Published June 8, 2015
The task is unnerving: design and build a steel bridge that is light, strong and easy to assemble. What’s more, your competitors are some of the best engineering schools nationwide.
Not to worry — UB engineering students are up to the task.
A 17-member team recently placed fourth — the university’s best finish yet — in the 2015 National Student Steel Bridge Competition, held May 22-23 in Kansas City, Missouri.
“It’s been a great experience,” says Ed Almeter, an Attica native who earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from UB in May while acting as project manager for the UB team. “I really enjoyed applying what we learned in the classroom into a real, hands-on experience. It was awesome to see the team come together and perform so well.”
The annual competition, which is sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the American Institute of Steel Construction, included teams from 47 universities and colleges.
The UB squad — members of the UB-ASCE steel bridge team, a UB Student Association club — began work on the extracurricular project in the fall. They spent the semester meticulously testing different versions of the bridge before deciding on a “deep truss” design, says Todd Snyder, UB-ASCE faculty adviser.
The choice was a departure from the bridge designed and built by UB’s 2014 team, which placed 10th in the nationwide competition. That team created a “shallow beam” bridge, which traditionally trades higher weight and deflection costs for decreased assembly costs.
The deep truss model, Snyder explains, is light and strong, yet typically more complicated to assemble. “In theory, you’re sacrificing some economy,” he says.
With the design in place, the students worked in the spring fabricating the bridge. The effort was aided by the revamped machine shop inside Jarvis Hall and, more importantly, the knowledge of John Gast, a steel bridge erection consultant from Grand Island.
“The attention to detail and precision in both the design and fabrication phases could not have been possible without the countless hours put in by the team. And the fabrication methods we used were taught to us flawlessly by our adviser, John Gast,” says Ryan O’Malley, team member and senior-to-be civil engineering major.
In addition to Gast, another key contributor was Larry Mathews, an engineer and project manager at Cheektowaga-based Greenman-Pedersen. Both Gast and Mathews are members of the Association of Bridge Construction and Design, Western New York Chapter, which provided financial and additional support to the students.
With the design and build set, team members worked to find the best way to assemble their structure — construction speed is one of six categories in which teams are judged upon. Other categories are lightness, display, stiffness (or the bridge’s strength), economy and efficiency. Ultimately, the team decided three students would handle the job.
Before the students could compete nationally, however, they had to prove their mettle at a regional contest at the United States Military Academy at West Point. They placed among the top three and, not long after, found themselves piling into three minivans, bridge in tow, making what turned out to be an 18-hour drive to Missouri.
The contest was held inside a large room at the Kansas City Convention Center. “It’s pretty fun. There’s a lot of drumming and cheering. It’s kind of like a festival and UB is known for its cowbell,” Snyder says.
While the atmosphere was fun, Almeter says the teams take the competition seriously. The UB team really came together during the contest, he adds.
“Finishing fourth at the nationals is both a surreal and rewarding feeling,” O”Malley says. “We competed against some of the best civil engineering schools in the world, and it was great to see that the countless hours spent creating the bridge put us in that company.”
The team’s success comes on the heels of winning the 2015 ASCE Distinguished Chapter Award for Region 1, which recognizes UB as the most outstanding student organization among the 48 student chapters in New England, New Jersey and Puerto Rico.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the students. The countless hours they spent working on this project, and being recognized by their peers, really proves that they are a special group,” Snyder says.
In addition to Almeter and O’Malley, members of the 2015 UB-ASCE steel bridge team are Devin Bush, Greg Congdon, Lindsay DeVito, Christopher Etienne, Neil Ferguson, Mark Hare, Mitchell Hares, Zeb Hoffmann, Duncan McAuley, Wil Nagengast, Greg Phattanachitchon, Josh Schmid, Andrei Shatalov, Sean Terry and Rushil Verma.
The students and their sponsors are already looking forward to next year.
“Excitement is high and the students are making plans for next year’s bridge, which will compete at the regional competition at UB,” Mathews says. “If they are successful, the team will compete at the national competition hosted by Brigham Young University.”