Structural Steel’s Strength Helps Make NCL Design a Reality
Ian Washbrook, Structural Engineer with Entuitive Corp. engineering firm goes into detail about how structural steel is made and its application in the design of East Village’s New Central Library.
“Steel is essentially iron on steroids. Iron is mined from the earth and what they do is they take the iron that’s found in the rock and they pulverize it and they use large magnets to extract the iron because obviously iron is magnetic.
You take an ingot of iron and throw it into a furnace and you heat it up – high, high temperatures – and you mix in the carbon and some other alloys such as nickel and vanadium and when it cools down it now changes chemical composition to something that is better than its native iron state.
The strength of steel in the New Central Library, to kind of put it into perspective, if you were to take a steel rod the size of your pinky, you could pick up pretty much two first-generation hummers just from that one piece of rod. That’s how strong it is.
Steel can also be shaped different shapes relatively easily with a bit of energy put into it to heat it up and shape it. When steel is a big chunk of material and we’re talking quite a large piece of material, you need to shape it into something that’s more usable for the building world. Its either basically rolling it into a plate or rolling it into an eye section and forging is the process of putting in a lot of heat and energy, impact energy, pressure to shape the steel into a specific shape.
For the steel that’s used in the new central library, we used a lot of I-sections which are basically beams that go through rollers; four sets of rollers that shape it into an I section. Also we used plate steel, and plate steel goes through a – what they call rolling / forging process – its forging it but forging it through a series of rollers and those rollers are designed to basically handle the high temperatures you have to heat the steel up to about 1700 degrees Fahrenheit to make it very malleable.
It will be red hot and sometimes it goes through these rollers multiple times to get the actual thickness that you need, so they may start off with an 8inch thick slab they call it, and they’ll roll it down to something that’s even as small as half an inch so it will go back and forth through these rollers just kind of like your rolling bread out.
In our case, we have trusses that are so large that each of the members have come as separate individual members, so they ship it to site, lift it into place, they temporarily bolt it together put a whole bunch of temporary bracing to keep it stable, and then they start welding it on site. Part of the fabrication took place in the shop, and part of the fabrication took place in the field.
For the New Central Library, there’s a large amount of structural steel elements ranging from fairly standard angles and small beams to quite large custom pieces. A project of this size required two mills to supply the steel so that the general contractor, the construction manager, the fabricator could fabricate all of this steel in a reasonable amount of time and meet the schedule of the library.
One of the things that I think is really cool about structural steel is that I’m always blown away by how strong it really is. I’ve been a structural engineer for over15 years and I’ve designed with different materials, of course concrete, wood, sometimes aluminum (not that often) and structural steel and it still surprises to me till this day that some of these beams that don’t look that deep can span so far and take quite a bit of load.”
- Ian Washbrook, P.Eng.
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