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Steel Bridge Team to race against time

Friday, April 22, 2016

LAWRENCE — Students from the University of Kansas School of Engineering will compete in a race this week at the Mid-Continent Conference Steel Bridge Competition at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, in Rolla, Missouri. The competition is hosted by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC).

For the competition, each team has to design a bridge whose components fit into a 3-foot-by-6-inch-by-4-inch box, and then assemble it on site as quickly as possible. The area that the bridge will be built on is designed to simulate real-world building situations. This year, the landscape will have a river running through it, which will require the bridge to be assembled from both sides, because the members are not allowed to step in the river.

Each teams’ bridge cannot be wider or taller than 5 feet, cannot be longer than 21 ½ feet and must have 18 inches of clearance underneath the bridge. There will be a team of six to eight judges who will assess each bridge and apply penalties when needed.

“When you finish construction they, meet and talk with each other to see if they’re going to hit you with any construction penalties, and then they dimension-check the bridge,” said KU Steel Bridge team captain Duncan MacLachlan. “They use a template that’s made out of plywood that they drag across the decking surface to make sure the bridge fits within the dimensions.”

At the end of the competition, each team will be judged and given a “dollar score” based on the bridge’s structural efficiency and construction economy. For the structural efficiency category, the team will be charged $1 million per inch of deflection and $10,000 per pound of steel utilized in the bridge. This is a reduced cost from last year’s competition, which was $20,000 per pound.

For the construction economy category, the team will be charged $50,000 per builder, per minute in the competition. Each team is allowed up to six builders and 45 minutes to build its bridge.

“It comes down to a big strategy game to figure out if it’s economical to build it with five people really fast, or to build it with four people but a little slower,” said MacLachlan. “Basically, for every person you add, you have to build the bridge 25 percent quicker.”

There are 30 to 40 students working on the team here at KU, but only 16 will travel to the competition. MacLachlan plans to have no more than five builders participating in the actual competition.

KU hopes to finish in the top three at regionals and earn a trip to the national competition May 27-28 at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

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