The imperatives of science, technology to national economic development, by Adewoye
NECESSARY information needed for the development of infrastructure, alleviation of poverty and growth of Nigeria’s economy abound within the country, as in any other nation. But the framework and ability to use them as intellectual product are still lacking.
In this interview with EMEKA ANUFORO, the Director-General of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), Prof. Olusegun Oyeleke Adewoye, stressed the need for government to support science and technology to promote manufacturing and research and development in the country. He also gave insight into the immediate and future plan of his agency, saying it intends to domesticate existing technologies to advance the quality of products, create new ones and find better ways of improving existing technologies for the enhancement of indigenous human and material capacity needed for rapid industrialisation of the country. Excerpts:
DESPITE the global potentials in reverse engineering, why has Nigeria not cut its teeth to become one of the industrialised nations?
You know reverse engineering as being the source of vast development of technologies all over the world. America in the 30s would buy an aircraft from German, take it apart and reverse engineer it. Reverse engineering is a means of discovering the engineering content of a product so that, you can develop a product similar to that, or take it as a basis of your intellectual property to move forward.
Like I said earlier, Boeing benefited a lot from German technology. And American government to pre-orders aircrafts from Boeing. They were buying between 15 and 20 pieces. The essence was to have enough money to perfect technology of the one they bought through reverse engineering. So, Boeing was able to go to Germany to buy aircrafts, take them apart, take the measurements and reverse engineer the components. Japan and China did the same. It is the fastest way to discover what is in the component, reverse engineer it and move forward. But some trends have gone through with huge government money and support, because they know that if these technologies are reversed and made available to the community, there will be job creation. That is not really available here now. NASENI was majorly created for reverse engineering. So, when NASENI was started, it was modeled after similar organisations all over the world, especially Malaysia. Every country has its own similar body like NASENI to fast-track national development. What has been different in our own case is that the law establishing NASENI and the financial provisions of that law have not being obeyed by government after government.
This goes to the heart of what the elites understand as their role in the society. It looks like the elite in our own society believes that their role is to buy goods made by other people, not to empower their own people to make their own goods. That is really the bottom line. This year alone, we were supposed to get N7 billion. Unfortunately, the reverse has been the case.
Despite this, NASENI has taken the issue of reverse engineering as one of its major activities now. To that extent, we have acquired facilities for reverse engineering. One of them is called the Coordinate Measuring Machine (CMM). We have also acquired a Rapid Prototyping Machine (RPM). The ones we have are 3D printers. A CMM is equipment where you take the coordinates measurement of a given component, and using softwares, you transfer those components to a computer-aided design. Once you go to Computer Aided Design, if you are happy with what you have and want to copy it directly, then you can send the files of the CAD that you obtained from CMM to a computer numerically controlled machine. If on the other hand you want to deviate further, once you put these components on the CMM, it touches all the sides of it, it transfers those data through the software to computer aided design, then you can send that to a rapid prototyping machine (RP). The RP machine we have here are two types: we have one that are printers, 3D printers from where you can produce the rapid prototype of that design that you have just copied in polymer. The second type of machine that we have can actually machine out that component in wood, polymer, aluminum or copper. This is a fantastic thing. Once you have done it, then you can show your clients.
What we are saying is that there are two ways you can start your design and can make a component. You can start a design ab initio or you reverse engineer an existing product.
What is the legal implication of reverse engineering?
Take this water bottle for instance. You put it in a CMM, you get the coordinate and send it to CAD. However, not to break the law, you can change this bevel angle, instead of this angle 90 or 35, make it 26, it becomes a new product. That way, you can escape legal charges against you. Toyota and Japanese companies have sued Chinese companies and they have not won. It is not easy to win because all the guy has to do is to change one little angle somewhere and it becomes a new design. If you look at different court judgments in the U.S. Supreme Court judgments in the US have always favoured those who do reverse engineering. Now America is talking about copyrights and so on. That is because they themselves have done it in the past and gotten away with it.
Are you working towards making these equipments available in Nigeria?
No, I am not! Where will I get the money from? Our 2011 vote is N169 million or so, for the headquarters and the whole of NASENI is about N300 million. I am not sure Nigerian elites want technology to be developed. I think they still want to be buying. It is terrible indeed. The national elites have not been responsible enough to know that to grow the economy, you need to use science and technology properly. They are still in the euphoria of buying and buying. In other countries, the law doesn’t allow this kind of buying to go on. But all hope is not lost. The recently passed local content law, if properly implemented will solve some of these problems. It will create jobs, domesticate technology and domicile indigenous development.
Has Nigeria been able to develop advanced manufacturing technology through your agency?
The advanced manufacturing technology system is what pervades the whole world. More than 80 per cent of all productions worldwide are conducted on advanced systems. When I said worldwide, I have virtually removed Africa for now. We are about the third agency promoting the technology in Africa. Advanced manufacturing technology is the combination of brainpower, computers, and machines to fast track developments and manufacturing of systems, equipments, spares and whole machines. It includes such elements as computer aided design, stimulation and modeling, reverse engineering, coordinate measurement, 3D printing, computer numerically controlled machines, mechatronics and so on. No nation that is desirous of rapid growth can be without all those systems, equipments and abilities. Once you are without them, then you know that you cannot grow. It is so simple.
Let me give you an illustration: If you want to manufacture any component, you can do it by conventional manual means, or by computer numerically controlled machines. Even if it is a common shaft, if you have done the design or you reverse engineer it, and you input the data into your CNC machine, if you are going to manufacture 10, 000, 100, 000 copies of it, it will do it faster than manual. Set up yourself, what we are setting up now, Integrated Virtual Private Network (IVPN), which is secure of these components to any number of computers worldwide and they will produce it for you at the same time cheaply. If you want to produce 10, 000, 50, 000, 100, 000, you can so do with the same design. It is just a matter of feeding the raw materials. Compare that with human beings. Each time this guy has to produce by himself, he has to set up each time he wants to reproduce it. He has to use his own power; he can get tired, his wife or husband or wife may have annoyed him in the morning. After a while, diminishing return sets in. The kind of labour required from producing volumes has been removed through advanced manufacturing technology. That is the easiest thing to use in explaining that.
If you have a complicated problem that should have taken days and months to solve, it would take a few hours. These are the elements of advanced manufacturing. As a matter of fact, one of our staff just did his PhD using our facilities here. He was working on new turbine blades for low speed regime, low wind speed regime. All the wind turbines blades that are brought to this country are designed for high wind speed blades. They bring them here. When they use them in low speed wind regime, they don’t get too much result here. The work was largely done in our computer here- to design and model a blade that works for us. And he was able to show that this blade can generate enough energy at low speed by just stimulation and modeling.
These are elements of advanced manufacturing technologies that you must have, because that is what the whole world is doing!
How can we promote reverse engineering, using your project, among manufacturers in Nigeria?
What we do is to developed what we call a platform technology, do a business plan and that is the bottom line, isn’t it? If nobody is making any money from it why are they doing it? In any case, making money from technology is also synonymous with growth, proliferation.
This year, the Education Trust Fund gave us a grant to produce furnaces. We produced 74 and they are in schools all over the country. And we are trying to finalize with the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) to turn each of these mini-foundries into a business. Some of these foundries are known. People go to the ones in Benin and Idah to cast things, so with others. Now we have just been given the permission by the Niger Delta Development Commission to produce 36 of these mini-foundries. The NDDC’s own is interesting because they want us to do mini-foundries and advanced manufacturing technology so that it is a one-stop-shop. Once we have finished training them, we teach them how to do it, then we help them do business plan and bankable projects write ups.
For instance, in our solar plan-manufacturing project, our business plan calls for huge participation of the private sector. We have a 7.5 mega watts plant in Karshi, which has been installed and should be commissioned before end of June. The raw materials were shipped from China this morning. 7.5 MW of solar panel is a huge amount of solar panels. Even if you say for the first year, you cannot get 7.5 MWs of solar panels, say you get even 4 MWs, you also need N2. 5 billion to buy the material for the raw material. Definitely, our business model will include the private sector to bring in raw materials, which we will convert for them into solar panels.
That is what we want to do for all the proven technologies that we have done. You do the technology, you design it, finish it, it works, then you do a business plan. What you then sell to the entrepreneur is a total package. Like our cassava plant that is now doing 10 tons per day. We have finished the design, so it can do for 2 tons, 5 tons, 10 tons, 50 tons, whatever. For that, we are going to sell only one cassette. That cassette is gold mine of information. The cassette will contain the design of the equipment, material selection, manufacturing layout for the equipment, and then the business plan. These are all step by step guide to manufacturing these equipments and using it to make profits.
We are going to have a techno mart in September. We are going to call everybody: MAN, NACCIMA, and NASME, everybody to come. As they are looking at our videos, enjoying themselves, looking at the equipments and so on, there is a business going on. Once you see what you like and you want to buy it, come. We are not going to be selling one off. We are going to be selling systems. We are going to display maybe 10-15 platform technologies: manufacturing, brick making, oil expeller, and things like that.
Can Nigeria mass-produce these technologies through your agency in the near future?
It is not our business to mass-produce. But we can help interested entrepreneurs to go into mass production. What we have done is that we have embedded an advanced manufacturing centre in each of our institutes and we have phenomenal facilities that the private sector can utilize. Like I said, if a guy wants to make 50 of these as part of his components, all we need to do is to send the design to all of our centres, over our secured net and assemble. He can outsource to us. We can sell that facility to him.
Your agency has been involved in nurturing young scientists for economic development. How far have you gone with that scheme?
It is a paradigm shift project. I grew up in a secondary school where there was a laboratory. But since then, it seems that the national elites have also lost that. Without education no nation can grow. Our mobile science kits are mobile laboratories as a concept. In the primary science kits, you can do up to 30-40 experiments. You can actually expand the number of experiments you can do. It is just a matter of imagination. The idea is to quickly discover scientific concept for young people, relate these scientific concepts to what they are to do at home, and in full step so that the scientists and engineers, people who are going to universities many years away will have that foundation.
The idea is to get them prepared for the twenty fourth century when everybody else is competing at the cutting edge. That is what it is all about. We went to an African Union science meeting in Addis Ababa and people were told to write down ideas on the things that can make Africa move forward. At the end of it they collated about twenty ideas and they voted on which ideas that were likely to help Africa. Our primary science kits came first.
In 1999, we took our rotary furnace to a trade fair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Ghana. Our rotary furnace is also unique. It is the first time anybody in the world where any body designed a rotary furnace of between 100 to 300 kilograms. The smallest rotary furnace before then was half a ton. We innovated it for schools and micro enterprises. Ghana Times published our rotary furnace as an example of invention. When we came back, NOTAP organized an inventors and innovation fair. I was then the Director of EMD Akure and then rotary furnace video was going on. That rotary furnace came first in industrial section of the innovation fair for being innovative.
Now we are installing them in schools, same way we have installed our primary science kits. There is no local government in this country that doesn’t have our primary school kits and junior secondary science kits. Our primary science kits were initially purchased by ETF and distributed nationwide. The Universal Basic Education Commission has also purchased our junior secondary science kits and distributed them nationwide. It is beautiful. It goes to the heart of the curricula and once you know what you are doing, it allows you to discover science faster and cheaply. You know the number of millions of our young people under that category. It may not be less than 25 million in this country. What we have done is only chip of the iceberg.