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Report on Student Prize Competition 2010

The Branch Student Prize Competition was held in DIT Bolton street on 12 October 2010. The prize is awarded each year, for the best Final Year Project in the subject area of structural engineering. The competition is open to students of all accredited Engineering course in the Branch area and this year seven nominated projects were received, as follows:

  • CIT: Michael Minihane – Reinforced concrete beam-column connections;
  • DIT: Neal Renehan – An investigation into torsion of reinforced concrete beams;
  • NUIG:  Conor Murray – Advancement of a design-life prediction model for flexible risers using FEA;
  • TCD: Michael Day – An investigation into the response of typical steel and concrete wind-turbine towers;
  • UCC: Martin Walsh & Alex Humphreys – Event-driven structural analysis software;
  • UCD CivEng: Javier Sedó del Campo & Olivier Egger – Effect of damping on the dynamic response of a structure;
  • UCD SEA: Jack Browne – Modal analysis of a 4-span post tensioned reinforced concrete bridge.

At the evening meeting, the graduates presented their projects to a panel of industry-representative judges. The judges had an extremely difficult job deciding the eventual winner, and were particularly impressed with the standard of the presentations. The winning entry was the joint project by Martin Walsh & Alex Humphreys from University College Cork. Their project involved developing an event-driven structural analysis program which was demonstrated to the audience as part of their presentation. The project abstract is:

The process of engineering design requires engineering analysis, which is of varying levels of complexity depending on the engineering challenge. In the modern era, engineering analysis has generally become embodied in software packages. Within these software packages, the model development process input methods often use textboxes, tables and buttons which are restrictive, tedious and give the user no real sense of response or feedback. Furthermore, should the user wish to make even the slightest alteration to the model, the analysis process must often be repeated in its entirety. Why must such a simple action as changing one parameter require re-declaration of intent?

The aim of this project has been to develop a tool for structural analysis that provides that utilises a straightforward interface and that produces results “realtime” as the user interacts dynamically with it. The user can build structures (continuous beams) and add loads using quick, intuitive mouse actions. Once the program deems the structure to be static, it is automatically analysed using the stiffness method and the results are displayed. Subsequently, as changes are made to the structure or loading the analysis is performed immediately and the results are displayed. This gives the user a real sense of interaction with a tool that responds instantaneously to his/her input, meaning the user spends less time modeling the problem and more time applying the solution to the challenge in question.

Part of the point of developing this style of software is that it allows the user greater scope to develop an intuitive understanding of structural behaviour. In real life, as children (and as scientists/engineers prior to the computing era), understanding was developed through physical experimentation. In some areas, modelling has usurped this process. By providing such instantaneous feedback we are mimicking more closely both the real world and the natural process by which we learn, and can instill some of the finer concepts of how a structure responds to loading.

Further research is being implemented to develop the software to commercial standard as this project is still very much in its youth. The next step is to expand the scope of the software to encompass all of the functionality required of a practical structural analysis tool. The result will be an extremely powerful software that could revolutionise structural analysis in industry and provide and revolutionary interface for the classroom.

The presentations illustrated the wide range of complex engineering problems being tackled by undergraduate students, and provided an excellent insight for undergraduate students starting work on their own projects. The Branch Committee would like to congratulate the nominated students and commend them on the high-standard of work presented. We wish all entrants well in their future careers. Finally, we would like to thank the judges for giving up their time to assess the projects.

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