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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ACI Spring Convention...

Every year, twice a year, the American Concrete Institute meets to discuss the latest developments in field of concrete construction and design. This year, the Spring Convention met in Chicago at the beginning of March. Spring had only just sprung, and visitors from around the world gathered to discuss new developments and improvements to the ACI codes and guidelines.

At every convention, the ACI 216 Committee discuss how the fire design guidance can be improved, updated and made more useful. This year, the committee meeting was also coupled with a presentation session where members of the fire research community could present their research.

Two members of Edinburgh's Fire Group made presentations at this Spring's session. Luke Bisby spoke about the performance of pre-stressed steel and fibre reinforced polymer (FRP) bars when subjected to fire, and I spoke about the use of interaction diagrams to predict the capacity of concrete sections during fire.

The following day, Committee 216 got down to the serious business of discussing the latest modifications to the ACI 216.1 design document. Chaired by the perennially entertaining Prof Venkatesh Kodur, there were no major changes either approved or proposed. Discussion centred more on the future direction of the code, and how it compares to other international fire design codes.

Dr Gillie (also from UoE) and Dr Bisby gave a 15 minute presentation on the Eurocodes, presenting the ideas behind the different design fires and the performance based design approach. There was some discussion of the relative merits of the design fire, E119, but also strong criticism of the Eurocode approach from some members of Committee 216.

As someone who had not attended the conference before, I was fascinated to witness the process by which a code is written. I was particularly struck by how long and drawn out the process of changing a document is. Not only were there disagreements between committee members as to what should be changed and how, but there was also the very long process of having the changes and their format approved by the ACI governing body as a whole.

I left Chicago with two conflicting feelings: depression at the pace of change in the States, but also a feeling of respect and optimism for what has been achieved in Europe. The Eurocodes are not perfect, and they have many limitations, unconservatisms and flaws; however, in terms of their philosophical approach, they allow engineers to think deeply and flexibly about the problems at hand.

By Angus Law, PhD student

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