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Steel Bridge team builds to nationals

By Christian Ulrich, Apr. 26, 2022

Cal Poly Pomona’s Steel Bridge Team advanced to the National Final’s Competition after placing fourth overall in regionals. For the first time since 2018, all 19 members of the team, predominately civil engineering students, will travel to Virginia Tech where the National Finals Competition will be held between May 27 and May 28.

The team’s goal is to build a 1/10th scale, 20-foot-long model steel bridge which is then judged during competition on criteria such as design, timing and stiffness.

Steel Bridge team being judged for their consturction during competition. (Courtesy of Steel Bridge Team)

Susanna Eng, a geospatial civil engineering student and safety captain for the team, described what competition entails.

“We are graded on multiple criteria,” said Eng. “Design plays a big part in the aesthetics of the bridge; it has to look presentable while also being structurally efficient. You need a bridge to be as strong as possible because at the end we have to load the bridge with 2,500 pounds to see if it can hold the weight. We have a river in the middle and if you drop anything in the river you get docked points.

Relying on support from donations and sponsors, the team launched a crowdfunding operation to raise $20,000 for transportation of materials and team members. Currently, the team has funded roughly 30% of that goal.

Citlalli Vazquez, civil engineering major and construction captain, spoke of the team’s uncertainty regarding nationals.

“Our goal is still the same,” said Vasquez. “We have a lot to find out. We only have one officer that has been in competition all four years at CPP; he is the only one that knows what to expect. We know that the expectations are going to be higher. We continue to practice, and we are doing our best to be fully in sync.”

From design to construction, the team adheres to a tight schedule leading up to competition.

Gabriel Rangel, a civil engineering major and technical captain of the team, oversees the technical team, checking in with them and ensuring everything regarding fabrication and construction is on schedule for competition.

Courtesy of Steel Bridge Team

Rangel praised the team’s performance at regionals.

“The thing that set us apart was the excellent job our design captains did with the bridge’s design,” said Rangel. “I saw a few other bridges that looked a bit too simple; we were able to move pretty quick in regionals and we hope to improve our time for nationals.

For the Steel Bridge Team, the process of developing a bridge for competition takes many months. From designing to building, the process is highly organized.

The team starts planning during the summer months, and during this time the team discusses all logistical needs for the team such as scheduling for fabrication, distribution of roles within the team and design ideas.

Then in the Hydrology Lab, located in Building 17, the team’s engineers use programs like Civil 3D and Sap2000 to design a rough draft of the bridge they hope will succeed in competition.

The design takes form and slowly the bridge comes to life. At this point, preparations for competition ramp up.

Courtesy of Steel Bridge Team

“We host practice every Friday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.,” said Vasquez. “We go through different groups of four and switch everyone around in order to give all some experience in each position. We do this also to give them a sense of teamwork and to teach them how to communicate with their partner.”

The Steel Bridge Team asserts that everything they practice helps show how steel bridge building can be applicable for young engineers in the future.

According to Vazquez, when building, communication is important. Builders must tell their partner which part they are getting so they can hold the bridge; team members must be aware of what they are going to need and must help wherever needed.

Rangel added, after spending over 1,000 hours together just in the month of March alone, the team has become close like a family.

To learn more, the campus community can visit the CPP Steel Bridge website.

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