Steel Bridge Team Finished Second in National Contest

Students building steel bridge
Cal Poly Civil Engineering students (left to right) Luke Nazaroff, Jonathan Espinoza, Allen Lactaoen, and Sarah Shaffer assemble their bridge in Engineering Plaza before the ASCE national competition.

Competing against 41 teams from around the world, Cal Poly’s steel bridge team placed second last weekend in the National Student Steel Bridge Competition at the University of Illinois – marking the eighth consecutive year Cal Poly has placed in the top ten.

A team from Lafayette College in Easton, PA, won the contest, while Montreal’s  École de Technologie Supérieure came in third. Cal Poly reached the nationals after winning the regionals in April.

The national contest, testing teamwork and project management, challenges students to produce a scale-model bridge that satisfies requirements in several categories, including construction speed; lightness; display; stiffness; economy; and efficiency. The Cal Poly team also placed in the top ten in each of those individual categories.

The Cal Poly team actually finished with the lowest cost bridge, said project manager Michael Clark. But the team was penalized for dropping the bridge off in the wrong location on the day of construction. Nonetheless, it continues a trend of strong Cal Poly performances.

The team began working in August to plan, design, fabricate and construct a 1:10 scale model steel bridge. In the winter, initial welding began, and in spring the team practiced construction three times a week for a total of 200 repetitions.

Photo of students working on steel bridge project

 “In practice, we achieved a record two minutes, seven seconds build time,” Clark said.

The competition was once limited to students working on senior projects, Clark said, but now the same students compete in multiple years, allowing them to improve. Access to the CNC mills at the Mustang ’60 Machine Shop and having space in the hangar has also helped results, Clark said.

The Cal Poly Steel Bridge team consists of undergraduate civil engineering students. This year, the competition was a senior project for the six senior captains.  While four builders actually constructed at the nationals, the Cal Poly team took 16 members so they could study the competition.

“The 12 additional students are there to ask questions, take pictures of connection ideas, and videotape construction runs,” Clark said.

While that will help students compete next year, Clark said the contest also helps prepare students for further challenges.

 “That experience translates well to recognizing constructability problems in our professional careers,” Clark said.


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