Cal Poly Achieves New Team Firsts at National Steel Bridge Competition

The Cal Poly Steel Bridge Team stood out as “Best in the West” at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) National Student Steel Bridge Competition, held May 26-27 at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore.

The top-scoring team in the categories of lightness and efficiency, Cal Poly finished third overall. Canada’s École de technologie supérieure and Lafayette College, based in Easton, Penn., ranked first and second, respectively.

“Notably, this was the first year that Cal Poly has placed first in any sub-category on a national scale,” said Hannah Lancaster (Orange, Calif.), project manager. And, as she sees it, “placing first in lightness and efficiency is tantamount to having the best designed and fabricated bridge in the nation.”

Other team members, all civil engineering majors, included Matthew Ramos (Carmichael, Calif.), design lead; Stephen Hager (San Diego), fabrication lead; Jessica Ramirez (Union City, Calif.), machining lead; John Stern (Vacaville, Calif.), construction lead; and Jonathan Diaz (San Bruno, Calif.), software lead. Cal Poly civil engineering Professors Garrett Hall and Eric Kasper were faculty advisors.

“At the national competition, you’re vying with 43 of the top schools in the world, with everyone pulling out all the stops to win,” said Lancaster. “It’s interesting to see how each school uniquely interprets the 40 pages of rules.”

Cal Poly was one of the few schools to discover a loophole in those rules — piers were not given a maximum length — and the team parlayed to its advantage.

“After winning the Pacific Southwest Regional Competition (PSWC), our motto had become ‘no risk, no reward,’ said Lancaster. “When we found that loophole, we devised and employed a new construction method — using two 17-foot-long piers as a type of track to slide our bridge across the river during construction.”

Not that everything went their way.

“A unique challenge for winners of the Pacific Southwest Conference is that it’s one of only two — out of 18 — regional competitions to post a complete score breakdown,” said Lancaster. “That meant that every other team could find exact details about our bridge, but we had no idea where they stood in comparison to us. Unable to consider ‘Will this beat this or that team’s time or weight,’ our sole focus became doing the best job we could. Our questions became ‘Is this the best we can do? Can we go any faster? Can we sacrifice any more stiffness for the bridge weight?’ We placed no limits on our ingenuity, and we left nothing to chance. We continued to modify and practice the bridge design and construction sequencing right up to the moment we left for Oregon.”

The 2018 National Student Steel Bridge Competition will be held May 25-26 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Pictured, from left to right: Hannah Lancaster, Jonathan Diaz, Stephen Hager, John Stern, Matthew Ramos and Jessica Ramirez