New Zealand earthquake invention is a game-changer in global construction

New Zealand is poised to become a world leader in low-cost, low-damage earthquake engineering, says 2022 Ivan Skinner Prize winner Dr Shahab Ramhormozian.

Over the past few years, Dr. Ramhormozian has significantly improved and refined the revolutionary sliding hinge joint technology that was originally developed by his New Zealand research mentors, and the EQC-funded award will help demonstrate that the innovation can be used in a wide range of building types.

“This technology was developed many years ago, but we are now at a critical stage to be able to complete the work, so we need to do more so that it can eventually be adopted in building codes,” explains the engineer who received the award at the New Zealand Society of Earthquake Engineering (NZSEE) annual conference last week.

The senior lecturer at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) continued the pioneering work of Dr Charles Clifton (who conceived the initial idea in his PhD) at the University of Auckland and Dr Gregory MacRae at the University of Canterbury, which had developed the sliding hinge joint technology.

Their innovative work was in direct response to the Northridge and Kobe earthquakes of the mid-1990s, in which buildings suffered far more damage than expected.

“Until then, buildings were designed to save lives, but they were not able to cope with stronger earthquakes, which had a huge economic impact, as we also saw in Christchurch”, explains the Iranian-born engineer, who moved to New Zealand for a decade. from.

“Traditional designs simply wouldn’t work if the seismic demand on the building was higher than expected, so Charles Clifton began work on a low-damage sliding hinge joint system, which dissipates seismic energy and can also be partially replaced or repaired like an electrical fuse when an earthquake exceeds the maximum load for which it was designed.

Engineers and academics around the world quickly adopted and replicated the technology.

Dr. Ramhormozian says the original friction sliding hinge system was revolutionary, but had some shortcomings such as precision in design and construction, and loss of strength after the earthquake.

The AUT lecturer addressed these shortcomings in his groundbreaking doctoral research when he developed the Optimized Sliding Hinge Joint, which is currently being used by BECA engineers in three Hamilton CBD buildings under construction by Hawkins for Tainui Holdings Group .

“We discovered ways to install different components and tighten bolts in a way that we had never seen before, which resulted in a very precise system without the need to repair joints after an earthquake,” explains the researcher who even enlisted one of NASA’s partners to source the toughest key components on the planet.

The Auckland researchers have worked closely with their peers in Italy and China where the technology has been adopted and tested, “so we are all sharing and using this data to confirm our findings and make further improvements.”

New Zealand innovation has spurred eight leading universities across Europe to launch a joint project, which has received a multi-billion euro grant from the European Union and will soon begin construction of the first building in Europe , using new technology from the University of Salerno in Italy.

EQC’s Director of Resilience and Research, Dr Jo Horrocks, says the optimized sliding hinge technology is a great example of the direct impact of EQC’s research funding on the lives and property of people. people.

“EQC invests around $20 million each year in funding research into natural hazards, so it’s wonderful to see how a relatively small investment from New Zealand taxpayers can save us and other countries , millions of dollars in future earthquake damage,” says Horrocks.

NZSEE Chair Helen Ferner said Dr Ramhormozian was a worthy recipient of the prestigious Ivan Skinner Prize and his work will have global implications.

“The award allows Shahab to continue the incredible work done by him and other brilliant New Zealand minds in academia and industry with whom he collaborates and will help engineers around the world.”

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