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One-step steel building process 'could' give Aust firms the edge

12 May, 2014

A design process that makes steel structures safer, more reliable, less expensive and gives Australian businesses the competitive edge is being developed by Australian civil engineering researchers

Structural reliability expert Dr Hao Zhang from the University of Sydney says the team will complete a four-year analysis of the steel structures used in the Australian construction industry.

"In the project we shifted the focus of design from the individual components and its connection strengths to the overall structural behaviour and strength of the entire system," says Dr Zhang, Senior Lecturer in the School of Civil Engineering and co-investigator on the project.

"The component-based design approach can overestimate the load carrying capacity of structural systems, causing unsafe designs.

"The core of this project has been a rigorous statistical assessment of the system strength which considers structural redundancy, consequences of failure and statistical variations in loading and variables affecting the frame strength."

The advanced structural analysis process developed by the university's team that combines examination, evaluation and capacity checking into a single step has highlighted failure modes within the system currently used.

"The one-step process provides the opportunity to consider the consequences of failure during the design phase of the process. This is vital when designing any building including magnificent structures such as Beijing's Bird Nest or National Grand Theatre, or the Water Cube whose engineering team included Australian experts," says Dr Zhang who worked as a structural engineer for the Atlanta based company Uzun & Case prior to joining the university.

Professor Kim Rasmussen, head of the School of Civil Engineering, emphasises the importance of changing the model of steel structural design.

"What is important is the strength and weight of materials used to design reliable steel frames," says Professor Rasmussen.

"However, the veracity of the structural components and the parts that connect them as a whole are the hidden key."

He suggests the researchers' one-step process will give Australian businesses the competitive edge on the international market.

"The outcomes of this project will help Australian structural design firms and engineers to be at the forefront of design methodology. It also can assist Australian companies competing in South East Asia, Middle East and European markets.

"We envisage that over time our one-step methodology will be adopted throughout the world," predicts Professor Rasmussen.

The research was conducted by a team at University of Sydney including Professor Kim Rasmussen, Dr Hao Zhang and five PhD students. Leading international researcher Professor Bruce Ellingwood from the Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta, USA, also collaborated on the project.

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