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Truss Bridge
Designing and Building
File-Folder Bridges as an
Introduction to Engineering
COL Stephen Ressler, P.E., Ph.D.
Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering
Objectives
Through a hands-on bridge-building
project.
Through the use of free computer
software.
West Point Bridge Design Contest. A Typical Bridge-Building
Project
Students receive a pile of Popsicle sticks
and some glue.
Students build a bridge, based on...
A picture.
A vague idea of what a bridge should look like.
Bridges are weighed.
Bridges are tested to failure.
Highest strength-to-weight ratio wins.
What do students actually learn from this experience?
What They Dont Learn
A systematic design process precedes
construction.
Engineers design; Contractors build.
The design process is informed by math and
science.
Design is iterative.
Structures are designed to carry code-specified
Designed to stand up, not to fail.
Strength-to-weight ratio is never the objective.
The Essential Characteristics Of Engineering
Why File Folders?
Inexpensive.
Easy to cut, bend, and glue.
Surprisingly predictable structural
behavior.
Can be used to build:
Tubes and bars.
Connections that are stronger than the
attached structural members.

Our Agenda
Introduction to Truss Bridges
Start building a truss
Forces and equilibrium
Continue building the truss
Structural analysis
Finish the truss
Materials testing
Structural evaluation
Structural design
Manual method
Using the West Point Bridge Designer

This allows
time for the
glue to dry
What You Need to Know
For building a file-folder bridge:
NONE
For analyzing a file-folder bridge:
Basic algebra
Geometry Pythagorean Theorem
Trigonometry sine and cosine
Physics forces, equilibrium
For the West Point Bridge Designer
NONE

These
concepts
could be
taught in
the context
of this
project
What is a Truss?
A structure composed of members connected
together to form a rigid framework.
Usually composed of interconnected triangles.
Members carry load in tension or compression.
Component Parts
Vertical Bottom Chord
Diagonal
End Post
Hip Vertical
Deck
Top Chord
Vertical Bottom Chord
Diagonal
End Post
Hip Vertical
Deck
Top Chord
Support (Abutment)
Standard Truss
Configurations
Pratt Parker
Double Intersection Pratt
Howe Camelback
K-Truss
Fink
Warren
Bowstring Baltimore
Warren (with Verticals)
Double Intersection Warren
Lattice
Pratt Parker
Double Intersection Pratt
Howe Camelback
K-Truss
Fink
Warren
Bowstring Baltimore
Warren (with Verticals)
Double Intersection Warren
Lattice
Types of Structural
Members
Solid Rod
Solid Bar
Hollow Tube
-Shape
Solid Rod
Solid Bar
Hollow Tube
-Shape
These shapes are called
cross-sections.
Types of Truss
Connections
Pinned
Connection
Gusset Plate
Connection
Most modern bridges use gusset plate connections
Lets build this bridge...
Waddel A Truss Bridge over Lin Branch Creek
Trimble, MO
The Design
10 mm x 10 mm Tube
Doubled 4 mm Bar
Doubled 2 mm Bar
Design Requirements:
Span30 cm
(at midspan)
Well talk about how it was designed later...
Our A-Truss Bridge
Materials & Equipment
File folders
Yellow carpenters glue
Building board (Styrofoam or cork)
Pins
Scissors
Metal ruler*
Hobby knife or single-edge razor blade*
Rubber cement*

*Required only for prefabrication of structural members
Prefabrication of
Members
Cut out bars
Cut out and assemble tubes
Cut out gusset plates
Trim bars and tubes to length
Gluing Flap
Rubber Cement
Gluing Flap
Rubber Cement
Trim Bars and Tubes
to Length
Bottom Chords
(2 per team)
Trim Bars and Tubes
to Length
Bottom Chords
(2 per team)
Trim Bars and Tubes
to Length
Verticals
(2 per team)
Trim Bars and Tubes
to Length
Verticals
(2 per team)
Trim Bars and Tubes
to Length
End Posts
(2 per team)
Trim Bars and Tubes
to Length
End Posts
(2 per team)
Set up the Building
Board
Place the layout drawing on your building board.
Each Team Member:
Set up the Building
Board
Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the layout drawing.
Place Gusset Plate A at its correct location on the layout
drawings.
Hold it in place with two pins.
Repeat the process for Gusset Plates B, C, and D.
Apply a line of glue along the bottom edge of Gusset Plates
A, B, and C.
Place a 2 mm bar in position as the bottom chord AC.
Stretch tight and hold in place with two pins.
Apply glue to Gusset Plates B and D.
Place a 4 mm bar in position as the vertical member BD.
Stretch tight and hold in place with your fingers.
Each team should now have two of these subassemblies
the lower half and the upper half of one truss.
Apply glue to Gusset Plates A and D.
Place a 10mm x 10mm tube in position as end post AD.
Hold in place for a minute until the glue sets.
For the bottom half of the truss (one per team):
Apply glue to Gusset Plates C and D.
Place a 10 mm x 10 mm tube in position as end post AD.
Hold in place for a minute until the glue sets.
Cut a 2 cm length of 10 mm x 10 mm tube.
Apply glue to Gusset Plate B.
Place the tube vertically on the gusset plate.
Hold in place for a minute until the glue sets.
The Finished Half-
Truss
Allow all glue joints to dry. Forces, Loads, &
Reactions
Force A push or pull.
Load A force applied to a structure.

Reaction A force developed at the
support of a structure to keep that
structure in equilibrium.
Self-weight of structure, weight of vehicles,
pedestrians, snow, wind, etc.
Forces are represented mathematically as
VECTORS.
Equilibrium
An object at rest will remain at rest,
provided it is not acted upon by an
unbalanced force.
...and Reactions
Newtons First Law:
Tension and
Compression
An unloaded member experiences no deformation
Tension causes a member to get longer
Compression causes a member to shorten
Tension and
Compression
EXTERNAL FORCES and INTERNAL FORCES
Must be in equilibrium with each other.
Assemble the Two
Halves
Pull out all of the pins on both halves of the truss.
Carefully separate the upper half of the truss from the plastic
wrap.
Keep the lower half of the truss on the building board.
Assemble the Two
Halves
Put glue on the tubes at A, B, C, and D.
Place the upper half onto the lower half.
Stretch the bars tight and hold until the glue has set.
Assemble the Two
Halves
Allow all glue joints on the completed truss to dry.
Structural Analysis
For a given load, find the internal forces
(tension and compression) in all members.
Why?
Procedure:
Model the structure:
Define supports
Draw a free body diagram.
Calculate reactions.
Calculate internal forces using
Method of Joints.
Model the Structure
15 cm
15 cm 15 cm
A C B
D
mass=5 kg
=2.5 kg per truss Draw a Free Body
Diagram
15 cm
15 cm 15 cm
A
C B
D
mass=2.5 kg
R
A
R
C
x
y
( )( ) N 5 . 24 sec m 81 . 9 kg 5 . 2
2
= = = ma F
24.5N
Calculate Reactions
Total downward force is
24.5 N.
Total upward force must be
24.5 N.
reactions are all
symmetrical.

R
A
and R
C
must
be equal.
SOUP
SCALE SCALE
Centerline
Centerline
SOUP
SCALE SCALE
Centerline
Centerline
SOUP
SCALE SCALE
Centerline
Centerline
SOUP SOUP
SCALE SCALE
Centerline
Centerline
Calculate Reactions
N 3 . 12
2
5 . 24
= = =
C A
R R
A
R
A
x
y
15 cm
15 cm 15 cm
C B
D
R
C
24.5 N
12.3 N 12.3 N
12.3 N
Method of Joints
Isolate a Joint.
A
x
y
15 cm
15 cm 15 cm
C B
D
R
C
24.5 N
12.3 N
Method of Joints
Isolate a Joint.
Draw a free body diagram of
the joint.
reactions applied at the joint.
Include unknown internal forces
at every point where a member was cut.
Assume unknown forces in tension.
Solve the Equations of Equilibrium for the Joint.
12.3 N
A
x
y
F
F
AB
EXTERNAL FORCES and INTERNAL FORCES
Must be in equilibrium with each other.
Equations of Equilibrium
The sum of all forces acting in
the x-direction must equal zero.

The sum of all forces acting in
the y-direction must equal zero.

For forces that act in a diagonal direction, we
must consider both the x-component and the
y-component of the force.
12.3 N
A
x
y
F
F
AB
0 =
x
F
0 =
y
F
Components of Force
F
A
x
y
u

If magnitude of F
is represented as the
hypotenuse of a right triangle...
Then the magnitudes of (F
)
x
and (F
)
y
are
represented by the lengths of the sides.

A
(F
)
y
(F
)
x
u

Trigonometry Review
H
y
= =
hypotenuse
opposite
sinu
H
x
= =
hypotenuse
cosu
Therefore:
u sin H y =
u cos H x =
x
y
u

Definitions:
H
Components of Force
F
(F
)
y
A
x
y
A
(F
)
x
u=?

u=?

Therefore:
u sin H y =
u cos H x =
45
o
45
o
( )
x
F F F 707 . 0 45 cos = =
( )
y
F F F 707 . 0 45 sin = =
Equations of Equilibrium
12.3 N
A
x
y
F
F
AB
0 =
x
F
0 =
y
F
0.707 F
0.707 F
0 707 . 0 = + +
F F
0 707 . 0 3 . 12 = + +
F
3 . 12 707 . 0 =
F
N 3 . 17
707 . 0
3 . 12
=

=
F
F F 707 . 0 =
N 3 . 12 ) 3 . 17 ( 707 . 0 + = =
AB
F
F
=17.3 N (compression)
F
AB
=12.3 N (tension)
?
Method of Joints...Again
Isolate another Joint.
x
y
12.3 N
A
15 cm
15 cm 15 cm
C
D
R
C
12.3 N
B
24.5 N
Equations of Equilibrium
x
y
B
24.5 N
F
BD
F
BC
F
AB
0 =
x
F
0 =
y
F
0 5 . 24 = +
BD
F
N 5 . 24 + =
BD
F
F
BD
=24.5 N (tension)
0 = +
BC AB
F F
N 3 . 12 + = =
AB BC
F F
F
BC
=12.3 N (tension) Results of Structural
Analysis
12.3 N
A C
D
12.3 N
B
24.5 N
12.3 N (T) 12.3 N (T)
2
4
.
5

N

(
T
)

Do these results make sense?
Finish the Truss
Trim off the excess length on both
bottom chords (AC) . Results of Structural
Analysis
In our model, what kind of members are used
for tension? for compression?
12.3 N
A C
D
12.3 N
B
24.5 N
12.3 N (T) 12.3 N (T)
2
4
.
5

N

(
T
)

Materials Testing
Strength The largest internal force a
structural member can experience before
it fails.
Failure The condition that occurs when
the internal force exceeds the strength of
a member
TENSILE STRENGTH COMPRESSIVE STRENGTH A Hydraulic Testing
Machine Our Low-Budget Testing
Machine
Pivot
Notch
Temporary
Support
Base
Post
C-Line
T-Line
Felt
Testing Tensile Strength
The test setup.
Testing Tensile Strength
Clamp the test specimen to the lever arm.
Testing Tensile Strength
Slowly add sand to the bucket.
Testing Tensile Strength
When the specimen breaks, weigh the bucket
and compute the tensile strength.
The Principle of the Lever
L
1
L
2
F
2
F
1
2 2 1 1
L F L F =
|
|
.
|

\
|
=
1
2
2 1
L
L
F FResults of Tension
Testing
Tensile strength depends on:
Type of material
Thickness of cross-section
Width of cross-section
Tensile strength does not depends on:
Length of member
Shape of cross-section
Solid Rod
Solid Bar
Hollow Tube
-Shape
Solid Rod
Solid Bar
Hollow Tube
-ShapeProcess the Experimental
Results
Test Member Mass of Weight of Tensile
Number Width Bucket & Sand Bucket & Sand Strength
(mm) (g) (N) (N)
T1 4 942 9.2 25.7
T1 4 996 9.8 27.2
T1 4 928 9.1 25.3
T2 6 1497 14.7 40.8
T2 6 1424 14.0 38.8
T2 6 1398 13.7 38.1
T3 8 1880 18.4 51.3
T3 8 1909 18.7 52.1
T3 8 1832 18.0 50.0
Convert from grams to newtons
Apply the Principle of the Lever to calculate strength
Graph the Results
0.0
10.0
20.0
30.0
40.0
50.0
60.0
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Member Width (mm)
T
e
n
s
i
l
e

S
t
r
e
n
g
t
h

(
n
e
w
t
o
n
s
)
Trend LineTesting Compressive
Strength
The test setup. Testing Compressive
Strength
A compression specimen at failure. Results of Compression
Testing
Compressive strength depends on:
Type of material
Length of member
Width and thickness of cross-section
Shape of cross-section
Bar
Tube
0
20
40
60
80
100
120
140
160
180
0 5 10 15 20 25
Length (cm)
C
o
m
p
r
e
s
s
i
v
e

S
t
r
e
n
g
t
h

(
n
e
w
t
o
n
s
)
10 mm x 10 mm tubes
Graph the Results
Best fit curve
95% confidence curve
Structural Evaluation
Is the internal member force less than the
strength for each member?
Calculate the Factor of Safety:
Force Internal
Strength
Safety of Factor =Tensile Strength of
Member AC
0.0
10.0
20.0
30.0
40.0
50.0
60.0
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Member Width (mm)
T
e
n
s
i
l
e

S
t
r
e
n
g
t
h

(
n
e
w
t
o
n
s
)
Trend Line
Doubled 2 mm bar
26 N Factor of Safety for
Member AC
Force Internal
Strength
(FS) Safety of Factor =
1 . 2
12.3N
26N
FS = =
> 1 SAFE!
Structures are normally designed for a
FS of at least 1.6.
0
20
40
60
80
100
120
140
160
180
0 5 10 15 20 25
Length (cm)
C
o
m
p
r
e
s
s
i
v
e

S
t
r
e
n
g
t
h

(
n
e
w
t
o
n
s
)
10 mm x 10 mm tubes
95% confidence curve
21.2
( ) ( ) cm 2 . 21 cm 15 cm 15
2 2
= + =
AB
L
80 N
Force Internal
Strength
(FS) Safety of Factor =
6 . 4
17.3N
80N
FS = =
> 1 VERY SAFE!
Are the end posts excessively strong? Place the Structure into
Service
The completed bridge
Load test with 5 kg of sand
suspended from midspan
Structural Design
Design Requirements:
Decide on truss configuration.
Perform a structural analysis.
Reactions
Internal member forces
Select member sizes based on required strength.
Draw plans.
Build the bridge.
Test Can the bridge carry
break
the bridge! The West Point Bridge
Designer
Look and feel of a standard CAD package.
Easy to create a successful design.
Hard to create a highly competitive design.
Highly successful:
Two major national software awards.
Formally endorsed as an educational tool by the
American Society of Civil Engineers.
Runs on Windows 95 (or later) PC.
The West Point Bridge
Design Contest
Started on January 8, 2004.
Students age 13 through grade 12 are eligible for prizes.
To enter:
Use the West Point Bridge Designer 2004 to design a bridge.
Upload the design to our website for automated judging.
\$15,000 scholarships for the winners.
Participation is free!

Summary
File-folder bridges:
Accurate representation of real bridges
Vehicle for learning engineering concepts.
Design based on authentic applications of math,
science, and computer technology.
The West Point Bridge Designer:
Experience the engineering design process.
Free!
The West Point Bridge Design Contest: