"Steeling" the show

UMD’s steel bridge team advances to national competition

A chorus of power tools chatter and echo in the DECC arena as Justin Entinger and the UMD steel bridge team work to assemble their 20-foot bridge. The timed event was part of the American Institute of Steel Construction’s regional competition held in Duluth.

“This event is showing engineers that there’s more than just designing something,” Entinger said. “It’s about being able to design it and fabricate it.”

Teams were tasked with constructing a bridge that can withstand a load of 2,500 pounds and span a distance of 20 feet. They were also judged on aesthetics and the speed of construction.

Two of the UMD steel bridge team students put weight on their bridge during the weight testing phase of the competition
Two of the UMD steel bridge team students put weight on their bridge during the weight testing phase of the competition

UMD passed all load requirements and assembled their bridge in just under 20 minutes, setting a new team record, and advancing to the national competition held in San Diego in June.

Their truss style bridge is composed of about 90 pieces of artfully painted components, resulting in a strikingly sturdy result.

“Learning about civil engineering in Duluth is really cool,” Entinger said, looking out the window at the Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth’s iconic steel bridge, and the gateway to the region’s shipping industry.

Entinger is graduating this Spring with a major in civil engineering and a minor in mathematics, and will be pursuing a master’s degree in civil engineering from UMD next year.

More about the UMD Steal Bridge Team's season

The UMD Steel Bridge Team consists of about 20 students. At the beginning of fall semester (typically early September) the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) releases the rules for the Student Steel Bridge Competition (SSBC). 20 regional competitions take place annually in the spring (typically April) and the top teams from all regional competitions can qualify for the SSBC National Finals. Nationals typically take place at the end of May or beginning of June. 
The team begins designing the bridge as soon as the rules come out and spend most of the fall semester designing. At the end of the fall semester they order steel to begin fabricating the bridge at the start of the spring semester. Fabrication typically takes all of the spring semester up to the regional competition in April. 
This year's bridge was required to be between 23 and 24 feet long and support 2,500 pounds. The bridge members are not allowed to be larger than 3'-6" by 6" by 4", so during fabrication they weld members together that meet this specification and at competition put the bridge members together with bolts and nuts. The bridge construction at the competition is timed, and this makes up part of the scoring. Other scoring components of the competition include bridge deflection (how much it sags) under the 2,500 pound load, bridge weight, and aesthetics (how the bridge looks). 
There are 8 awards categories: Aesthetics, Construction Speed, Lightness, Stiffness, Construction Economy, Structural Efficiency, Cost Estimation, and Overall. 
This year, the Steel Bridge Team placed (took top 3) in all 8 categories and placed first overall. This qualified them for the National Finals competition which was at the University of California San Diego this year. The team's placement was as follows:
  • First Place Overall
  • First Place in Cost Estimation
  • First Place in Construction Economy
  • Second Place in Structural Efficiency
  • Second Place in Stiffness
  • Third Place in Construction Speed
  • Third Place in Lightness
  • Third Place in Aesthetics