By Peter Murphy
Release Date: May 5, 2023
BUFFALO, N.Y. – Researchers from the University at Buffalo’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences are part of a new research center that is working to create more durable and longer-lasting transportation infrastructure through innovation in materials, construction and structural health monitoring methods.
The new Transportation Infrastructure Precast Innovation Center (TRANS-IPIC), a Tier 1 University Transportation Center funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, was awarded $10 million over a five-year period, of which UB will receive $1.6 million.
Pinar Okumus, an associate professor in UB’s Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, will serve as an associate director for TRANS-IPIC.
The center and its researchers will incorporate new technologies into precast concrete, one of the most common materials used to build transportation infrastructure in the U.S., according to Okumus.
“Precast concrete bridges make up most of the new bridges in the U.S. Precast concrete is also common for other infrastructure elements such as tunnels, airports and railroads. They are preferred over alternatives because precast concrete structures can be rapidly built, greatly reducing traffic delays and detours associated with construction,” Okumus says. “Because precast concrete is used often, enhancing the quality of the materials, construction methods and monitoring methods for precast concrete structures will have a big impact on the U.S.’s infrastructure.”
Precast concrete is higher quality, requires less maintenance and can last longer, compared to the typical concrete cast at construction sites. Precast concrete elements are built off-site, at a plant. This controlled environment is ideal for researchers to implement new technologies into the precast concrete.
The five-university consortium is led by professor Bassem Andrawes, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Okumus is the principal investigator at UB. Purdue University, Louisiana State University and the University of Texas at San Antonio are also partners of TRANS-IPIC.
In addition to projects specific to each university, UB researchers will also collaborate with center partners on their projects. Specific projects will be selected soon, but according to Okumus, UB’s researchers will likely work in several of their specialty areas.
“We have expertise in material science, concrete structures, bridge and tunnel engineering, robotics, health monitoring, performance-based engineering and additive manufacturing. We are excited to initiate projects related to these areas,” Okumus says.
According to the research team’s proposal, one of the center’s aims is to advance the additive manufacturing technology for bridge construction around two main pillars: materials and manufacturing. Additive manufacturing is 3D printing an object from a computer-aided design or 3D model. Chi Zhou, an associate professor in UB’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, will lead the development and analysis of a printable multifunctional material, and the effort to convert the multifunctional material into scaled 3D bridge elements with the desired geometry and functional integrity.
“My goal in the center is to advance the additive manufacturing technology for bridge construction by making the bridge builds faster, smarter and more resilient,” Zhou says. “I intend to study the printability of multifunctional materials, design the automation and control modules, and develop 3D printing systems for the bridge construction.”
Ravi Ranade, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, and a faculty member with UB’s Institute of Bridge Engineering (IBE) specializes in advanced cementitious materials, performance-based design of materials and infrastructure. Ranade, along with several IBE faculty members, is an investigator with the TRANS-IPIC.
If the project he proposes receives funding, Ranade will focus on advancing the use of high-performance concrete materials in precast concrete members and processing methods, including 3D printing. Ranade has extensive experience working with high-performance concrete and ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC), a concrete material with specific durability and toughness requirements.
“I have significant experience working with the high-performance concrete materials. We have worked on developing several versions of UHPC for the Army Corps of Engineers in a variety of applications,” Ranade says. “I was involved in developing one of the first UHPCs for 3D printing in the world with collaborators at Swinburne University, Australia.”
In addition to research, the center will also include educational and technology transfer activities that support IBE’s existing efforts and mission to provide practicing engineers and students with the skills and knowledge needed to advance the nation’s bridge infrastructure.
In addition to Okumus, Zhou and Ranade, other UB investigators are Associate Professor Negar Elhami-Khorasani; Assistant Professor Xiao Liang; Associate Professor Anthony Tessari; and SUNY Distinguished Professor and IBE director Andrew Whittaker. The investigators are in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering and IBE affiliates.
The University Transportation Center program is focused on advancing transportation research and technology, and developing the next generation of transportation professionals.