Posts Tagged: advanced manufacturing

Disaster-proof: Major CivMin lab upgrade lets engineers design structures that can better withstand earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis

Funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation will be used to acquire an adjustable,
multi-dimensional loading module and other equipment for the Structural Testing Facility


A new adjustable multi-dimensional (AMD) loading system will soon be added to U of T Engineering’s Structural Testing Facility. (Image: Myron Zhong)

An upgraded facility at U of T Engineering — one that is unique in the world — will let engineers test next-generation infrastructure designed to be resilient in the face of natural disasters, from hurricanes to earthquakes.

A grant announced today from CFI’s Innovation Fund 2020 will fund a suite of new tools and equipment to be housed within U of T Engineering’s existing Structural Testing Facility. They will be used to design everything from elevated highways to high-rise residential buildings to nuclear power plants, including replacements for legacy structures across North America.

“Much of our infrastructure is decades old and needs to be replaced,” says Professor Constantin Christopoulos (CivMin), the project leader and Canada Research Chair in Seismic Resilience of Infrastructure.

“The scientific and engineering communities, along with governments and the private sector, are becoming increasingly aware of the inherent vulnerability of our infrastructure. We also need to design new structures to address new pressures, such as a rapidly growing Canadian population, and more frequent extreme weather scenarios due to a changing climate.”

The centrepiece of this new development is the world’s first fully movable, adjustable multidirectional, large-scale and large-capacity loading frame.

“This unique piece of equipment will allow structural elements and structural systems to be tested under more realistic loading conditions,” says Christopoulos. “We’ll be able to better simulate the complex effects of extreme loading events, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes or tsunamis.”

The adjustable, multi-dimensional loading module will be capable of applying up to a total of 2,000 tonnes of force in six translational and rotational directions for specimens of up to eight metres tall and thirty metres long.

The project will also include new state-of-the-art sensing equipment and the redesign of 500 square metres of lab space. Construction is expected to begin in 2022.

To make full use of it, Christopoulos will be working with a large team of experts from within and beyond U of T Engineering. Project partners include U of T Engineering professors Oh-Sung KwonEvan BentzOya Mercan and Jeffrey Packer (all CivMin). This team is also collaborating with a team of structural engineering and large-scale testing experts at other leading North American facilities to develop, commission and use this unique equipment. Collaborating institutions include:

  • Western University’s WindEEE and Boundary Layer Wind Tunnels
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of Sherbrooke
  • Polytechnique Montreal
  • University of Illinois

Once completed, the new facility will be used for research by 10 professors from U of T and their national and international collaborators. It is also expected that it will allow for dozens of unique graduate student research projects and industry tests every year once it is fully operational.

Together this team will be able to carry out a technique known as “distributed hybrid simulations.” This means that full-scale portions of real structures — such as concrete pillars or steel beams — will be tested simultaneously in each of these labs across North America.

By integrating all of these physical tests into a single numerical model, they can use the experimental feedback of each of the large-scale elements to more realistically simulate the response of the entire infrastructure system to extreme loading conditions. The data from the physical experiments will be integrated in real-time with models run using high-performance computers and the UT-SIM integration platform.

“This facility will enhance our capabilities not only here at U of T, and across Canada, but will position Canadian engineers as global leaders in the area of structural resilience” says Christopoulos. “It is a critical step toward designing the resilient cities of the future.”

By Tyler Irving

This article originally published on Engineering News

How 3D printing has sped up prosthetic development for people around the world

These prosthetic devices to improve mobility were created using 3D PrintAbility, an end-to-end fabrication toolchain developed by not-for-profit social enterprise Nia Technologies. (Photo courtesy Nia Technologies)

For Jerry Evans (CivE 7T8, MASc 8T0), every job is a custom job.

“The shape of a person’s limb is as unique as their signature,” he says. “You can’t meet this need with mass production.”

After graduating from U of T with an MASc in civil engineering, Evans pursued an MBA and had a successful 20-year career in the financial sector. Today, he is the CEO of Nia Technologies Inc., a not-for-profit social enterprise that uses computer-aided design (CAD) software and 3D printers to enhance the fabrication of prosthetic devices around the world. The company collaborates with clinics and hospitals worldwide, including in Canada, Uganda, Tanzania and Cambodia.

The idea was sparked five years ago when Evans was doing consulting work for cbm Canada, a charity helping children with disabilities in lower-income countries.

“They were very interested in the possibilities of 3D printing to enhance what they were doing already,” he says. “They wanted someone who could understand both the financial and engineering aspects of the challenge.”

Evans says that in any given year, approximately 38 million people globally need prosthetics or orthotics, but only about 10 per cent actually receive them. One of the challenges is throughput: it can take up to a week to create a single device by hand, whereas a 3D printer can produce a comparable device in about a day.

With Evans at the helm, the team soon developed a partnership with Professor Matt Ratto, a professor in U of T’s Faculty of Information and an expert in 3D printing. In 2015, the charity created Nia to move the project forward, and Evans stepped up to become its CEO, with Ratto as Chief Science Officer.

3D printing combines the speed and reproducibility of industrial manufacturing with the artistry and customization of handcrafted goods. Prosthetics seemed like an ideal application for the technology, but Evans and his team needed to be sure that it was what their partners really needed.

“Before we spent any time in development, we spent a lot of time in prosthetic workshops and clinics in low-income countries,” he says. “We discussed what their pain points really were, and how we might be able to enhance their processes.”

Nia uses commercially-available 3D printers, but the software used to design the devices, known as NiaFit, was custom-made by Nia with the help of another U of T graduate, Ryan Schmidt. It is based in part on the Unity platform, which is widely used in the gaming industry to represent 3D objects.

“We took a gaming engine and overlaid our own mesh CAD routines on top,” says Evans. “The clinicians take to it like ducks to water.”

Most software used for prosthetics relies on users sending digital scans away to be manipulated by designers on the other side of the world. By contrast, Nia’s solution is self-contained. Dubbed 3D PrintAbility, it integrates both the software and the hardware — scanners, printers, etc. — into a single integrated package.

“We train the users and provide them with remote support, but they do everything at the point-of-care,” says Evans.

Nia recently completed a large-scale clinical study in which its technology was benchmarked against existing methods for more than 140 patients in Uganda, Tanzania and Cambodia. Production was much faster using Nia’s digital toolchain, and patient-reported comfort and functionality of 3D printed devices, compared favourably to traditionally fabricated devices.

The project is now entering into what Evans calls the “early-adopter” phase, in which the team aims to partner with large foundations to fund the implementation of their toolchain at their partner clinics. By seeding the market in this way, they hope to create a self-sustaining system that will be affordable for clinics in lower-income and higher-income countries alike.

Roseline, the first patient to receive a custom 3D printed prosthetic from Nia Technologies. (Photo: Nia Technologies)

The project has come a long way in the past five years, but Evans will always remember the very first patient, Roseline, whom he first met at CoRSU Rehabilitation Hospital in Uganda.

“She was a shy four-year-old who had travelled for 35 hours with her 12-year-old brother, Cylus,” he says.

Born without a right foot, Roseline was fitted with a prosthetic created using 3D PrintAbility. Evans next saw her 16 months later.

“She wasn’t shy anymore — she was jumping, hopping, skipping,” he says. “I’d like to think that we contributed to her well-being and her happiness.”

By Tyler Irving

This story originally posted on U of T Engineering News

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