Practice, Practice, Practice………

Is what it takes to do well in competition.
S&Ts Steel Bridge Team has designed and built a lightweight, strong, and good-looking bridge for the regional conference in early April. To qualify for the ASCE national event they’ll have to assemble the bridge safely and fast. And that takes practice.
Sarah Padgett’s team has been choreographing the assembly routine for at least two weeks. Even BridgeSUN_7484.jpg(GASP!) through St Pat’s celebrations.
They’ve taken over an empty building space, marked off a “playing field” on the floor, and set up a stopwatch. Then they do it over, and over, and over again until it becomes well-honed communication and simple muscle memory.
Teamwork is critical. Because there’s so much more to engineering than just engineering.

What Are YOUR Children Doing For St. Pat’s?

Campus is pretty quiet today. No classes, and most students are sleeping in. Or sleeping it off. Or both. But not the S&T Steel Bridge Team. They’re playing “So, you think you can build a bridge?
The bridge crew is practicing, practicing, practicing building their bridge. They’ve already had “build-offs” to choose the assembly crew, those who can safely assemble the bridge the fastest. Now it’s a question of reducing the assembly time to get the maximum points in the ASCE-sponsored regional conference next month.
Team leader Sarah Padgett has laid out an assembly area in a vacant storefront. This is a highly-choreographed exercise where even the bolts and nuts are counted. During one practice cycle one student hollered “I’m sorry, I had some of the bolts in my pocket!”
To make practice as realistic as possible Sarah even set up a three-chair table labeled “judges.” Sorta like a “So, you think you can dance/sing/eat/make a fool of yourself?” TV panel, but our “contestants” have high three-digit IQs, a strong work ethic, solid careers ahead of them, and will contribute to the quality of life of our society.
Something “reality” show contestants (and fans) can never hope to attain.

What It Takes To Keep A Team Happy. And Solvent.

Team cohesiveness is a lot more than sharing a design program or two people spending long hours in the welding lab.
Notes from S&T’s Steel Bridge Team show a group that:
Holds Inventor Workshops, where they break into small groups for the newbies to learn the basics. Lead design engineer Samantha Smith emails “whether you are an expert at Inventor or a beginner like me, we would love for you to come!’
Attends “Steel Day’ events in St. Louis
Hosts cookouts at team members’ homes, and even the occasional bonfire celebrations at the team advisor’s mansion.
Car pools to dinner get-togethers at a nearby Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant.
Spent a late October day raking leaves for fundraising. Jermy Jamison reported “…….we raked three yards and had a successful time doing so. We will be doing more of these in the future, so keep your ears open for future opportunities.”
He adds “……….make sure you “Like” the Steel Bridge page on Facebook so you can get the latest photos of all the events we do.”
“Liking” that FB page is a great suggestion. You’ll feel just like a team member, and hopefully be inspired to mail them a check. Or the keys to your late-model truck.
Don’t laugh. That’s how we scored a nice Mazda pickup truck last year.
Update: Samantha adds “we definitely try to keep a positive attitude so that our work seems more fun and not like a chore,” which mirrors the SDELC’s mantra of “Learn. Succeed. Have Fun”.

Satisfy Yourself First, Hold Your Head High And Forget The Standings

S&T’s 2012 Steel Bridge Team ran an operation that was as good as it gets. They designed well, practiced hard, tested often, and made changes based on test results., just like the best engineering firms do. They practiced assembly over and over until the team was a well-oiled machine. Load tested the bridge four times until they were certain that it would pass all performance requirements.
More importantly, they held themselves to a very high standard by staying true to the detailed competition rules throughout the whole process.
Did a gremlin or two pop up at competition? Sure! The Miners took some minor penalties during construction by dropping tools or stepping on the forbidden painters’ tape, and in the excitement of moving the bridge they lifted it wrong and compromised the bridge’s load capacity. Human error. It’ll show up any place that people do.
So, life happens. You work toward a goal only to find that perhaps others didn’t play by the published standards. Do you complain? Maybe. File an appeal? Possibly.
Or do you suck it up, think of it as “Integrity uber alles,” promise yourself to treat others fairly, and move on, better prepared for your life and career and just realize life isn’t always fair.
Sometimes that’s just what successful people do.

Like Coaching A Basketball Team

Steel Bridge team leader Chris Ferguson has managed this group with a deft touch. Not only did he keep the team focused on their goals for the past 6-7 months, been the driving force behind many nights of assembly rehearsal, but he’s even covered the little details.
Chris booked a study room in the Nebraska-Lincoln Engineering Library so that his teammates would have a quiet place to take calculus and Diffy-Q exams. It’s that kind of “taking care of the troops” that is the hallmark of a good leader!
Did he actually assemble today’s bridge? No, but he did prowl the sidelines like a Division 1 basketball coach, shouting encouragement, calling “plays”, and making sure the build crew didn’t miss any small details.
S&T drew a lot of applause by posting the fastest assembly time, but later teams who had less complex bridges did manage to pull ahead of the Miners. Hats off to Mizzou for hitting an amazing 15+ minutes score, which we think was the fastest time of the day.
Chris reports S&T also had the lightest bridge at the event, which counts for some points, but en route to the loading station things went awry. Seems the bridge is a great design for supporting loads, but not so good at being lifted to move. During the move outside one of the bridge piers came partly undone, nothing a rubber mallet wouldn’t fix, but rules prohibit any “repairs” once the structures are complete.
S&T’s entry sailed through the lateral and offset tests, and barely broke a sweat when most of the steel bars were added to the bridge. But when it came time to add a smaller load “cantilever-style”, that mis-aligned bridge pier became an issue and the team lost its strong position in the standings.
There’s still a decent chance that other performance factors will put the Miners back in a strong position, and maybe even qualify for the national event. S&T has a light, good looking bridge, and the betting is that some of the simpler bridges just won’t be able to support much weight.
So it’s still anybody’s game.

How Do You Get To The Steel Bridge Nationals?

Controlled chaos/practice in the High Bay, that’s how.
In just 30 hours or so S&T’s Steel Bridge and Concrete Canoe teams will head to Lincoln, Nebraska for the Mid-Continent Student Conference of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
There will be seminars, networking, education, and a banquet (no, this is NOT the GSA in Vegas, thank you very much!), but the real draw is the student design competitions. Thursday’s highlight is the Steel Bridge competition, and that’s where the “high bay” reference comes in. Teams must assemble their structures in a timed event, and the highest-ranked teams qualify for the national event. S&T’s bridge team has been rehearsing their synchronized assembly procedures in the civil dept’s high bay laboratory nearly every night for the past week.
BridgeDSC_5652.jpgThey’ve cut down on penalties, trimmed their assembly time from 40 minutes down to 18, and their goal is just under a quarter hour. Other points come from weight, cost, design, aesthetics, and performance under load. Tonight’s the final practice event and then it’s time to pack up.
Friday and Saturday the focus changes to the stone boat events, the results of which may live in students’ memory for their entire lives, as did the Flintstones* of generations past. We’ll have more on that soon, but Julie Whitehead’s crew has built “Gold Rush“, a great-looking, mining-themed boat complete with a toy train, a replica mine ore car, and even a really sharp mock-up of a mine shaft opening to add a little panache to their presentation. Practice? Yup! Sunday morning they put in a few more hours of paddling practice as a final tune-up.
*Yes, the boats DO have something in common with Fred’s car. Heavy, yet (mostly) stylish. Tough to get moving and hard to handle in the turns. That’s what makes it challenging. And fun.
Did we mention that S&T is sending two student members of the American Concrete Institute to participate in the Concrete Bowling event? THAT’s gonna be interesting! Wonder who will volunteer to be the pin setters?

Who Knew A Plumb Bob Could Be So Entrancing?

Last night the Kummer Student Design Center was a madhouse. Students working on solar car, airplane, human-powered vehicle and who knows what else?
The real action was with the civil engineering-focused Steel Bridge and Concrete Canoe teams. In one corner of the shop ten students worked staining the S&T logo in the canoe, while right next door the Steel Bridge team was stacked cheek-to-jowl double checking the structure before testing for vertical and horizontal deflection.
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The plumb bob thing? That’s how the judges test how far the bridge leans under strong sideways pressure. More than 1/2″ and you get disqualified. In the “real” world it could even get this bad.

Adapting To A New Reality

Life gets in the way sometimes. Or maybe “To heck with the team meeting, the Cardinals are in the World Series!”
Here’s the gist of a team email that explains a team’s change of strategy when the unexpected happens:
“we’ll do our best to keep the meeting short tonight so everyone can watch the Cardinals Game. As Derek mentioned, the bowling alley does have a TV in it so we will be able to watch the game there.”
Sound like an excellent plan to us. Shows creativity, flexibility, innovative thinking and full recognition of the fact that if he doesn’t want to talk to an empty room, he’d better adjust to changing circumstances.

If It Ain’t One Thing, It’s Another………. Or, Never Let Your Customer Touch Your Bridge Until They Sign For It!

At the ASCE regional conference this weekend the S&T Steel Bridge Team started in a real hole when they lost a critical component.
This year’s allowable lateral deflection was only 1/2 inch, so what did the missing part do? Yep. Controlled lateral deflection.
Plan B was to remove a less-important part and make it fit, since once judging starts you can’t add “replacements” to the structure. That meant the bridge was “one brick shy of a full load” in the competition. Team leader Zach Evans said “since we were second to last in the competition order and had to wait for our eventual demise, we watched the other teams compete. We got more optimistic as all but two teams failed deflection, so if our design held, we’d make it to the national finals after all.”
“Our actual construction time went as practiced, but during scoring one official grabbed a steel bracing rod that helped prevent the bridge from moving laterally (you see a pattern here?). So, when the judge put his weight on the piece under tension it snapped, leaving us without two critical pieces. Needless to say we ended up as one of seven teams that couldn’t pass the lateral deflection test.”
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“Out of 12 teams we came in 6th, with the difference between third and seventh being very close. The final differential was our construction speed.”
“Next year we’ll triple-check our parts before we go to competition.”

Lace vs. The Leviathans

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) hosts regional conferences which include educational design events such as the concrete canoe and steel bridge competitions. DSC_8637a.jpg In the bridge contest, scale bridges are judged on stiffness, weight, construction economy and efficiency, among other points. Each bridge component must fit inside a 4′ long box before it can be used as part of the assembly event, teams who need fewer “employees” to assemble their bridges gain a scoring edge, and errors or rules violations earn penalty points. Judges gave the Miners a lot of comments about “being out of the box”, and those were not complaints.
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S&T’s 2010 ironworkers developed a striking bridge that, compared to the more common beam construction, looked more like a delicate lacework pattern; nothing at all like the competition. ASCE officials, OU engineering faculty, and other teams alike complimented the Miners on “great imagination”, “very creative”, and “thinking out of the box”.
The Miners’ bridge weighed in at just 162 lbs, less than half the weight of several other contest structures, and the Rolla crew’s construction time or 19.44 included penalties and a time-and-a-half repair “charge”. The design cleared the lateral deflection test by a slender margin, but was disqualified when it deflected too much before the last of the 2,500 lbs of steel was loaded. DSC_8377.jpg
Stuff happens at this event. One team took more than an hour to build their bridge, and another crew was stunned when, using rubber mallets to “urge” components into place, the other end of their bridge simply snapped and dropped to the floor. The looks on their faces said “THIS is going to be hard to explain!”
The overall attitude of S&T’s bridge and canoe teams helped them bring home the traveling “Spirit of Competition” trophy for the first time. The Miners were grinning ear-to-ear when this was announced, because it is based on the judges’ overall impression of the event, and takes into consideration sportsmanship, professionalism, teamwork, leadership, and the effort S&T students put into their designs.