Steel bridge assembled in just 7 minutes takes second place
By Denise Brehm
Civil & Environmental Engineering
A team of CEE students won the award for fastest construction and took second place overall in the regional ASCE/AISC Steel Bridge Competition at the University of Connecticut March 16-17, earning a chance to compete at the national competition in Northridge, Calif., next month.
Five members of the CEE team, the first from MIT to enter the annual competition in many years, assembled their bridge in just under seven minutes at a “cost” of just over $4 milllion.
The eight undergraduates and three graduate student mentors faced 10 other teams vying to build the best bridge on site. Judges scored teams on constructability, usability, stiffness, construction speed, efficiency, economy, and looks. Teams transported their bridge prototypes in pieces, assembled them at the competition and then applied a 2,500-pound load. The lowest score, calculated to look like cost, won.
MIT’s score was $4,012,500. Merrimack College took first place with a score of $3,945,833. UConn came in third. All three teams will compete at the national competition sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC).
“Most of us didn’t know what we were up against going into regionals, but I think we have a better idea of what to expect in California, and we’re preparing to be more efficient,” said junior Tracy Takemura, former president of the MIT Civil and Environmental Engineering Students Association. “I think it’s safe to say that we learned a lot about how we can improve upon our bridge. We had over-designed our lateral strength, so we will be minimizing cross-bracings to decrease overall weight. We can also cut down on builders—to have four total—to cut builder costs.”
The MIT team began the project in January with a 36-page sheaf of rules, guidelines and specifications written in the form of a Request for Proposals from a Department of Transportation (DOT) needing to replace an old bridge spanning a river. The DOT required team designs to accommodate modular decking salvaged from another structure, be able to carry a specified load without exceeding bending or swaying limits, to sit on preexisting footings, and to preserve existing embankments along the river during construction.
“Not bad for our first try,” said Sean Homem, a graduate student who served as the team’s competition chair because of the experience he gained in the event while competing twice as an undergraduate at Merrimack College. “I would guess that we put in well over 100 hours since January, about 90 percent of it during the four weeks leading up to the competition. Some of us spent three to four hours per day,” he said.
“We learn so much in class, and this was a perfect application,” said Takemura. “I learned through watching the fabrication process that the actual connections of [the bridge pieces] is much more difficult and complicated than I had expected. It was an excellent experience in how the design on paper and computer becomes tangible.”
Quinn Vollmert, junior, is team captain and head designer. In addition to Takemura, other team members are sophomores Jose Cano, Tina Lai, Jennifer Tang, Levon Thomas and Jodie Wu, and freshman Adam Talsma. Alejandro Abrams, Homem and Johan Leonard are graduate mentors. Professor Jerome Connor is faculty advisor, Steve Rudolph, CAD operator, and Jack Germaine, senior research associate, spent many hours working with the team in the shop. Jimmy O’Donnell and Jimmy Duffy of Boston Bridge Services, Inc. handled much of the fabrication.
The MIT team will pack its bridge into 32 pieces and head to southern California for the national competition May 25 and 26 at California State University.
The MIT steel bridge team placed 24th out of 43 teams competing in the national finals at California State University in Northridge, June 1, 2007.