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Concrete ideas for the future

Queen’s University civil engineering researchers design and build Canada’s first Moving Load Simulator for highway bridge testing.

  • Amir Fam, the Donald and Sarah Munro Chair in Engineering and Applied Science, explains how the Moving Load Simulator to Mayor Bryan Paterson. (University Communications)
    Amir Fam, the Donald and Sarah Munro Chair in Engineering and Applied Science, explains how the Moving Load Simulator to Mayor Bryan Paterson. (University Communications)
  • Among those attending the unveiling of the Moving Load Simulator were, from left: Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research); Kevin Deluzio, Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science; Laura Tauskela, student; Mark Gerretsen, MP, Kingston and the Islands; Dustin Brennan, student; Bryan Paterson, Mayor of Kingston; and Amir Fam, Donald and Sarah Munro Chair in Engineering and Applied Science. (University Communications)
    Among those attending the unveiling of the Moving Load Simulator were, from left: Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research); Kevin Deluzio, Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science; Laura Tauskela, student; Mark Gerretsen, MP, Kingston and the Islands; Dustin Brennan, student; Bryan Paterson, Mayor of Kingston; and Amir Fam, Donald and Sarah Munro Chair in Engineering and Applied Science. (University Communications)
  • The Moving Load Simulator, a one-of-a-kind system that simulates the forces borne by a bridge when large and small vehicles drive across, undergoes a demonstration during its unveiling at Ellis Hall. (University Communications)
    The Moving Load Simulator, a one-of-a-kind system that simulates the forces borne by a bridge when large and small vehicles drive across, undergoes a demonstration during its unveiling at Ellis Hall. (University Communications)
  • Queen’s University researcher Amir Fam and his team have designed and built the Moving Load Simulator, featuring new technology to test structural integrity of bridge materials and design. (University Communications)
    Queen’s University researcher Amir Fam and his team have designed and built the Moving Load Simulator, featuring new technology to test structural integrity of bridge materials and design. (University Communications)
  • A total of $4.2 million in funding to design and build the simulator – the first of its kind in Canada – and other support infrastructure was provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Ontario Research Fund and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences, with additional in-kind contributions. (University Communications)
    A total of $4.2 million in funding to design and build the simulator – the first of its kind in Canada – and other support infrastructure was provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Ontario Research Fund and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences, with additional in-kind contributions. (University Communications)

Queen’s University researcher Amir Fam and his team unveiled a cutting-edge Moving Load Simulator on Thursday, July 12, featuring new technology designed to test structural integrity of bridge materials and design.

The one-of-a-kind system simulates the forces borne by a bridge when large and small vehicles drive across. It collects data which are then analyzed by engineers to assess the performance of all aspects of the bridge structure, including the deck, girders, joints, and connections of many types of bridges.

“This equipment here at Queen’s is remarkably unique,” says Dr. Fam, Donald and Sarah Munro Chair in Engineering and Applied Science and Associate Dean (Research and Graduate Studies). “We wanted to take the lead in understanding bridges under full-scale moving loads by creating testing infrastructure that was innovative and new. We accomplished that with this technology.”

The $4.2 million in funding to design and build the simulator – the first of its kind in Canada – and other support infrastructure was provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Ontario Research Fund and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences, with additional in-kind contributions.

“The important research enabled by the Moving Load Simulator will save lives and reduce costs,” says Roseann O’Reilly Runte, President and CEO of CFI. “Aging infrastructure in bridges across North America can be a serious issue of safety and security. The ability to study simultaneously both load and motion will be key to building better bridges in the future and to knowing today which bridges should require load limits.”

Traditionally, bridge materials are tested using a pulsating technique that sees a large hammer-like instrument pounding the material repeatedly in the same spot. Dr. Fam says that, in reality, this isn’t how bridges are used in the real-world. By driving back and forth over the test material, the simulator recreates the forces bridges undergo every day and over a long period of time.

“We designed and built this new technology to give us deeper insights than we’ve ever had before,” says Dr. Fam. “The simulator gives us a more accurate estimate of material fatigue, which correlates to the service life of the bridge. This is critical knowledge we can now supply to the construction industry.”

The Ministry of Transportation (MTO), which owns and maintains the vast majority of bridges in the Province, is one of first partners that will be using the load simulator to test bridges in Ontario.  Dr. Fam says the technology will also contribute to more design efficiencies.

“In addition to our industry partners, the Moving Load Simulator will provide a unique opportunity for Queen’s students,” says Dr. Fam. “They are going to be exposed to one of the more unique research facilities in the world and will be able to use it for research projects.”

Dr. Fam worked closely with key players from the Structures Group in the Department of Civil Engineering, graduate students and also worked with industry partners, Dymech, Canadian Precast Prestressed Concrete Institute, and Forterra Engineering, to take this innovative facility from a vision to reality.

“The launch of the Moving Load Simulator is indicative of the highly advanced and applicable nature of research at Queen’s, and, importantly, of how strong collaborations, student engagement, and industry partnerships can work in synergy to address real-world challenges,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research).