QUT Engineering means working on real-world safety issues
QUT, or the Queensland University of Technology, in Brisbane offers almost 20 undergraduate courses in engineering, with the added opportunity to learn from researchers working directly on critical real-world issues such as building safety.
Innovating building materials
Pre-fabricated steel is the most commonly used construction system for new homes in Australia. Because it is so light and strong, light gauge steel is a perfect material for low-rise buildings.
But as more construction companies and engineers become interested in using lightweight steel wall systems for larger, mid-rise buildings such as apartment blocks, some important safety issues need to be resolved so they can make the right decisions.
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QUT’s Wind and Fire research lab
A new project at QUT Engineering, the Wind and Fire Lab led by Professor Mahen Mahendran, received a $250,000 grant from the Australian Research Council to investigate the fire resistance of commonly used pre-fabricated wall systems.
Mahen’s team will work with the National Association of Steel-Framed Housing to create a Fire Design Handbook.
“Often builders, engineers and designers don’t have that information, so they don’t use lightweight steel, or they take a risk – and that’s not good,” says Mahen.
The importance of safety first
“As you go taller in terms of storeys, evacuation and fire safety become even more important. So the question is, how do the engineers design buildings that don’t collapse if there is a fire?” he notes.
The research team will complete full-scale fire tests on 20 complex wall systems by assembling gypsum plasterboard in varying configurations, and subjected to a compression load simulating the load transferred from the floor above.
One by one, the frames will be enclosed and set on fire. “And then we watch and measure,” Mahen says.
Temperature mapping will capture the temperature at different stages of the fire and different locations within the chamber. When the wall finally collapses, the test is over. “That’s the fire-resistance level for load bearing,” says Mahen.
Once the physical tests are done, his team will simulate results for hundreds of variations. A full-scale fire test takes at least two weeks and is expensive, so computer modelling fills in the gaps.
Mahen’s career in safety engineering
Mahen has been interested in safety engineering throughout his career.
“Lightweight building construction is the future,” he says. “For sustainable development, heavy steel and concrete are too resource intensive. By doing this research we are promoting cost-effectiveness and sustainable construction, while making sure these buildings can survive extreme events.”
– Chloe Walker
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This article is brought to you in partnership with the Queensland University of Technology.
“Lightweight building construction is the future.”
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Author: Eliza Brockwell
Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.