Steel bridge team

Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Steel Bridge Team poses with part of “Beatruss,” a bridge the team will enter in the Student Steel Bridge Competition national finals held May 31-June 1 at SIU. The team selected an overtruss design aimed at limiting deflection over the longer span required by the competition rules this year, while its decking connections were designed as “T” connections with the intention of keeping connections rigid and still allowing for a quick assembly. SIU is one of 41 teams competing. Pictured left to right are team members Corey Albrecht, Scott Kasper, Ben Holland, Caleb Dushman, Jason Jurak, and Cole Cameron. (Photo provided)

May 24, 2019

Engineering students to test mettle during national steel bridge competition at SIU

by Tim Crosby

Engineering faculty and students are working hard to make the upcoming Student Steel Bridge Competition national finals a huge success at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The event, set for May 31-June 1 at the Banterra Center (previously the SIU Arena), will see some 600 participants and their supporters from 41 universities, along with several other companies and professional organizations, descend on the Carbondale area. SIU also will field a team at the event.

The event is free and open to the public and is an all-ages event focusing on engineering.

Event provides a real-world challenge

The American Institute of Steel Construction sponsors the event, which brings together prize-winning teams from 18 regional competitions. The event challenges student teams to develop a scale-model steel bridge that meets certain specifications and aesthetics.

Teams must determine how to fabricate their bridges and then plan for an efficient assembly under timed construction at the competition. Bridges must span about 20 feet, carry 2,500 pounds, and must meet all other specifications of the competition rules. Bridge aesthetics are also judged and considered in the final results of the competition.

The event is aimed at giving students the opportunity to use their classroom knowledge in a practical, hands-on steel-design project. The project tests and improves students’ interpersonal and professional skills, encourages innovation and fosters relationships between students and industry professionals.

Students, university pulling together to meet challenges

John Warwick, dean of the College of Engineering, said students in the degree program learn how to apply scientific principles to solve problems with complex constraints. Competitions such as the Steel Bridge event expose students to such challenges where optimal solutions demand knowledge, dedication and teamwork. 

“Hosting this type of national event is a major undertaking for our students and our department of Civil and Environmental Engineering,” Warwick said. “Like the competition, a successful event outcome will only be achieved through collaborative efforts that will reflect well on our students, programs and university.”

Sanjeev Kumar, chair of the civil and environmental engineering degree program, said the AISC invited SIU to host the event after the university successfully hosted a regional competition last year. Organizers are busily preparing to meet the needs of the expected visitors.

“This includes food for three meals, lodging, travel methods, SIU facility rental, raising money through many sponsors, communicating to all parties involved, and other logistics,” Kumar said.

Kumar said organizers are still in need of volunteers to top off the more than 100-strong volunteer corps required. A committee made up of eight students and recent graduates has lead the way in planning since the event location was announced last fall.

“We have been very busy ever since trying to make this a memorable event for SIU and everyone involved,” Kumar said. “Our goal is to make this this best Steel Bridge National Finals ever hosted, and we want to impress all of our visitors.”

Steady growth in national student competition

The Student Steel Bridge Competition was first held in 1987 as a competition of three schools in Michigan. That number grew to 13 schools by 1992, when the first national competition was held.

Since those early days, the competition has grown, with 42 schools participating in the finals this year.

SIU Team to field “Beatruss”

Corey Albrecht, president of the SIU Steel Bridge Team, said team includes a dozen members, four of whom also serve on the eight-member hosting committee helping organize the event. The other half the committee is comprised of alumni or other engineering students.

The team has nicknamed their bridge “Beatruss,” intentionally misspelling the traditional name to include that well-known structural member.

“About half of our bridge team specialized in bridge design, and the other half specialized in bridge fabrication,” Albrecht said.

The design team worked most of the fall semester and part of the spring semester designing and modeling the bridge, while the construction team spent part of the fall semester and most of the spring semester in the shop cutting steel to size, fabricating connections, welding parts of the bridge, and practiced building the bridge for competition. 

“It helps to have that mix of skills on the team because both parts of Steel Bridge Team are equally important for a successful bridge,” Albrecht said. “Communication between both parts of the team is important because design team needs to model the bridge so that it is easy for construction team to fabricate and build, and construction team needs to work with design team to make sure pieces of the bridge are fabricated properly.”

“Beatruss” was designed as an overtruss to limit deflection over the longer span in the rules this year, Albrecht said, while its decking connections were designed as “T” connections with the intention of keeping connections rigid and still allowing for a quick assembly.  

A ‘showcase’ for the engineering program

Playing host to the national event is a major accomplishment for the team and SIU, Albrecht said.

“It is uncommon that a school the size of SIU gets to host Steel Bridge Nationals. We view this as opportunity to showcase our engineering program and campus on a national stage” he said. “Organizing the conference has helped us grow connections with companies who sponsor us, and it teaches us leadership and organizational skills that we do not learn in the classroom.”

Kumar said the biggest challenge SIU faced in preparing for the event was fund-raising and finding volunteers.

“Carbondale is very rural, so it is difficult to get large commitments from companies,” he said. “We have had tremendous support from alumni, the university and companies who typically support our College of Engineering, however, and together they have exceeded our fundraising goal.”

Volunteers still needed

Because the event is occurring during summer break, organizers have struggled to find enough volunteers. Volunteers are still being accepted at this time.

The event starts on May 31, with bridge aesthetic judging from 2:15 to 4:30 p.m. in the parking lot in front of the Banterra Center. Food trucks also will on site from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. that day.

The bridge competition runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 1 at the Banterra Center.

Warwick said he’d like the many student competitors to the event to leave as winners.

“They have won by virtue of their dedicated participation,” he said. “Every participant has invested much to make it to this national competition, and these efforts will positively impact their professional trajectory in myriad ways, regardless of the final rankings.”