Innovation in Steel Design: Rethinking the Research Paradigm

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    Innovation in Steel Design: Rethinking theResearch Paradigm

    Andrea E. Surovek, P.E., M.ASCEAssociate Professor, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, SouthDakota School of Mines and Technology, 501 East St. Joseph St., RapidCity, SD 57701 (corresponding author). E-mail: surovek@sdsmt.edu

    Judy Liu, A.M.ASCEAssociate Professor, School of Civil Engineering, Purdue Univ., 550Stadium Mall Dr., West Lafayette, IN 47907. E-mail: jliu@purdue.edu

    DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE)ST.1943-541X.0000708

    Need for Innovation

    The rst step in winning the future is encouraging Americaninnovation. None of us can predict with certainty what the nextbig industry will be or where the new jobs will come from.Thirty years ago, we couldnt know that something called theInternet would lead to an economic revolution. What we candowhat America does better than anyone elseis spark thecreativity and imagination of our people. U.S. PresidentBarack Obama

    In 2010, the Chinese construction sector overtook the U.S. marketas the largest in the world. As international development continuesto grow, competitiveness in the United States will depend on theexibility to both design with and utilize construction materials,including steel, in innovative ways. Whether the future includesautomated construction, prefabricated or modular building compo-nents, or entirely new section congurations is unclear at this point.Two recent workshops have endeavored to provide a path for in-novation in steel design and construction in the coming decades.

    A number of potential ideas were developed at the AmericanInstitute of Steel Construction (AISC) Innovations meeting held inChicago in December of 2010, with the emphasis in that meetingbeing a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT)analysis of steel design and construction, including fabrication.Despite the robust discussion at this event, the goal of the event wasnot specically to develop a clear vision for research in the nextdecade. However, this event proved to be a catalyst for a secondworkshop, held in Chicago on March 28, 2012, in conjunction withthe ASCE/SEI Structures Congress.

    Innovations in Steel Design: Workshop

    Creativity, as has been said, consists largely of rearrangingwhat we know in order to nd out what we do not know. Hence,to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what wenormally take for granted. George Kneller, ColumbiaUniversity

    Innovation is impossible without creativity. While most psychologytheory on creativity focuses on the creativity of the individual, it isgenerally agreed upon that a necessary ingredient for creative de-velopment is expertise, with another essential component being anopen mind (Kaufman et al. 2008). Working from the SWOT analysisof the AISC workshop, the ASCE/SEI Metals Technical Activities

    Committee (TAC) developed the plans for the Innovations in SteelDesign: Research Needs for Global Competitiveness Workshopsponsored in part by both the AISC and National Science Founda-tion (NSF). The workshop was specically designed not to discussspecics of either completed research or works in progress; instead,theworkshopwas designed to take a fresh look atwhat is known about,and what can be envisioned regarding, steel design through the eyesof both established and emerging experts; specically, academic re-searchers, design practitioners, and graduate students with an empha-sis on innovation.

    The propulsion theory of creativity presented by Sternberg et al.(2002) looks at eight types of creativity in terms of creative con-tributions to aeld. It can be said that current structural steel researchpredominantly falls in the area of forward incrementation, whichmoves a eld forward in a direction it is already heading. Trans-formative research, a goal of the NSF, is more likely to fall under thearea of redirection, which as the name suggests, changes the currenttrajectory of a eld and takes it in an entirely new direction. Anothercategory of creativity with potential for transformation is inte-gration, which combines past contributions to a eld that may nothave been considered to be relatedor may have even been con-sidered opposedinto a new area.

    The intent of the workshop was to bring together a diverse groupto develop a list of research ideas or needs that could not only addnecessary incremental improvements but could also potentiallytransform or synergize steel design in a truly innovative way. Basedon the results of the AISC Innovations meeting and discussions withthe ASCE/SEI Metals TAC, four general areas were identied thateither held signicant potential for innovation or the greatest needfor increased knowledge; i.e., sustainability, rapid constructability,extreme loads, and a wildcard category that allowed for ideas in anyarena applicable to steel design and construction.

    Breakout Sessions Part 1: Workshop Brainstorming

    The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.Linus Pauling, Nobel Prize-winning chemist

    The rst breakout session in each of the identied areas was dedi-cated to brainstorming. The technique was adapted from The Art ofInnovation (Kelley 2001) and the rules were well known to anyonefamiliar with the technique; i.e., do not debate ideas, keep all con-tributions positive, and generate as many ideas as possible in thetime permitted. Each of the 1-h brainstorming sessions endeavoredto produce over 50 enumerated ideas, and all ideas were put inwriting in plain view of all of the participants.

    The ideas varied from the highly practical (develop sustainabilitymetrics) to the novel (develop new steel materials that include theproperties of coatings in the material itself) to the far reaching (makesteel at the job site). Inspiration arose from other disciplines andother industries, and from the synergy of multiple constituencies indesign and construction. The makeup of the workshop participantswas particularly important in these sessions because invitations weremade to participants of diverse backgrounds and experience levelsby design. Diversity is often cited as another necessary componentof creative endeavors.

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  • Breakout Sessions Part 2: Critical Review

    At the heart of science is an essential balance between twoseemingly contradictory attitudesan openness to new ideas,no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and themost ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This ishow deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense. CarlSagan, astronomer

    Brainstorming is not useful without critical evaluation; the secondsession of each breakout topic was used to determine the over-arching themes that developed in each of the session areas and theoverall categories of research needs developed from the workshop.In each of these sessions, moderators and participants were taskedwith culling the most productive ideas from those generated andidentifying those areas with the most needs. In some sessions, 5, 10,and 30 year visions were developed.

    For this paper, the discussion will focus on ve main themes thatwere identied as common/signicant in all four of the breakoutareas. These include the following:1. Integration;2. Modular design/construction;3. Novel joining methods/connections;4. Material advances; and5. Educational opportunities.These ve themes were established by examining the individual

    ideas contributed during the brainstorming sessions as well as theidentied priorities established in each of the second breakout ses-sions. This paper will focus on some of the ideas that have beenidentied as having the most potential to catalyze redirection orintegration rather than those focused on forward incrementation.

    Research Needs: Major Themes

    Integration

    . . .where does our success come from? The answer is syn-thesis, the ability to combine creativity and calculation, art andscience, into whole that is much greater than the sum of itsparts. Garry Kasparov, International Chess Grandmaster

    If a single theme were to be identied from the workshop, it is in-tegration; i.e., integration of disciplines, constituencies, systems,and desiredmaterial performance. Despite the abundance of talentedresearchers and practitioners in the area of structural engineering, itbecame obvious that true innovation in steel design (as well as inmost scientic arenas) requires the input and expertise of a diversegroup of investigators in true multidisciplinary collaboration.Whether it is the synthesis of biological principles in structuralforms, the input of fabricators in reimagining connection design, orthe integration of strength and performance in material properties,innovation in structural steel design will require structural engineersand researchers to fully collaborate with other constituencies inadvancing the state of the art. For some researchers, integration mayrequire a paradigm shift in the way in which they conduct research.For example, it is not common to see steel researchers collaboratingwith biologists or even with engineering researchers outside civil ormechanical engineering (with the pragmatic exception of computerscientists).

    In the wildcard session, ideas emerged that show potential forredirection in structural design requiring the input of a diverse bodyof researchers. The rst of these is kinetic structures, such as tele-scoping, umbrella, or other adaptable structures. This concept ties inwell with a recently developed NSF funding area in the ofce of

    Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation; namely, OrigamiDesign for the Integration of Self-Assembling Systems for Engi-neering Innovation. While self-assembling structures are currentlybeing researched at the nano- and microlevel, extension of self-assembling and recongurable systems at the macroscale couldprovide transformative solutions for rapid constructability and sus-tainability, among other areas. In addition, the idea of deployablestructures fueled the discussion of dual purpose and reuse of struc-tural modules such as shipping containers. Reimagining the use ofstructures as deployable or reusable has easily envisioned uses inaltruistic or military applications.

    Another discussed area with untapped potential is biomimicry,with its inspiration coming from biological and natural systems.While this eld is not unknown in the building industry, it is typi-cally a playground for architects rather than structural engineers.While there are some examples of biological inuences in structuralsystems (e.g., honeycomb panels), there is a world of unexaminednatural inspiration. Many biological systems involve seamless in-tegration of the structure with other systems (e.g., seashells, treeroots), or have exceptional structural weight/strength ratios, such asspider webs.

    Modular Design and Construction

    Complexity that works is built up out of modules that workperfectly, layered one over the other. Kevin Kelly, editor,Wired Magazine

    Modular design and construction is inextricably linked to rapidconstructability, as well as to the integration of systems. Workshopparticipants called for building modules that came preassembledwith wall panels, heating and ventilation systems, plumbing, andlighting. Japanese companies have explored modular constructionfor site ofces, temporary emergency housing, commercial facili-ties, storage, and multistory parking systems. Offsite hybrid build-ing systems, which are modules complete with electrical wiring,insulation, nishes, and doors, have been used in Dublin. Design-build modular construction has been utilized in commercial, edu-cational, and medical facilities in the United States.

    The building industrymay nd further inspiration and innovationfrom pioneers and advances in other industries; i.e., Eli Whitney,Isaac Singer, and Henry Ford (regarding interchangeable parts).Techniques utilizing interchangeable parts and perfected by sewingmachine manufacturers provided for radical innovation whenadopted in the automobile industry. Designers who fear loss of anindividual buildings unique identity and character, but who craveimprovements in construction efciency, may have both if able tocapitalize on the concept of the automobile platform (e.g., engine,transmission, drive train, and main chassis). From the same autoplatform, a Toyota Camry and a Lexus ES; from another platform,the Volkswagen Beetle, Golf, Jetta, and Audi TT, A3, and S3. Thereis new seismic research at StanfordUniversity (Stanford, California)on the use of base isolation along with the automotive unibodyconcept in structural elements integrated with architectural elementsfor residential construction. The advance from body-on-frame tounibody or uniframe construction was signicant for the automotiveindustry, and may similarly revolutionize residential construction.However, by and large, other industries and their innovations arerelatively untapped in steel design and construction.

    Novel Joining Methods/Connection Design

    The details are details. They make the product. The con-nections, the connections, the connections. It will in the end be

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  • these details that give the product its life. Charles Eames,designer

    In May 2012, Connections VII, an international, by-invitation only,every 4-year workshop to discuss research in steel connections washeld. The workshop provided a showcase for both fully maturestudies and works in progress and highlighted that there is no dearthof well-developed research on steel connections. However, witha few exceptions the research was predominantly in the category offorward incrementation rather than redirection or integration. Noveljoining methods have emerged in recent years; the most notable atConnections VII included cast connections and friction stir welding.The connections workshop highlighted an idea discussed at theASCE workshop; i.e., a need for new ways of thinking about howthings are connected together.

    Ideas often come from unlikely sources. One of the more in-teresting topics of the conversation at the ASCE workshop withrespect to connections was the discussion of building toys (e.g.,Legos, Knex, Girder and Panel, and Tinker toys). Inspiration suchas toys may provide a view to a means of envisioning new joiningmethods for rapidly deployable or deconstructable structures. An-other idea involved ball-and-socket joints that can be easily recon-gured if the structure is to change use. Again, there are potentialideas to be culled from nature, such as the extreme tensile capacity/weight ratio of spider webs. Regardless of the source, nearly everybreakout session included some discussion of the need for newways of thinking about steel connections.

    Material Advances

    How about making steel at the job site? Innovations work-shop participant

    One of the positive attributes of steel noted at the AISC Innovationsmeeting held in 2010 is that it has predictable material properties;alternatively, weaknesses were identied as limited available steelstrengths and concerns with stiffness/serviceability. While steel hasadvanced as a material to the extent that the properties are tightlycontrolled, traditional construction steels have not seen any signif-icant advances with respect to the development of new properties orattributes. In his opening remarks at theworkshop,Dr. Roberto Leonof Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Virginia) discussed advances in newmaterials such as composites with 46 times the strength of steel,metallic foams, and amorphous glass metals. He also stressed con-sideration of all aspects of material research including processing,theory, properties, and characterization.

    Discussion of potential advances in steel included improvingboth the existing properties of steel (e.g., stiffness, corrosion re-sistance) and the performance properties, such as re resistance.Integration again became important, such as engineering perfor-mance properties into the material or making coatings part of thematerial itself.Whilematerial improvementsmay seem to be the roleof metallurgists, advances that will propel steel design and con-struction will necessitate the involvement of structural researchers,engineers, fabricators, and manufacturers. This is particularly true ifadvances are to be made in the area of steel production to the extentthat the vision of rapid constructability facilitated with real-timesteel making could become reality.

    Educational Opportunities

    Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt. Itempowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities

    which improves teamwork, productivity and, where appropri-ate, prots. Edward de Bono, physician, author, inventor

    In the traditional design/bid/fabricate/erect process, the designerat the one end often knows woefully little about the other end ofthe process. This realization led to healthy workshop discussionsabout education and integrationbetter integration between sys-tems (e.g., structural and mechanical) in the educational processas well as improved integration of academia with industry. Essen-tial knowledge of fabrication processes as well as innovations infabrication and erection would offer a designer powerful toolsleading to innovations in the structural system. Education of me-chanical systems within a primarily structural engineering programcould reduce scheduling and physical structural-mechanical systemconicts on site. Workshop participants discussed the need forcapstone courses with heavy industry involvement, as well as moreindustry involvement throughout the educational process.

    There exist architectural engineering programs, providing edu-cation on all systemsstructural, mechanical, electrical, and light-ingas well as architecture and construction management. Civiland architectural engineering programs alike strive to provide ex-posure to industry and real-life experiences through capstone designprojects, guest speakers, and eld trips to construction sites and steelfabrication shops. However, pressures to reduce credit hours andeconomic constraints may limit these experiences.

    Is it time to reimagine the education of the structural engineer?Students may often spend summer internships at consulting engi-neering rms. However, would the model of the medical residencyprogram (in this case, with required rotations on the constructionsite, in the fabrication shop, and in an architectural design rm)provide the experience needed for engineers to successfully in-tegrate and innovate? Would the signicant advances in visualiza-tion and simulation offer an opportunity for creative educationaltools and programs?

    Wildcard Session

    If you wish to advance into the innite, explore the nite in alldirections. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, writer, politician

    The inclusion of results specic to sustainability, rapid construct-ability, and extreme loads are intended for separate publications.Because the wildcard session contained some of the mostfar-reaching ideas (e.g., oating cities and self-assembling struc-tures), they are included here. The individual ideas generated in thebrainstorming portion of the wildcard session are provided in theappendix. The synthesis of these ideas developed in the secondsession is as follows:1. Combined mechanical and structural integration

    a. Modular building unitsb. Integration of systemsc. Adaptation of existing shapes (e.g., tubes)

    2. Kinetic structuresa. Telescoping members and systemsb. Pneumatic structuresc. Deployable, openable, and adaptable

    3. Bioinspired systemsa. High strength-to-weight ratios (e.g., spider webs)b. Adaptablec. Resilientd. Unique forms and shapese. Self-healing steel

    4. Temporary/transportable structuresa. Shipping containers (dual purpose/reuse)

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  • b. Deployable structuresc. Staging systems/storage racksd. Origami/self-assembling structures

    5. Adaptable and plug and play connections: joining methodsthat minimize the effort/energy required for assemblya. Universalb. Standardizedc. Ball and socket (adjustable)d. Snap together

    While the wildcard session discussion topics were as broad aseducation, marketing, sustainability, and altruism, the main topicswere centered on the idea of reimagining structural form withsubstantial inspiration from nontraditional sources.

    Conclusions

    The scientist, if he (sic) is to be more than a plodding gathererof bits of information, needs to exercise an active imagination.The scientists of the past whom we now recognize as great arethose who were gifted with transcendental imaginative powers,and the part played by the imaginative faculty of his daily life is asleast as important for the scientist as it is for the worker in anyother eldmuch more important than for most. Linus Pauling

    What became obvious from the workshops is that innovation cannothappen in a vacuum, and it cannot occur without rethinking howstructural forms and materials are viewed. Collaboration betweenmultiple constituencies or disciplines is necessary to achieve trueinnovation, whether it is integration of mechanical and structuralsystems, of materials properties, or of engineering design, fabrica-tion, and erection. Whether inspiration is sought in nature, nano-structures, or childrens toys, the continuing exercise of lookingforward and envisioning the impossible, the improbable, and thepotential is useful in propelling advances in steel design and con-struction. The ideas generated at the Innovations in Steel DesignWorkshop can serve as a springboard for research ideas or con-tinuing conversations on future innovation, whether as necessaryincrements in knowledge or far-reaching advances in designs.

    Appendix. Wildcard Ideas Generated fromBrainstorming

    1. Origami structures (deployable; kinetic architecture)2. Bioinspired systems (e.g., spider webs)3. Adaptable buildings (shading)4. Combined mechanical/structural systems5. Tensile membrane steel6. Steel fabric/shape memory7. Pneumatic structures8. High-end epoxy connections9. Electromagnetics for erection

    10. Telescoping members, structures11. Temporary housing, hospitals for postdisaster12. Multirise modular structures13. Reuse, rather than recycle (shipping containers)14. New facade systems

    a. Steel, honeycombed

    b. Include insulationc. Make use of nonstructural elementsd. Embed mechanical and electrical systems

    15. Floating cities16. Preparing for rising water on coastlines17. Movable construction

    a. Floated-in buildingsb. Air rights issuesc. Site constraints

    18. Structural grade paints and coatings for repairs19. Restore/clean up the material (new technology needed)20. Workmanship (repair rather than replace)21. New quality assurance/quality control technologies

    a. Fasterb. More information about materials in existing structures

    22. Code requirements23. Liquid steel (steel silly putty or spackle)24. Spray on steel25. Engineering education that inspires creativity and innovation26. Plug and play connections27. Adaptable connections28. Storage rack superstructure with modules29. Modular construction

    a. Hotel roomsb. Repeatable elementsc. Unique congurations

    30. Recongurable oor systems, walls31. Panel systems for oors32. Design in three dimensions33. Develop unique structural forms/shapes34. Improved marketing techniques35. Building components no bigger than what one worker can

    handle36. Thin-walled in-lled structures

    Acknowledgments

    The authors acknowledge Roberto Leon, Tom Schlay, GregBriggs, Ronald Johnson, Michael Engelhardt, Jerry Hajjar, BruceEllingwood, and David Campbell, who served as speakers and/ormoderators at the workshop. In addition, the members of theASCE/SEI Metals TAC were instrumental in the development andimplementation of the workshop. The workshop was supported inpart by the American Institute for Steel Construction and a grantfrom the National Science Foundation (Award No. 1205229). Theopinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors only.

    References

    Kaufman, J. C., Plucker, J. A., and Baer, J. (2008). Essentials of creativityassessment, Wiley, Hoboken, NJ.

    Kelley, T. (2001). The art of innovation: Lessons in creativity from IDEO,Americas leading design rm, Doubleday, New York.

    Sternberg, R. J., Kaufman, J. C., and Pretz, J. E. (2002). The creativity co-nundrum: A propulsion model of knds of creative contributions,Pyschology Press, Philadelphia.

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