The sound of metal clinking carries through the hallway as two students help bring out long pieces of steel through Bainer Hall. The students place the structures inside of a perimeter marked by white tape.
The UC Davis Steel Bridge Team, better known as team “Chrome Ollie,” is setting up and about to practice assembling their steel bridge for the upcoming Mid-Pacific Regional Competition on Apr. 26 at the Mondavi Center’s Parking Structure from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30.
The steel bridge contest brings out other teams in the region to compete against each other in the design and formation of scale-size bridge structures. While the competition can be stressful, it can also be fun.
“[The competition] is pretty intense. I mean you’re looking at a group of students who have no free time to start with, and who’ve dedicated every spare moment to this for nine months, and it all comes down to 15 minutes on one day,” said Jessica Revell, the team’s project manager. “In terms of competitiveness, it’s very, very competitive. We see it come down to maybe 15 seconds could be the difference between first place, second place, third place. So it’s a really intense day – lots of fun.”
The Mid-Pacific American Society of Civil Engineers Regional Conference is the precursor that determines which schools can compete in the National Student Steel Bridge Competition.
“Each school that enters the NSSBC competes at a regional competition first, then if qualified, [the team] finishes in the top two or three at the regional competition. [Then] they are invited to the national competition which typically fields around 45 schools,” said Matt Turner, the team’s advisor.
The Mid-Pacific Regional Competition includes UC Berkeley; California State University, San Francisco; California State University, Fresno; University of Nevada, Reno; California State University, Sacramento; California State University, San Jose; Santa Clara University; and California State University, Chico.
The competition brings about rules and regulations that the bridge builders need to follow and different criteria on which the bridge will be judged.
“A 40-page set of rules and regulations are set each new season that each team must follow strictly. These rules and regulations are tweaked from season to season so teams can’t bring out the same bridge each year; they must fabricate a new one and overcome different design challenges each season,” Turner said.
The bridge structures are judged on different components such as the bridge’s weight, stiffness and structural efficiency. The bridge is loaded with 2,600 pounds and the amount that the structure bends is measured.
“You want it to be as stiff as possible,” Revell said.
Another component that is considered is the speed at which the team can assemble the bridge. These criteria are put in an equation and the bridge is given a dollar value. The cheapest bridge wins.
Sometimes some schools might design a bridge that stresses one component over another, such as one that is stiff rather than quick to assemble.
“We’ve seen schools come out and they make their bridge popsicle-stick light and they just let it bend because it’s the same balance of the score,” Revell said.
Last year, the team received first place based on their efficient balance of structural performance and constructability.
This year, the team has put 4,000 hours into working on the project. The team started designing their bridge once the rules came out in August.
According to Rishi Patel, a project manager for the team, their designs come from a cooperative effort with help from their advisor Turner and the knowledge of Revell. They also look to previous designs that worked well for other teams.
The bridges are constructed from steel only, but the type of steel that is used is up to each team to decide. Steel is an alloy, or a mixture containing two or more elements, one of which is a metal. The elements that make up steel are iron and small amounts of carbon.
“Some may use a typical hot rolled steel which is weaker at the material level than say a 4130 alloy steel, which has almost twice the strength,” Turner said.
This project lets students gain hands-on experience and obtain spatial and practical sense as they get to build these bridges themselves.
“Meeting people, getting hands-on experience, learning what structural engineering is all about…. I think most of all it’s the construction during the competition because we put nine months of work into it and it comes down to a few minutes, so it’s a lot of fun,” said Jeff Spiro, a member of the team, on his favorite aspects of the project.“Anyone can join. You don’t even have to be an engineering major, just have a desire to do it.”
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