TUT Industrial Design students save endangered bird

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Heinrich Olwage, second-year Industrial Design student adding
some final touches to the nest before placement.

Second-year Industrial Design (3D Design) students at the Tshwane University of Technology, with the help of their lecturer, Kyle Brand, recently took part in an exciting project aimed at saving the Southern Ground Hornbill birds from extinction. The project involved developing a range of concepts for an artificial nest for the birds.

“Initially, students visited the Mabula Private Game Reserve to develop their understanding of the project, the Southern Ground Hornbills and the context where these nests would be used,” says Brand, Industrial Design (3D Design) lecturer. Lucy Kemp, Head of the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, gave them a presentation on the current situation regarding the Southern Ground Hornbills as well as the existing work on the artificial nests.

After the visit, the students worked in groups to develop various concepts using models, drawings and 3D-digital computer models. Upon developing and refining the models, they gave a final presentation with proposed solutions. Elements of the various concepts were then combined to form a single design for the artificial nest.

It was then delivered to the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, where the final touches were added and it was mounted in a tree. The nest was made using a foam core covered with a composite layer of hessian (sack-cloth) and Material 1, a specialised resin and powder supplied by AMT Composites (they sponsored the material for this prototype). Hessian was chosen instead of fiberglass to avoid any adverse effects, s

hould the birds be exposed to it. The durability and strength of the hessian is still being tested with this prototype.

“As a programme, we aim to develop graduates who can find creative solutions to real word problems,” adds Brand.
Brand adds that exposing students to new and different contexts one would not typically associate with design is not only exciting, but a great learning curve. This project was an opportunity to harness the creativity and energy of students to help a non-profit organisation. This is a great way to contribute to conservation and also develop well- rounded graduates.

So far, the prototype appears to be doing quite well. The afternoon after the nest was delivered, the family of ground hornbills living near the Mabula Ground Hornbill project started moving leaves into the nest, indicating that they wanted to move in. Staff decided to remove the nest in order to do further tests before letting the birds move in. Recently, elephants knocked the nest off its platform, and appeared to ‘play soccer’ with it. Luckily the nest was still intact, suffering only a minor tusk dent.

Sydwell Mamabolo, a second-year Industrial Design (3D Design) student who was involved in the project, adds how great the experience was for students: “It was an amazing opportunity to learn. The experience wasn’t only focused on design, but also on animal life. Through our research we got to know the Hornbill bird pretty well. Immediately after the trip we were back into our studio, doing some ground work. It wasn’t easy to design a nest for a bird that big and it meant that a lot had to be taken into consideration. We did it through teamwork.”

Currently, the aim is to further refine and test the nest before developing a system for it to be used all over Southern Africa.

The Industrial Design (3D Design) team at the Mabula
Private Game Reserve studying the Ground Hornbill bird
in order to see how to accommodate its shape and size
when building the nests.

Kyle placing the finished nest safely in a tree.

Kyle Brand, Industrial Design (3D Design) lecturer (left),
working on the nests with his students

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On January 27, 2017
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