UW strikes it big at Big Beam competition

Two UW CEE teams entered the Prestressed Concrete Institute, or PCI, Big Beam competition this year, and one team (Wai Lok Chung, Kok Wong, Si Kei Ngan, Yousif Alshaba and Givens Lam) placed 4th overall, with a first place victory in the Best Report category.  The other team (Jorden Cox, Hyung Kim, Bryan Lee and Alec Yeutter) placed 12th overall. Congratulations!

The Big Beam competition entails designing, building and testing a prestressed concrete beam. The beam has to carry specified loads at “service” conditions, under which it must not crack, and at “strength” conditions, under which it must not fail. A points system is used to evaluate the design, with positive points for meeting the loading criteria, innovation, report quality, etc. and negative points that represent costs such as materials. The design with the highest number of points wins. Teams from all over the US compete.


In the interests of safety, PCI requires that the beam be cast by the local precast concrete producer associated with the team, but encourages the team members themselves to be involved in fabricating the reinforcement. Concrete Technology Corporation in Tacoma (CTC) was the team’s producer member and provided invaluable support all along the way.  The two teams fabricated most of the reinforcement (and learned a lot in so doing), helped to install the reinforcement at CTC’s plant and were present during the prestressing and casting operations, and then tested the beams in the Structural Research Lab at UW. Each team in the competition tests its own beam locally, because the beams are too big and heavy to transport to a central site. The PCI producer member is present to make sure that the competition rules are adhered to.

Initially, the students worked as a single group, but soon two different design concepts started to emerge and the group split into two separate teams. One pursued an I-shaped beam, and the other a T-shape, with the I-shape ultimately performing better. The teams face a time disadvantage compared to those from most other universities in that we are on a quarter system, and so start later in the year but must meet the common deadline. They also need to complete most of the design before the start of winter quarter, when the prestressed concrete course is given, so they have to learn the subject as they go. That makes their efforts especially impressive.


Kok (Lardo) Wong shared that his team’s 240 total man hours added up to a great learning opportunity.

“The big beam contest was a valuable experience for our team to design, to build a long concrete beam and to see it failed,” said Wong. “Thank you so much for professor Stanton, Matthew Sisley, Travis Thonstad, and concrete tech’s full support to make all this happen.”

John Stanton, structural engineering and mechanics professor, acted as faculty advisor to the two teams. Travis Thonstad and Matthew Sisley, members of last year’s team and now graduate students, also provided important guidance, especially as Prof Stanton was away on sabbatical leave for part of the time. Thanks also to Austin Maue from CTC, who provided important input on design and fabrication, and made all the arrangements for fabrication and shipping and to CTC for their support.

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