Building a Strong Foundation

The School of Engineering’s new state-of-the-art lab provides research and learning opportunities for students and faculty.

By Alyce Abi Shdid

Outfitted with a 20-ton overhead crane and high-bay doors, the RWSF Structures Lab boasts a full-scale testing facility.

Simulating the real-life behavior of structures under environmental and user-induced loads has become the new standard in engineering higher education and research. The recent completion of Phase I of the Reaction Wall and Strong Floor (RWSF) Structures Lab at LAU’s School of Engineering (SOE) does just that.

This two-phase project will complete the structures lab component of the Engineering Laboratories and Research Center (ELRC) facility, providing students with the opportunity to observe firsthand how the structural elements of buildings, bridges and other critical infrastructure behave under various types of loads and react during natural disasters. As for civil engineering researchers, this long-awaited lab opens new horizons to perform full-scale simulations where life-size structural elements can be loaded to failure with forces that represent earthquakes, wind, vehicular traffic, blasts, impact loads and more.

Phase I of the RWSF Structures Lab features the newest equipment available on the market, and includes state-of-the-art components such as an actuator with bracing and connections, a hydraulic power unit and servo-controller, an FDX high-speed data acquisition system, an Oil Flushing and Cleaning Machine (OIPC), as well as ancillary equipment. This equipment has been procured by the most reputable names in manufacturing such as Bosch.

The system supplier, German-based YLE GmbH, described LAU’s lab facility as significant on multiple levels.

“The RWSF Structures Lab at LAU is unique in the entire Middle East in terms of size, capacity, equipment specifications and quality,” said Dr. Fadi Lama, founding partner of YL Engineering Lebanon and YLE GmbH. “For example, the 100-ton push capacity of the system installed at LAU is the highest, not only in Lebanon, but in the region.”

RWSF test systems provide the infrastructure support to test structural members that can withstand vibrations and loads in the thousands of tons. Until 2005, a lab of this nature was not available in Lebanon, but today, LAU is taking this type of facility to the next level.

Outfitted with a 20-ton overhead crane and high-bay doors, the RWSF Structures Lab boasts a full-scale testing facility that can support research on life-sized structural members and building components such as bridge girders, piers, and sheer walls, allowing researchers to overcome problems with scaling, leading to high-precision results.

Testing on the members is only the first step; with respect to data retrieval, the FDX high-speed acquisition system is used to measure elements such as thermal properties, stresses and strains on individual members, and displacement. This equipment represents the latest in engineering innovations and has the capability to take 50,000 readings per second, providing researchers with ultra-precise data.

The new RWSF Structures Lab is housed in LAU’s ELRC, which measures more than 9,000 m2 and is home to laboratories and equipment related to all the engineering disciplines. The facility is currently used for classes and student projects, and it has already hosted workshops with industry professionals such as a BMW delegation from Germany.

Chair of the Civil Engineering Department Caesar Abi Shdid is enthusiastic about a facility of this caliber on LAU’s campus. “RWSF systems are at the heart of high-performance simulation testing of structural elements, providing low frequency motion-controlled loading options that are otherwise impossible to replicate with small-scale loading equipment,” he said.

“With the completion of the RWSF Structures Lab, LAU’s School of Engineering is elevating itself as a major hub for research and collaboration in the regional academic community,” he added.

Dr. Lama summed up the rationale behind the new lab addition, which aligns with LAU’s mission: “The RWSF reflects LAU’s commitment to providing its student body and research staff with world-class facilities.”