Professor Bassem Andrawes will lead a new research center with the goal of improving the durability and extending the life of transportation infrastructure by advancing the technologies used in precast concrete systems, thanks to a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish a University Transportation Center. The Transportation Infrastructure Precast Innovation Center (TRANS-IPIC) will be a consortium of five universities, including Purdue University, Louisiana State University, SUNY University at Buffalo and the University of Texas San Antonio.
“Deterioration of transportation infrastructure is a pressing national problem,” Andrawes said. “We cannot address this critical problem without adopting transformative technologies that are specifically tailored for transportation infrastructure systems. Many of the emerging technologies such as nano and high-performance materials, robotics and automated manufacturing sound exciting theoretically, but are faced with major practical challenges that hinder or prevent their application.”
A major reason for this issue, he said, is the difficulty and high cost of incorporating these very delicate technologies into the construction site using conventional construction techniques. Providing a well-controlled manufacturing environment would significantly increase the feasibility of incorporating these new technologies in the delivery, maintenance and management of transportation infrastructure.
Precast concrete (PC) is, by definition, manufactured in a controlled environment, so the path for introducing and implementing new technologies that can drastically and swiftly impact the durability and service life of infrastructure is much more feasible and straightforward using PC.
“A quite large sector of our transportation infrastructure is built or repaired using PC – for example, bridges, tunnels, railroads, pavement and ports – so deploying new PC technologies will impact the durability of multiple modes of transportation,” Andrawes said.
The new center will focus on the following three key research topic areas: A) Application of New Materials and Technologies, B) Construction Methodologies and Management, and C) Condition Monitoring and Remote Sensing. The research that TRANS-IPIC will offer will play a significant role in supporting the U.S. DOT Strategic Plan goals including Transformation, Climate & Sustainability, and Safety.
TRANS-IPIC’s mission is to leverage research innovation and strong industry support to foster research and education that focus on utilizing PC and its related technologies as an economic approach to provide a quick boost for the durability, safety and climate-adaptability of various modes of transportation networks in the U.S. through infrastructure repair or reconstruction. The consortium will address various aspects of PC technologies including materials, design, modeling, manufacturing, quality control, installation, operations and condition assessment.
The research that will be carried out through the center will focus on a broad range of innovative topics pertinent to the advancement of the durability, resilience and economics of PC transportation infrastructure. TRANS-IPIC researchers will study the use of PC-related solutions that are based on innovative and smart materials – for example, smart composites and metals – and novel emerging manufacturing methods that involve robotics and automated manufacturing – for example, 3D printing, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Building Information Modeling – guided by big data analytics and Artificial Intelligence.
The center will also provide long-term solutions by replacing our existing infrastructure with more durable components that are built in a controlled environment with advanced durable materials – for example, ultra-high performance concrete, fiber reinforced concrete and fiber reinforced polymers – and built more efficiently to reduce cost and carbon emissions and increase quality and productivity using advanced design optimization techniques like topology optimization, innovative manufacturing methods, quality control technologies and industrial operating processes.
The center will also work on developing a new generation of intelligent transportation infrastructure that has an innovative built-in capability of self-condition assessment using smart materials and remote sensing.