Meet a mechanical engineer

Published on June 1st, 2012
Meet a mechanical engineer

Kennedy Sithole started out at BMW and he’s now the Technical manager for Traffic Safety systems at 3M. We chat to him about studying Mechanical Engineering, the school subjects he still uses every day and how they make road lines so straight…

Where did you grow up and what school did you go to?
I was born in Tzaneen and started primary school in Bushbuckridge. I completed Matric at Meridian College in Tzaneen.

What subjects did you take?
Maths, Science, Biology, Geography, English, Afrikaans and Xitsonga. I particularly enjoyed Maths and Science, because I was always good with numbers and I liked the challenge of problem-solving.

What did you study after school?
I studied a B.Tech degree in Mechanical Engineering and I specialised in design, which looks at how machines are put together and how they operate. I studied at Tshwane University of South Africa (Technikon Pretoria) and through Unisa, and I found the courses very interesting, because most of them focused on Maths and Physical Science.

What does your job involve?
As 3M’s Technical Manager for Traffic Safety systems, I work with the products you see on the road every day, from road signs, number plates and pavement markings to reflective tape and the branding on the windows of shops and restaurants. I spend about 60% of my day out of the office, working with consulting engineers and government officials.

It’s my job to introduce new products to the market, to test products with the SABS (the South African Bureau of Standards), to provide technical support to the sales team, and to establish product specifications – such as what colour different road signs should be, or how reflective something needs to be.

We’ve always wanted to know… How do they make road markings so straight?
First, someone walks along the road and marks the area that needs to be painted with dots. They use a measuring device to make sure that the dots are drawn in a nice straight line. Then, if it’s a short road, someone walks along again and paints along the dotted line. If it’s a long road, the painting is done by a truck with a dispenser at the back. The dispenser is programmed to let out a specific volume of paint every second, and the driver has to drive at the right speed to make sure that the line is painted properly. If the dispenser lets out the wrong volume or the driver goes too slowly or too quickly, the painted line won’t be right.

What kind of person would enjoy Mechanical Engineering?
You need to be able to run with ideas and know how to make things happen. You need to be an outspoken person who can come up with ideas, ask questions and be able to explain what you think. You also need to enjoy Maths and Science – I’m still learning every day, and I’m still using Maths and Science every day.

Did you know?
When Kennedy was working at BMW, the team completed 250 cars every day!