Steel Bridge Design Club Takes Home the Hardware

April 27, 2023

On April 23, the UConn Steel Bridge Design Club competed in the Northeast Regional Steel Bridge competition, where they had a clean sweep victory against 12 other teams in all major categories.

The Steel Bridge Design Club is a structural engineering club that deals with designing a bridge based on the specifications provided by the AISC for the national competition each year, based on certain specifications, such as meeting a height and length requirement.

"To name a few [specifications], there is a certain height that span needs to clear off the ground, the height and width of each member cannot exceed certain measurements, the length of the bridge that is required, where the posts need to be placed, and a bunch of others," Steel Bridge Design Club President Matthew Jewell said in an e-mail interview. "Then, we basically strategize a bridge that will help alleviate some of the harder rules, like this year there was a connection that needed to be in an area we cannot step in so the design was to make that connection easier. After that comes the basis of the design, so we chose a 3D space-truss since its aesthetic and can handle loading with a bottom chord."

On facing the challenges posed by this competition, Jewell said, "The challenges of this club really came down to putting a lot of man-hours in for fabrication, but our advisors and helper Tom were motivated to help us get this bridge done. Fabrication all started with prepping all the connection plates and taking apart some of the members from last year's bridge. Once all the prep work was finished, then the actual fabrication was simply put together with an assembled jig. The jig is what positioned each piece so that they resembled what they would eventually look like, and then the rest was welding and grinding so that the members were together at the correct dimension. It took a lot of time, but was not necessarily challenging. Testing was just stacking the 50 pound steel bars we have in the shop until it amounted to 2500lb in the worst loading case (mid-span), and doing that test helped the steel harden so it could perform better in the actual competition."

"The competition was definitely long," Jewell said. "The aesthetics judging started at 7AM, so the bridge needed to be assembled then. For us, we were fifth in line for the actual construction speed portion. Overall, we had a solid run with a 13:41 build time and only two drops. Our advisor was very impressed. We then brought the bridge over to the weigh station where it weighed around 250 lbs, and easily passed the deflection. The total deflection was about 1.4" over mid-span and .7" at the end span, amounting to 2.1" aggregate deflection. At the end, we were awarded first place for both construction speed and least deflection."

Competing members of the club included Jewell, John Santangelo, Kelly Voong, and Yuanlong Dai. They all shared the same role of building the bridge.

"This year the club did run a bit differently with Lexi's senior design team helping model the bridge into software, but the E-Board and I helped keep the club running. John, Yuanlong, and I were all E-board members while Kelly was actually part of the senior design team, so we all did different things before we became part of the build team," Jewell said.

This year's bridge was 23 feet long, weighs 240 pounds and can support a 2500 pound load with 1 inch of deflection, according to Steel Bridge Design Club Advisor Michael Culmo. This bridge won all major categories in the event, including:

  1. Construction Speed
  2. Least Weight
  3. Stiffness
  4. Economy
  5. Structural Efficiency
  6. Overall Performance

The team now qualifies for the National Finals in San Diego in June, along with the top 50 teams in the country.

"[I] would definitely like to thank our advisors Mike Culmo and Lexi, as well as Tom Sawtelle who works with Mike at the CHA Companies. Mike has helped keep this club alive since the year 2000 and we are lucky to have such a knowledgeable professional be with us throughout the whole process. Tom also guided us in numerous occasions in welding tutorials and other shop practices, and we definitely wouldn't have done it without him."

The Steel Bridge Design Club posts regular updates on Facebook, and you can shoot them a follow on their Instagram account.