Design of connections, the joints between columns and beams of a frame, is perhaps the most challenging topic to teach, and to learn, in structural steel design. The challenge is rooted in the lack of a unified analytical theory for connection behavior. Instead, connections largely by empirical methods. A slight change in detail can cause a change in behavior that must then be verified by experiment testing.
Lectures on connection design in the classroom are often unsatisfying for both the student and the instructor. It is difficult to take satisfaction in a design process that uses one set of empirical equations for one connection and a different set of equations for another. As a consequence of this relatively unstructured approach, connection design is often viewed as a "detailing problem," best left to the draftsman and the fabricator.
However, efficient and effective connection design is critical to the safety and economy of a structure. As standardized and routine as many of the connections are, it is critical that structural engineers understand their use, fabrication and behavior. Students who have never been around a construction site to see a steel structure erected often have a difficult time visualizing a three-dimensional connection detail from incomplete two-dimensional figures in books and sketches on a blackboard.
As a first step in the solution to this dilemma, Dr. Duane Ellifritt of the University of Florida designed a steel connection teaching structure. The prototype was completed and erected in the fall of 1986 on the University of Florida campus. It is used each semester to show students a large variety of steel connections. Accordingly, classroom lectures on connection design can be applied immediately to full-scale physical models.
Ellifritt's creative approach to teaching connection design has captured the interest of the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) and educators across the country. Through AISC sponsorship, similar structures have been erected at over a dozen universities across the United States. Civil Engineering's Dr. Richard Schmidt made the necessary contacts to bring the teaching device to our campus. Puma Steel of Cheyenne, Wyoming, an AISC member steel fabricator, donated the structure to UW.
Professors and student chapter members of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), offered valuable help in erecting the structure. It will serve a unique function in our educational program for years to come.