Research Magazine 2006

Structural research center to create safer buildings

planned Center for Structural Engineering Research
Co-designed by Halff Associates and Charles Gojer and Associates, the planned Center for Structural Engineering Research will be one of the nation's largest sites for testing heavy building materials.

Recent building collapses in New York and Chicago and tunnel failures in Boston point to the need for better structural protection from natural and unnatural events.

The UT Arlington College of Engineering and Hanson Pipe and Precast, Inc. will jointly develop a research center for full-scale structural testing of heavy building materials that’s expected to be one of the largest in the nation.

Civil and environmental engineering Professor Ali Abolmaali, who will direct the UT Arlington Center for Structural Engineering Research, says the project will help the University compete with top national and international universities and research institutes for state and federal grants.

“This partnership will make our civil and environmental engineering program rank among the top 20 in the nation,” said Dr. Abolmaali, who recently assisted the National Transportation Safety Board in its investigation of structural failures in the I-90 connector tunnel in Boston. “We will be among the few research institutions to employ nano, laser and image-processing technology for micro measurements and health monitoring of structural systems—some as big as simultaneous testing of a four-story building and a multispan bridge system.”

Hanson, which has donated more than three acres of land and building materials for the project, is an international manufacturer of concrete products, with operations in the United Kingdom, North America, Australia, Europe and Asia. Its Grand Prairie, Texas, concrete pipe and precast plant is the world’s largest.

“The future and ultimate service life of the nation’s infrastructure are dependent on construction materials being appropriately designed and evaluated by laboratory testing,” said Clifford Hahne, Hanson’s regional president. “The activities conducted in this facility will allow Hanson and others in the construction materials industry to know that we will be hiring individuals who have been exposed to environments that realistically reflect the real-world uses of the materials and who have been thoroughly trained in their analysis and design.”

With a substantial contribution from Hanson and fundraising efforts by the American Concrete Pipe Association (ACPA), the center will feature approximately 30,000 square feet of conference/classroom/office space and 40,000 square feet of strong floor and strong wall. It will be operated by UT Arlington’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.

A research area will contain state-of-the-art equipment and instrumentation such as several 1,000-kip (1 kip = 1,000 pounds) dynamic actuators, nano and laser sensors and image-processing devices. A reaction (strong) floor, possibly the largest in the nation, will have the capability to test several full-size building and bridge components simultaneously.

Reaction floors with 350-kip capacity per hole will have specially reinforced foundations able to withstand severe loading. Two 50-ton cranes will move test specimens and materials to specialized equipment in the research area. The center will be adjacent to Hanson’s plant, about 10 miles east of the campus along Interstate 30.

“This center will have a huge impact on UT Arlington and Dallas-Fort Worth,” Abolmaali said. “Hanson initiated the idea, and the ACPA and the University strongly supported it.”

In addition to its fundraising, the ACPA has donated $75,000 for robotic equipment and sensors.

“This is a true university/private industry partnership for the betterment of society,” Abolmaali said.

— Roger Tuttle