Stakeholder workshop on future of NETFA HV and high current testing facility

September 10th, 2018, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: Energize, Articles: Vector, Featured: EE Publishers

On 30 August 2018, The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and EE Publishers hosted the SABS Electro-technical Sector Stakeholder Workshop to discuss reinvestment in and the way forward for the SABS high-voltage national electrical test facility (NETFA) in Midrand, Gauteng.

Chris Yelland

In his welcome address, EE Publishers MD Chris Yelland said one of the workshop’s aims was to enable the SABS to re-engage its customers in the electro-technical sector and to restore working relations between the bureau and industry.

“It’s all about developing the economy in a competitive world,” he said. “South Africa is no longer isolated, but holds its own in the international community where industry, innovation and trade are paramount.” He said standards and testing are fundamental to the country’s continued participation in the world market.

Reconnecting with clients

Addressing the approximately 300 delegates gathered at St. George’s Hotel in Irene, SABS certification executive Amanda Gcabashe said the bureau intended to invest in much-needed infrastructure upgrades at the NETFA facility but had to first reconnect with its clients in industry and engage them to establish their needs in terms of testing and certification.

“We are faced with the question of whether to invest large sums in technology upgrades in the hopes that the electro-technical industry would make use of the facilities, or whether to wait for industry to mature before taking this step.”

Delivering his keynote address at the event, South African born and Zurich-based independent consultant Dr Andrew Eriksson agreed that there is a need to upgrade the testing equipment at the NETFA site.

“Standards are the common language in manufacturing around the globe,” he said. “Together with testing, standards are the vehicle for meaningful trade and commerce and for interaction between manufacturing and the world’s markets.”

Eriksson is a former assistant director of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR’s) National Electrical Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and was involved in the establishment of the high-voltage test facilities at NETFA in the 1980s. His role was to monitor the HV electro-technical industry and to plan facilities for NETFA in a coordinated way.

He said a comprehensive industrial policy action plan published by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and a corporate plan produced by the SABS had in common a need for change in the sector, coupled with a need for industrial and economic growth.

SWOT analysis

Amanda Gcabashe

The SABS corporate plan includes a SWOT analysis showing that the bureau operates in a challenging business and competitive environment, and that its customers’ expectations had remained unchanged despite the bureau’s new mandate.

The implications of these findings are that testing infrastructure is critical for industrial aspiration but is in need up upgrading; that the tipping point for renewal has been reached and that the SABS has to navigate an altered landscape in terms of testing services.

“The SABS recognises that it must achieve a faster rate of change than the already high rate of change experienced in the global market.”

To establish the relevance of HV testing, Eriksson studied a report by Cigre titled “Past, present and future of IEEE and IEC high-voltage and high-current testing standards”, which concludes that “these methods have to be re-examined and coordinated to provide reliable and compatible results”.

In terms of the future and the opportunities it holds for SABS NETFA, Dr Eriksson said the days of simply generating power and delivering it to the user are numbered: “We are leaving the world of the power generator and entering the world of the end-user”.

This transformation is driven by the penetration of renewable energy, a “socialisation of electrical generation” where every end-user is potentially a generator of power, and by the advent of Industry 4 and the world of advanced automation.

“The future of the electrical industry is changing as this new world brings many new business models and opportunities for business and innovation, all of which depend on testing and standards.”

He said standardisation is moving in the direction of upgrading ageing infrastructure and digitalisation, a priority focus of the SABS business turnaround plan.

SMEs and the economy

Andrew Eriksson

Eriksson said small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of economies around the world and standardisation contributes much to their support. He said the role of SME participation in the shaping of standards is recognised in other countries but that South Africa is “completely out of step” with global SME growth trends: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has found that, in South Africa, some 90% of businesses are at SME level but create only 28% of jobs and contribute 34% of GDP as opposed to other countries surveyed where the SME sector creates some 65% of jobs and contributes around 60% of GDP.


Customer-centricity, said Eriksson, is the fundamental basis of business. He said the SABS needed to identify its customers and its customers’ clients, but that achieving customer-centricity will require change which calls for change management.

He warned that it is easy for this process to slide into bureaucracy as change involves new rules: “Standards organisations tend to be bureaucratic at the best of times but innovative and dynamic industry doesn’t like bureaucracy; it moves fast and dynamically.”

Change management must not be implemented top-down. Instead, all employees should be involved in the process of change and must be part of the discussion from the start and understand the reasons for the change. This, says Eriksson, is the key first step in the process.

“Once your employees understand the reason for the change, they should be involved in the “how”: Involve them in the process, convene follow-up meetings and measure the rate and direction of the change achieved.”

He cited as an example the German Standardisation Roadmap on Industry 4.0 which provides a structured approach and brings together research, industrial support, standardisation and innovation to hasten the process of bringing product to market.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE), the South African Electro-technical Export Council (SAEEC) and the African Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO) offer what Dr. Eriksson terms “useful building blocks” in the change process. He called for smart partnerships and the harmonisation of standards across Africa; a leadership role for South African industry in terms of standardisation and for free trade agreements among African countries.

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