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Researcher stress tests materials

Tyler Graf
Daily Journal of Commerce

Oregon State University associate professor of engineering Jamie Kruzic spends his days breaking things. If he doesn’t, then planes fall out of the sky, hips shatter and bridges collapse.

Or, at the very least, they operate less efficiently.

Computer modeling and basic pen-and-paper equation techniques have long been used to predict the structural integrity of building and manufacturing materials such as concrete and steel. But those old, tried-and-true methods don’t always work when applied to new, high-tech materials, commonly called exotic alloys.

Kruzic will spend the next five years and $400,000 from a National Science Foundation grant trying to remedy that problem. The solution is one that Oregon manufacturers say is much needed and long overdue.

Because exotic alloys are so new, little is understood about how they perform under heat, pressure or repetitive motion, said David Browning, a principal at Portland-based Altman Browning & Co. Kruzic is studying only how they hold up under pressure.

Travis McFeron, a principal with Portland-based Peterson Structural Engineering, said new modeling techniques are decades behind schedule.

“(New models) for structural engineering are something that’s come to the forefront over the years,” he said.

“These new materials have been coming along for the past 30 to 40 years, really.”

The reason for the long lag time, engineers say, is these specialized materials were not as commonly used as they are today.

Kruzic, however, regularly works with exotic materials. His research begins with loading sample material, one alloy at a time, into a machine known as a servo-hydraulic test rig. A typical piece of sample material can run anywhere from 1 inch to several-inches, depending on what the material is. The stress-test machine, whirling and cranking, can place loads on 25 samples per second.

For the current phase of his research, for example, Kruzic places a high-strength ceramic material into the test rig, then uses a computer to monitor the stress placed on it. The computer tells him precisely when cracks begin appearing in the sample and how big they become. The procedure shows that this type of ceramic, silicon nitride, can handle a load commensurate with low-grade steel.

Kruzic and his two assistants will compile the information from the testing process using a computer program Kruzic wrote during the early stages of his research. The program will be used throughout the five-year study covered by the grant.

Kruzic said five years may not be enough time to understand the full gamut of designer alloys and manufacturing materials. Still, by the end of his research, he wants to have given his colleagues a foundation for future study.

“This research doesn’t mean you can (apply) it to every circumstance … yet,” Kruzic said. “It’s more a beginning, not the end.”

The Daily Journal of Commerce, like The Daily Reporter, is owned by Dolan Media Co.

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