Huskers Team Tops In Big Beam Contest

University of Nebraska (Team #2) engineering students won first place in the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute’s 2005 Big Beam national competition.

University of Nebraska (Team #2) engineering students won first place in the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute’s 2005 ÎBig BeamÌ national competition. Winning second through sixth place were teams from Oregon State University, University of Texas, University of Calgary, University of Illinois, and Clarkson University. The event has grown to 38 teams representing 23 universities since its year 2000 inception Û 160-plus students comprising teams of two to nine members participated this year.

Coordinated by PCI’s Student Education Committee, the competition is sponsored by Lyndhurst, N.J.-based Sika Corp. It joins teams of students with university advisors and local PCI-certified producers to design, fabricate and test precast, prestressed concrete beams up to 15 ft. long. The competition is judged by such criteria as concrete compressive strength, beam performance under loads, and accuracy of the teams’ calculations; prizes are awarded for most efficient design as well as for highest load capacity and best report, among other categories.

The winning University of Nebraska team Û Michelle Berger, Nick Clinebell, Andy Flanagan, Ryan Grasse and their university advisor Maher K. Tadros, the Charles J. Vranek Professor of Civil Engineering at Nebraska Û worked with Coreslab Structures in Omaha. In addition to receiving an award of $2,000 plus other prizes, the team was honored at the PCI Annual Convention last month.

Winner of the $500 Best Report prize was Team #1 from Oregon State University; its precast sponsor was the Prestress Concrete Group of Morse Bros., Inc. in Harrisburg, Ore. Second place and a $1,750 prize in the national competition were awarded to Oregon State University Team #2. The competition also presented regional awards in six zones, with prizes ranging from $750 plus honors for second place to $250 and honors for fourth place.

The contest introduces civil engineering students to precast/prestressed concrete, a topic that is not addressed in most civil engineering programs. The competition has proved an effective means of exposing students to this segment of the industry and establishing relevant programs in the civil engineering curricula of participating schools.

According to University of Cincinnati Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Richard A. Miller and Ohio University Civil Engineering Assistant Chair Eric Steinberg, both instrumental in conceiving the competition, the real learning occurs when students work with PCI producer members’ engineering staffs in designing their beams. While the students must do the actual designing, rules allow Û indeed, encourage Û producer members to provide as much assistance as possible.

Students must predict the behavior of beams, i.e., cracking loads, maximum loads and deflection at failure, as well as material properties. All predictions must be made before the beams are tested and prior to material property tests conducted on the concrete batches used to cast them. Additional challenges the students face include optimization of different, sometimes contradictory, categories; understanding the nonlinear structural behavior of concrete; and, designing high-performance concrete mixes. Given such requirements, Miller regards the contest as much better from a pedagogical point of view than other student competitions.

Students work with a local producer to develop the beam design, then travel to the plant where they stress the strand, assemble forms, tie cages and cast the concrete. The following day, students experience transfer of prestress and beam camber. Test cylinders and flexure beams are cast to determine concrete compressive and tensile strength. After beam behaviors are predicted and documented, the beams are tested to failure. Limiting the number of students on a team requires each member to participate in design, fabrication, testing and report writing.

Applications for the 2006 Big Beam competition must be submitted to PCI by March 15, 2006. More information on the program can be obtained by contacting PCI Research Director Paul Johal, 312/360-3213; e-mail: [email protected].