National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Prof Wellington Didibhuku Thwala

Prof Wellington Didibhuku Thwala

Transforming sustainability in construction management

Professor Wellington Didibhuku Thwala received the Engineering Research Capacity Development Award. His research focuses on how design error containment and prevention through digitalisation in the built environment can improve infrastructure project performance and minimise cost overruns. 

He is in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET)at UNISA and has shown remarkable commitment to the industry and the development of skills within it.

“I’ve trained and graduated more than 100 Master’s students to completion and am currently supervising more than 18 PhD students,” says Thwala. “I’ve also seen 43 PhD students to graduation, which really is fulfilling for me, and plays a role in building capacity in the sector.”

Professor Thwala’s work started out as a response to the challenges facing South Africa and the high levels of unemployment and poverty. For him, it was important to focus on research and development that would tangibly help the country to overcome these challenges. Five thematic areas became the basis of his research over the past 10 years and these included design error containment and prevention in infrastructure projects; integrated supply chain management for collaborative working in the construction industry; industry 4.0 and smart cities; health and safety in construction; and sustainable construction and employment creation.

“We really are focusing on sustainable construction and how digitalisation can improve this on multiple fronts,” says Thwala. “It can improve performance, mitigate design errors, and reduce budget overruns. We’ve been able to develop a design framework that helps projects on a very granular level to improve performance and costs.”

The research undertaken by Professor Thwala involves continuous incremental improvements over time and leverages data that has been collected on both the primary and secondary level. The research uses the combination of qualitative and quantitative methodologies and serves as an interdisciplinary research and information source for sustainable construction management and digitisation in the built environment. 

It creates and leverages cutting-edge insights that improve issues that have a long-term impact on the South African built environment sector. — Tamsin Oxford

Read the special Mail & Guardian supplement about all the NSTF-South32 Award winners.

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