UB Steel Bridge earns second-best finish in team history

UB ASCE's steel bridge team builds in the "compete from campus" competitions.

UB ASCE's steel bridge team building its bridge on-campus

By Peter Murphy

Published June 22, 2021

UB’s steel bridge team earned eighth place in construction speed, first in lightness, fifth in economy, third in efficiency and fifth overall in the American Institute of Steel Construction’s (AISC) national steel bridge competition, the second-best finish in team history.

Fifth place at this year's National Competition

“Both the regional and national competitions were a ‘compete from campus’ format where each team built and load-tested their bridge at their own school."
Zachary Carlson, one of the project managers
UB Steel Bridge Team

The UB steel bridge is one of three teams within UB’s American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) club. This is the first time the steel bridge team could compete at the national level since 2019 after most 2020 competitions were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, AISC kept many of the same rules for the 2020 competition, but gave teams some more flexibility, even as they had to compete from their own campuses. 

“AISC’s decision to keep the rules from 2020 allowed us to use the 2020 bridge that we had 80% completed prior to the start of the pandemic,” says one of the project managers, Zachary Carlson. “Both the regional and national competitions were a ‘compete from campus’ format where each team built and load-tested their bridge at their own school. We tested our bridge for the national competition on May 8.”

The team won the regional competition after building and testing its bridge on March 20. During the seven-week delay in between competitions, some teams elected to change their design. According to Carlson, UB steel bridge’s design remained unchanged. 

“After winning first place in the regional competition, our team practiced almost every day in an effort to decrease our build time.” Carlson says. “This year’s competition was drastically different from previous years in that the competition is usually highly regulated and a team would never be able to completely change their bridge geometry to fit the load case for the national competition. Our inability to do this put us at a disadvantage.”

Despite no redesigns to the bridge, UB steel bridge still finished within the top ten in several of the competition’s categories, including first in lightness.  

UB student engineers compete to build the best bridge for a competition hosted by the American Institute of Steel Construction.

“When the rules of the competition changed in February 2021, deflection would be judged pass/fail. To save w eight and time, the team removed unnecessary members from the bridge,” says project manager Chris Lento. “Analyzing where the load would fall to determine locations of cross frames; designing a 2-D deck; and adjusting our bridge and build to the rules changes due to the pandemic allowed us to build the lightest bridge in the country, while still placing third in efficiency and fifth in economy.”

In spite of the virtual competition, UB steel bridge finished fifth overall, achieving the second best finish in chapter history (fourth place, 2019). According to Renaud, the team earned its success and dealt with adversity. 

“My biggest take-away from this year is overcoming the difficulties stemming from coordinating all the individual tasks needed in order to have a bridge ready for competition,” Carlson says. “It was difficult to get people to contribute and meet in person to complete tasks due to scheduling, location and COVID-19 issues.”

Lento plans to utilize the lessons he learned from this year and last year, as well. “You need to be able to adapt to what life brings,” he says, “the earth quakes, but you have to learn how to remain standing.”