all to see in the near future.

For many of us who are curious to know what Robotic Milling is all about, Taljaard explains it as a process whereby parts are cut or milled (cut with a rotating tool) out of materials such as polyurethane, foam and different types of wood. Robotic Milling is high-end engineering that is mainly used in the industrial sector, but in VUT's case, it is used for milling objects such as sculptures, bakkie canopies, vacuum moulds or boat parts, to name a few. The process entails scanning, reverse engineering and designing.

The Robotics Department assists artists and the industrial sector to create prototypes for various applications; there is no prototype too large or too small to be printed or laser sintered. They have two robots able to make large sculptures and parts.

As a specialist in his field, Taljaard has created a number of statues including three horses measuring 4.5 metres each for the Golden Horse Casino in Pietermaritzburg and a 2.5m statue of President Samora Machel for a Mozambican artist. The biggest project that he has worked on so far is a 12m high and 7.5m across male torso. It was scanned, cut and assembled in three months and then cut up into 233 parts in order for it be transported back to the artist!

Although Taljaard states that every project he works on is his favourite, his goal when he joined the University in 2010 was to create his largest statue and this torso achieved that status in record time.

In the industry since 1995, Taljaard started his career in robotics on a farm with a CNC Machine and Touch Probe Scanner; the software at that time was not as developed as it is now. He attributes the success of his work to constant evolving technology: "Every day there is an upgrade to either a machine or the software used. We are constantly working with associates in the UK and Norway to fine-tune the software as we go along," he says.

Taljaard proves to be a man of many talents and interests: he studied theology in 1995 for his own personal and spiritual growth and in 2001 he went into a completely different field, pursuing Iridology and Sclerology. He often looks through the eyes of the people he meets and can immediately spot if medical attention is needed. Taljaard believes that the eyes are truly the windows to the soul. However, his heart is now fully in robotics where, he says, creativity never stops and he still has a lot more to learn and create.