Cody Howard
School of Engineering

Steel bridge team prepares for regional event

Wed, 04/23/2014

LAWRENCE — Armed with new materials, deeper knowledge and solid engineering principles, expectations are high for a team of students from the University of Kansas School of Engineering as it prepares for an upcoming regional competition.

The Steel Bridge Team will compete in the American Society of Civil Engineers Mid-Continent Conference Regional Steel Bridge Competition hosted by Oklahoma State University starting Thursday, April 24, in Stillwater, Okla.

Teams are challenged to construct a bridge that’s 1-foot, 7-inches high, with a span of 17 feet that can support a minimum of 2,600 pounds. Teams can earn additional points by addressing a variety of factors such as reducing the weight of the bridge itself, assembling the bridge more quickly, using fewer team members to construct the bridge and increasing the stability of the bridge under heavier loads.

KU earned a spot at the national competition in 2013 after a top-three finish at regionals last year, and team leaders say that success provided them with invaluable experience as they gear up this year. Zach Olson, a senior in civil engineering and steel bridge team captain, said new information gleaned at the national competition enabled the 17 members of this year’s team to make several improvements.

“We made some big changes to our design,” Olson said. “Going to nationals last year helped us a ton. We got to see the materials other teams used – typically much smaller components that provide a lot more flexibility in construction.

“Historically, we’ve used steel from structural steel suppliers for our components, but it’s really hard to hunt down small pieces. At nationals, we saw other teams were using mechanical or aerospace tubes, which are much smaller in diameter. We’ve incorporated those, and it gives us a lot more precision at our connections and flexibility in how we use our material,” he said.

Though the team’s finish at regionals in 2013 was high enough to earn a trip to nationals, Olson said they’re setting their sights higher this time around.

“Our goal is to take first in the regional by a decent margin, because we saw last year that there was a gap between our region’s performance and the national field,” he said, noting KU finished 37th overall and was grouped in the final rankings with the other two qualifiers from the Mid-Continent region. “If we secure a solid first-place finish at regionals, I’m confident we could make a run at the top 10 in nationals."

Olson said aside from the thrill of competition, there are plenty of other benefits to getting involved in the steel bridge team.

“My first couple years at KU I was very focused on grades and didn’t really see how this type of experience would make me more marketable to a potential employer, but once I got involved, it’s easy to see how this translates to real-world experience. It’s a great opportunity to go beyond what you get in the classroom,” Olson said.

The national competition, which is co-sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction, is set for May 23-24 at the University of Akron, in Akron, Ohio.

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