Mid-Pac 2016: Steel Bridge Competition Recap

The Steel Bridge Competition was held at the University of Nevada campus inside Lawlor Events Center of Friday, April 8.  Eleven teams participated in the competition.  The points of the competition are broken up into several categories and an overall “cost” is assigned to each team.  This cost depends on things like construction speed, deflection under load, number of builders, and weight of the bridge.

The event began with aesthetics judging on Thursday evening.  Each team set up their bridges and the judges evaluated them for best display.  Each team also had to make a poster, which was also considered in the Display category.  Although an award is given out in this category, it’s only used as a tie-breaker if needed.

Two fully assembled bridges

On Friday, the construction and loading phases of the competition took place.  The first thing the judges did was measure the dimensions of each individual piece.  Each member of the bridge many not exceed the dimensions of 3′ x 6″ x 4″.

Steel Bridge Dimension Check
Measuring each member of the steel bridge using a box

The next step is for the teams to physically construct the bridge while the judges watch.  Participants were not allowed to step in the “river” (marked on the floor with blue tape) and they received penalties for each item (bolts, tools, etc) that were dropped during construction. This year there were some unique construction techniques that included building sections of the bridge over land and then rotating them into place over the water.

After the construction process, the loading phase began.  Each bridge was laterally loaded with 50 lbs to determine the horizontal deflection.  Bridges that deflected more than 1″ were automatically disqualified and were unable to move onto vertical loading. The bridges that passed this test were able to move to the final loading phase where the construction team placed 2,400 lbs of weight on the deck of the bridge.  The vertical deflection of the structure was measured and factored into the team’s overall score.

Steel Bridge Loading
Loading one of the bridges with 2,400 lbs

There were a couple of problems we experienced while hosting but we did the best we could to address the problems and run the competition as smoothly as possible.  The first issue we had was with Sacramento State’s bridge.  They were the first to build and therefore the first to load.  The data collection system wasn’t turned on prior to adding any weight, so (per the rules) they had to unload the bridge, disassemble it, and rebuild it again at the end of the day.  Our sincerest apologies to Sac State for the mistake!  For what they had to go through, they were very good sports and dealt with our mistake with grace.

The second problem we encountered was breaking the lateral loading system part way through the day.  One of the welds on the steel frame we built broke (an old welder was apparently used to make the piece) and we had to stop the competition to fix the problem. Overall, it was a pretty minor delay and we were able to resume within an hour.

Tongji and Berkeley did very well in the competition and placed very high in every category.  Both of the teams are expected to move onto the National Steel Bridge Competition at Bringham Young University at the end of May.  The University of Nevada didn’t fare as well.  During the construction phase, one of the welds broke, which violated a couple of specific rules.  They were disqualified and unable to load their bridge. However, we wish the best of luck to Tongji University and UC Berkeley in their pursuit of a national title.  Good luck and make us proud!

Want to see the final competition results? Click here!

Tongji Steel Bridge.jpeg
Tongji with their steel bridge (Photo courtesy of Tongi University Steel Bridge Team)
Berkeley Steel Bridge Team
UC Berkeley’s Steel Bridge Team (Photo courtesy of UC Berkeley Steel Bridge Team)

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