A Low-Tech Project Goes High Tech!

Anybody who’s seen a (comical) concrete canoe race probably wouldn’t think of the technology involved, but there’s a lot more to it than just getting wet. Each team must conduct exacting strength tests on concrete samples that precisely match the canoe’s materials, just as an engineering firm would do when building a skyscraper or a flood-control dam.
The 2013 Concrete Canoe Team is also using advanced technology to cut cross sections for the canoe form slowly taking shape in shop manager Richard Dalton’s sandbox. Richard rebuilt the CNC mill that the SDELC acquired last year, and Sonya Snyder’s team members were taking full advantage of the new capability today in house.
Look for more of S&T’s fourteen student design teams to put this gear to good use. After all, their future designs may be formed on machines like these, so it’s best to understand what happens once the design leaves the computer screen.

Summer Weekend Redux

Concrete Canoe Team member Sonya Snyder recently spent a few days in lovely Reno*, Nevada. Scenery? Sure. Vacation? Maybe. Learning? Definitely!
Sonya took a page from former team leader Julie Whitehead’s play book by scouting other rock canoe events. She attended the ASCE National Concrete Canoe races to find out just what it takes to get to the next level. No word on the stories, photos, or blueprints** that she may have spirited out of the nearly bankrupt state, but she’ll use those reports to improve next year’s boat and team structure.
*Did you know that “Reno 911” is not actually filmed in Reno?? Apparently someone thinks Los Angeles looks like it’s in the Sierra Madre mountains. NOT!
**Do kids these days actually KNOW what a blueprint is?

Let’s Wrap Up Last Week’s Heroic Concrete Canoe Races!

There are so many S&T design teams on the road that it’s hard to make sure each one gets its due.
Last week S&T’s famous Concrete Canoe Team made a great showing in Lincoln, Nebraska. Julie Whitehead’s group not only took top honors in design, and 3rd in oral presentation, but they also recovered from disastrous damage to the boat when it came loose in the trailer. Big cracks on both sides, and sidewalls (gunwales?) that looked like swiss cheese after pieces of concrete popped off the boat. After a few tense minutes the BlogcanoeSUN_9967.jpg
Miners grabbed the duct tape and said “OK, let’s fix this thing!”
Not once, not twice, but three times they taped it up and went back into the fray. They took a big deduction for the taping job, but they didn’t work all year to watch others race.
Results? 5th in women’s endurance and 4th in men’s; 3rd in women’s sprints and 6th for the men, leaving S&T in a pretty respectable 5th place overall in the competition.
And the duct tape? Certainly waterproof, but only if it sticks to the boat. And duct/duck tape doesn’t adhere to wet concrete very well, so the longer they raced, the lower Gold Rush sat in the water. And that makes for tough paddling.

It’s Gonna Be A Duct-Tape* Morning!

It’s cloudy, windy, drizzly, and just over 40 degrees this morning in Lincoln, Nebraska, perfect weather for concrete canoe racing. Bleary-eyed Miners have been stumbling out of the hotel since before first light, and team leader Julie Whitehead has already herded them out to the vehicles and off to the cross-town lake.
A lot of budding engineers are going to get cold, wet, and miserable today, and by the time they get back to their respective campuses they’ll remember this weekend as one of the best times of their lives.
We didn’t mention the range of canoe design approaches yesterday. Some are monsters, some works of art. Arkansas’ boat looks like it could withstand small arms fire, but S&T’S Gold Rush is a thin-skinned beauty that depends on the water to keep the boat in compression. Problem is, one of the straps holding Gold Rush in the trailer came loose, leaving the craft vulnerable to the forces of tension. And concrete, especially thin concrete, doesn’t like tension, so there are some significant cracks to deal with.
And that’s where the duct tape will play a big role in today’s action.
* You did know that duct-tape is the engineer’s favorite tool, right? And that the U.S. military calls it “hundred-mile-an-hour tape”?

Kinda Chilly This Morning……..

Steel Bridge events ruled yesterday; today was the concrete canoe teams’ chance to shine. And shine they did!
Ten mid-continent canoe teams pulled onto the Univ of Nebraska’s luxurious artificial Vine Fields between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. this morning to set up their product displays. And it wasn’t just set the boats on stands. K-State team adopted a “Flight Ready” theme that included a massive plywood propellor and a large pair of faux wings attached stand is if to say “This boat will really FLY!”. Another crew chose a steamboat theme and even mounted a fake smokestack to the rig, and S&T had a wonderful homage to it’s mining heritage, dubbing the boat Gold Rush, and building a mock-up mine entrance to drive home the theme.
Mizzou touted their new athletics conference by hauling “SECret Recipe. Wonder if Harley-Davidson sponsored the Tiger’s boat? We hear Harleys are real popular down in Fayettevlle these past few weeks.t
Today’s big attention getter, the swamp test. No, not THAT kind of swamp!!
Each team had to slide their boat into temporary test tank and then submerge the boat. If it didn’t return to the surface teams lost points. Lot of excitement, lots of fun, and as far as we know all ten teams passed.
Tomorrow will be the collegiate version of NASCAR. Everybody says the are rooting for their respective teams. The rest of the fans? They show up to see who’s boat will crash, break, roll over or run aground. It’ll be fun, believe us!
And yes, there WAS lawn bowling at today’s event, but the keglers had to use concrete bowling balls of their own manufacture. Kinda tough to put a spin on a ball as it skips across the fake grass.

Let The Games Begin!

BAjaDSC_5953.jpgThis weekend marks the season-opening events for four, count ’em, four S&T student design teams.
S&T’s Steel Bridge (see previous post) and Concrete Canoe teams arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska this evening for the Mid-Continent ASCE Student Conference. Tomorrow morning the bridge builders are first out of the gate with an initial set up for aesthetics judging. The rest of the day is spent watching other teams race the clock, while waiting in line for your turn in the breach. As each school finishes building they get to weigh their project, then move to the “hold-you-breath-while-2,500+ lbs-of-steel-are-slowly-stacked- on-an-entire-year’s-worth-of blood-sweat-and-tears” station.
If the bridge deflects, turns, twists too much, or simply folds up (it happens), that school’s project is disqualified and drops to the bottom of the rankings. Most teams do, as a matter of fact, for this is a tough challenge.
Canoe? They do their presentations tomorrow afternoon, fAAVG1DSC_5873.jpgollowed by aesthetics judging and Friday morning’s swamp test and technical paper judging.
And then the silly season starts…………..Friday is also the ASCE version of St. Pat’s Gonzo games, except there’s no beer. Concrete Bowling, Geo-Tech Challenge, and other less technical stuff.
Saturday is when Concrete Canoes shine. Think a cross between Red Bull’s Flugtag and Hawaiian warriors paddling massive boats through the Pacific surf. The perfect combination of brains, brawn, and high comedy.
Meanwhile the Advanced Aero rocket team is heading to Huntsville, Alabama for the NASA Student Launch Initiative. Farther south in Opelika (that CAN’T be an old Indian name!) S&T’s Baja SAE team will be running the best-looking car (top right) they’ve EVER produced in a grueling 3-day test of survivability. AAVG2DSC_5920.jpg
Back home? The AAVG Airplane squad test flew their heavy-lift aircraft yesterday.This beauty (sans cargo) jumped in to the sky as if it were a Harrier jet, cruised very serenely, then returned to earth somewhat, uh, sooner than planned.
But that’s why they test.
The rest of this week and next?
Fix the plane.

How DO You Get Twenty S&T Students Together During Finals Week?

Simple. Just offer them a chance to play in the sandbox.
Julie Whitehead’s crew of girls and guys did manage to find time in their busy exam schedule to “pour” the sand/cement/aggregate into the concrete canoe form. The mixture is carefully measured and tested in the preceding weeks, and once the team is confident of the recipe’s strength it’s time to get dirty.
Concrete canoe pour.jpg
This carefully-orchestrated operation is more like adding a stucco finish on a home than “pouring” a foundation. The Miners mix small batches in a 5-gallon bucket instead of a noisy, smoke-belching truck; lots of artisan hands instead of 2x4s and a bull float. The mixture runs toward the “dry” side of things to keep the concrete from sagging, and they trowel on thin layers separated by composite reinforcing mesh. And it all must be done in strict order and very limited time.
Curing time? Oddly enough, 30 days, because no sooner than the boat is formed they fill it with water to keep it from drying too quickly. Like whiskey barrels and tobacco, concrete is best “cured” slowly for maximum value, to say nothing of arguably being better for society.
The great thing is the 2012 canoe keel was laid months earlier than in years past. That means they set an ambitious goal, started early, stayed close to the schedule, and will have lot more time to finish out the details in late January once the canoe emerges from the mold.
Did we mention that SDELC shop manager Richard Dalton built an adjustable-height steel work platform for the team? Soooooooo much better than the old 2×4 and plywood frames of the past 30 years!
p.s. Special thanks to photographer Brad Rupert for covering this mayhem!

Civil Engineers HATE Fissures!

Merriam-Webster defines, a fissure as: a narrow opening or crack of considerable length and depth usually occurring from some breaking or parting. Not the kind of thing you want to see in a concrete boat hull.
Design team work is about dealing with unexpected challenges, no more serious than what the S&T Concrete Canoe Team has been facing. When the boat emerged from the mold last month it has some worrysome cracks developing in the hull, so they cinched a big ratchet strap around it for stability.
Team leader Carolyn Pearson takes it from there:
“We had some pretty bad cracking right before we left. We had had several serious cracks the week prior to competition too, and patched them with concrete.
On the day we left, two cracks formed when we put the canoe in the trailer. Then, when we checked it after we got to Manhattan, Kansas they had propagated pretty seriously through the hull. I was really concerned that our boat wouldn’t be seaworthy, so we cinched another strap around the canoe laterally to hold it in compression during the aesthetics judging. Just before the swamp test, we pulled out the gorilla duct tape (an engineer’s favorite tool) and taped the cracks up, and covered all over the inside and outside of the areas of major concern.
OSU tried to intimidate us by trying to get us to use epoxy on the canoe instead of tape. They kept saying they were just concerned that the tape wasn’t going to hold, but it was weird how persistent they were about it. At one of the captain’s meetings, I finally told them to stop trying to intimidate us! They backed off then.
The canoe made it through the swamp test with flying colors!! We were so excited! I honestly was holding my breath, because we had had so much trouble with the canoe, I thought for sure it would crack or let water in – – but it held up really well. On race day, the tape held up through all the races!! The canoe did really well! There was even an end-of-the-day alumni race that Tyler Pyatt and Eddie Noonan’s dad from Massechusetts raced.
We won’t know our final rankings for a while, because typically the ASCE folks don’t add them up until sometime after the event for some reason – weird! What we do know is that we took 3rd in Men’s Endurance, 3rd in Co-ed sprint, 2nd in Design paper and 1st place in the Mystery Event.”
Most interesting event? The boat from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale completely busted apart and crumbled during one of the races, but otherwise they held together pretty well. ( (Huh?)

Shaken, Not Stirred; And It Never Hurts To Ask…….

S&T’s Concrete Canoe Team likes to attach a “theme” to each year’s boat, and this year it’s “Bond. James Bond.” Now 007 usually sports some pretty fancy hardware on land, in the air, or on the sea. Don’t think it very likely that Sir Bond would make use of a heavy, hard-to-control boat, but team leader emeritus Arch Creasy figured “how will we know if we don’t ask?”
So Arch made a call* to Sean Connery’s assistant (really!) and invited the star to this weekend’s competition in Kansas. Apparently Mr. Connery and his agent discussed the team’s request at length because they put Arch on hold. For a very looooooooooooooong time. Arch is still hoping to get a call back, but the event is just days away.
Back to the Miners’ canoe, it has a raised prow to split the waves and lots of freeboard amidship to keep the craft afloat. DSC_9229.jpgThe ship’s Nom de guerre is From Rolla, With Love, and this being an engineering town we really don’t know how to explain that moniker without getting in lots of trouble.
Anyway, pay no attention to the yellow garter belt cinched tightly around the canoe. The Miners found minor cracks in the boat when it rose from the Dow foam mold a few weeks back. They are keeping the strap in place to keep the boat intact during the drive to K State. That’s their story and they are sticking to it!
*Who says engineers aren’t imaginative and fun to be around? Maybe at MU other schools, but not in Rolla, home of the “Best Ever” St Pat’s celebration for over 100 years!

Old Age And Cunning Will Overcome Youth And Skill Every Time

Or in this case, nearly every time.
Warning: This story is a little longer than usual.
CanoeSUN_0003.jpgS&T’s Concrete Canoe Team has built good boats over the decades, but paddling was not necessarily their strong point. For years an ancient former Boy Scout nagged the team without success about how to paddle properly. They ignored references to the J-stroke, turning techniques, feathering the paddles, and even keeping their elbows straight. Blasphemy!
Finally the old one could take it no longer and issued a mano-a-mano paddling challenge, something like “I’m three times your age and I can STILL kick your butts!”, and head paddler Eddie Noonan took the bait. The terms of the duel were simple; old school versus new. Two guys, averaging 50 years old, would use old-fashioned wooden paddles and long-ago scout camp paddling techniques. The twenty-somethings, who had been practicing for weeks, would use aluminum paddles with fancy curved composite blades.
After much negotiating between the duelers’ respective ‘seconds’, the terms were set, a Thursday fall afternoon at a local lake. The course? Across the lake, around a small island, and back to the start, but before the boats even got wet things began to unravel.
CanoeSUN_0061_2.jpgFirst of all, the challengers couldn’t locate wooden paddles of the proper length. And then they couldn’t locate wooden paddles in Rolla, PERIOD! That left the AARP to “borrow” the canoe team’s back-up paddles, complete with loose handles duct-taped on, and blade surfaces the size of a teaspoon.
Then it became apparent that canoes have gotten smaller over the decades, and there was no way the ‘boomers” could straighten out their legs. The student team showed up with three experienced paddlers and a media crew, but were forced to draw straws to choose only two racers. A last-minute equalization rule was pulled over their eyes imposed that said both crews had to weigh roughly the same, and that the team had to carry a third student as ballast. It’s gotta be fair, right?
The challengers got in about 10 minutes of warm-up practice, their first in decades, and the race was on. The young ‘uns pulled ahead as both crews paddled furiously away from the dock, but Team Geritol was gaining speed. The geezers got in rhythm and managed to pass the student team, but it soon became apparent that something was wrong; the challengers hadn’t practiced turning procedures and accidentally cut straight across the youngsters’ bow, resulting in a T-bone collision that almost capsized both craft. Then it was back to zig-zag racing. Both boats arrived at the island at the same time, but due CanoeSUN_0090_2.jpgto the afore-mentioned turning issue the fogeys tried to go through the island instead of around it. That, and the kids cut ’em off in the turn.)
Desperation in the home stretch nearly caused another wreck when the boats came within inches of each other but there was still no clear leader until the end.
Technically the students won, and collected a $50 donation check, but we expect satellite data anytime that will prove Obi-Wan’s crew paddled a much greater distance in the same time frame, so we look at it as a draw. All that distance has to be the reason why their stern man ran out of wind about 25 yards from the finish, ceding victory to the fittest. Yeah, that’s gotta be it.
Look for a rematch next year. Now, where’d I put that torpedo?