Composite Bridge Winners Use Lightweight, Strong, Inexpensive Material Developed at SD Mines

August 20 2018

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology students won the second place in the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE) 2018 Student Bridge Contest, by designing a bridge weighing just 12.5 ounces that can carry a 2,000-pound load.

The competition, held in Long Beach, Calif., pitted SD Mines researchers against 70 teams from 30 universities from around the world. Teams were tasked to design, build and test a 24-inch-long structural composite bridge using fiber reinforced plastics and high-performance materials.

Mines students engineered the design of the bridge using a proprietary composite sheet material invented by a team of researchers at Mines’ Composite and Nanocomposite Advanced Manufacturing Center (CNAM) and Composites and Polymer Engineering (CAPE) Laboratory. By bonding the unique CNAM material, called Discontinuous Fiber Thermoplastic Sheet (DiFTS), to the top and bottom of a lightweight honeycomb core in a suitable thicknesses ratio, the students were able to engineer the properties of the laminated sandwich structure to meet the load requirements of the competition, while maintaining low overall density. The DiFTS material incorporates short, recycled carbon fiber embedded in a thermoplastic matrix, whereby uniform fiber distribution, significant fiber alignment, effective fiber length retention, and thorough fiber encapsulation result in high-performance properties using a low-cost process.

The SD Mines bridge team included Matthew Phillips, senior in math and mechanical engineering; Schmid, a Ph.D. student in the Nano Science and Engineering Program; and Krishnan Veluswamy, a Ph.D. student in the Materials Engineering and Science Program, who also won the 2018 SAMPE International University Leadership Experience Award.

A sister center – the CNAM Biomaterials Center (CNAM-Bio) – has recently been launched at SD Mines and is undertaking research on plant based biodegradable plastics, natural biofibers and biocomposites that could someday merge with this technology, further enhancing the DiFTS environmental sustainability.

Both Schmid and Veluswamy also recently attended the "It's All About Science Festival” at Sanford Research Center in Sioux Falls, where they showcased their SAMPE bridge, a 3D printer in action and other examples of composite materials for K12 students and their families. Veluswamy also won an honorable mention in the graduate poster competition for his work titled, “Thermoplastic Fiber Reinforced Composites,” which explained how the composite materials used in the SAMPE bridge were made.

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