The notion held by some that university education or experience is neither here nor there to future entrepreneurs, has been rendered naught, as the creative ideas of establishing a large-scale plastic production plant by the Nnamdi Azikiwe University (Unizik), Awka, Anambra State, in the 2015/16 session as research and innovation centre, has turned into a successful business venture.
The university has approved a proposal to go into large scale commercial production and distribution of plastic products to meet the demands of the people.
Director, Production Process, Professor Christopher Ihueze, disclosed this recently when the Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof Joseph Ahaneku, visited the manufacturing plant on a facility tour.
Presenting samples of the plastic products to the vice chancellor, which included cups, plates and bowls; Prof Ihueze said the plant was ready to go into full-scale commercial production, adding that the products were of high quality.
Ihueze, a professor of design and production technology, said the machine used in production had met set international standards and was capable of producing over 2,000 desired products of any design every day. The plant could also be useful to students during their industrial training.
The vice chancellor said the management would provide the required support for the project to go into full commercial production and ensure that standards were maintained.
In an interview, the vice chancellor, Prof Ahaneku, said the university was originally conceptualized to lay emphasis on science and technology and to stick to the founding fathers’ vision, and asked the lecturers in 2014 to go into researches as well as scientific and technological inventions that would improve the welfare of the people.
“I made it compulsory that in the university, whatever one studies he/she must translate it to action and this has started yielding positive fruits.
“The first push to achieving this was to make sure that whatever we spent, some percentage must be set aside for research and innovation in all disciplines. I particularly asked those in the engineering and technology field to place more emphasis on the practical teaching that would improve the welfare of the society, “he said
According to him, the plastic production project started in 2015/16 as grant from the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) and thereafter, the university created a Directorate of Research, Innovation and Industry Relations to carry out result-oriented researches.
“The PTDF allocation is a competitive grant; it is not a fund for sharing. You have to write your proposal and defend whatever you think you are capable of doing. We are happy of accessing the grant and it has done great things to the university’s industrial development,” he said.
Prof Ahaneku said the production machine was procured by the PTDF and the institution only procured consumables for the production line and that ‘since Nigeria is an oil producing country,’ it was not difficult for the university to obtain petroleum by-products.
“And when we received the machine from PTDF, we sent our men to study the operation and production processes because we do not believe in inviting people from overseas to manage them,” he said.
He also said, at present, some postgraduate students and technologists were working in the factory and that production of the plastics continued even when lecturers were on strike.
According to him, following the cancellation of the strike action, students have returned and would be part of the production process as well as use the facilities in place for trainings. He said students won’t go outside the university to do IT again.
“The students will not leave this university to any place to do their IT, they will just move from their hotels’ to the industrial unit. The benefit is not only to those handling production, but also to those in marketing, mass communication and others. This is why we call it production line. Those in polymer and technology will finish the production; marketing department will take over; and mass communication will design the adverts and publicity,” he said.
He said every department in the university would deploy its expertise to the industry towards making sure that the products get into the market. “We are not going to hire people from outside the university. We have Directorate of Venture and now that the university has products it will take over from there and distribute to the market,” he said.
According to the VC, the university got an automobile repair shop where it repairs all kinds of vehicles, including its official vehicles, saying “my cars are being maintained by the shop.
“We don’t need to go outside to service our cars because we have car diagnostic machine and we also have block section that produces blocks for commercial purposes,” he said.
Prof. Ihueze, who also spoke to our correspondent, said the factory was started in 2014 with the PTDF grant to develop oil and gas line link by using plantain fibers to produce plastic. He said the production line came into being in January and the university could ‘confidently’ produce plastic items like cups, plates, household wares and automatic components for industrial uses.
He said the factory was in need of utility vehicles for the distributions of its products.
He also said that the plant would afford the students the opportunity to do their IT in the university and also an opportunity to assist students to do work study, where they work at their free time and get paid. He said the plant could produce over 2,000 cups, 2000 plates, 2000 bowls each per shift.