AllyCAD Showcase

The Meerkat Radio Astronomy

Aurecon Consulting Engineers

"The day I landed up in the Civil Engineering sector it was as if a light switch had been flicked. Suddenly I knew that I had arrived at the right place. I am fascinated by the analytical nature of the discipline and its mathematical basis." The words of Elmine Grobbelaar from Ninham Shand reveal exceptional intelligence and a constant quest for knowledge. These traits have allowed her to build a notable track record in the last eighteen years while continuing to pursue life long learning.

Elmine's history at Ninham Shand Bloemfontein has been an interesting one. She started at the company as a draughtsperson without any previous civil engineering or design experience. Her introduction into AllyCAD DOS in the early years was also a pivotal point in her career. "Draughting in AllyCAD was an amazing experience. It sparked an interest in technical design and led to my enrolling for a civil engineering qualification at the Free State Central University of Technology," explains Elmine.

Her experience gained as a Technician while being employed on a full time basis at Ninham Shand, gave Elmine a considerable advantage over other students. As a result, she passed both her Diploma and her B Tech qualification with cum laude and has since become actively involved as a part time lecturer in the discipline.

Achieving excellence on the academic front was only the first step as Elmine progressed to build an impressive track record as Project Manager on various high level projects. A current project that has received much media attention is the Karoo Array Telescope (also known as the 'meerKAT') in the Northern Cape Province.

According to Elmine, once complete, 'meerKat' will take shape with a seven-dish testbed followed by the full array on the same site, providing one of the world's premier mid-frequency radio astronomy facilities. This will put South Africa at the cutting edge of radio astronomy. "Our role during this joint venture was to design 40 kilometres of the access road to the site."

"The project will be constructed in phases with the first phase, consisting of a one-dish prototype, already constructed at the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) in Gauteng. The KAT-7, a seven-dish engineering testbed and science instrument near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape Province, will be commissioned towards the end of 2009. However the full array of 80 or more dishes will only be ready by 2012," explains Elmine.

During the implementation of the project, Elmine found herself in the unique position of coach and mentor. She supervised two technologists who designed the road and drainage structures on the venture. "My role as coach and mentor was to ensure that the project was designed to the highest standards within the allotted time frame. We therefore made good use of Civil Designer when checking anomalies and also used the program extensively to generate sheet files, saving hours of time."
  Project managing when so many different parties are involved proved to be a real challenge. "What astounded me about this project was the multitude of stakeholders involved in the venture. Our Kimberly branch had quite a time co-ordinating activities to cater to the various environmental groups, geologists, land surveyors, contractors and even land owners," recalls Elmine.

A further challenge was the actual design of the stormwater drainage system. "Although the remote and sparsely populated area of the Northern Cape's Karoo region was ideal for radio astronomy, this dry environment often had problems. These included erosion and flooding due to extreme flat areas, minor infiltration and fast accumulation of run-off. Without a thorough knowledge of the drainage characteristics of the area, it was therefore very difficult to determine the design strategy concerning the stormwater run-off."

"We managed to overcome this problem by chatting to the farmers in the area. They were able to give us an indication of the stormwater run-off patterns after seasonal rains. We also made use of 1:50 000 ortho-photos as well as Google Earth imagery and stereoscopic tools to determine the catchment areas of the drainage structures," she says.

Other challenges during the design of the road included the scarcity of water and the availability of suitable material for the layerworks. The access route also crossed farmers' properties, leading to special negotiations and collaboration on how each phase would affect the properties. In addition, the remoteness of the Karoo area made communication difficult as there were no cellular networks.

Despite the challenges, Elmine is confident that the team will produce top quality work and complete the project on time. "We are a strong team at Ninham Shand Bloemfontein. The office has a personality of its own and we operate in a positive, proactive culture where there is no need to look over anyone's shoulder. We also take pride in the name Ninham Shand because it stands for quality and excellence."

"When I entered this business eighteen years ago, my aim was to learn something new every day. Since then, I have not only learnt something new, I have also been in the privileged position to impart skills to others as I go along. I doubt very much that I will ever retire," says Elmine laughing.

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