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Understanding the Corrosion of Steel in Design

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

Insights from Jennifer McConnell's Presentation at the NASCC Conference

Trout Run Bridge is an example of taking corrosion into consideration during the design process.



Earlier this year at the National Student Steel Bridge Competition (NASCC), Jennifer McConnell, a prominent researcher from the University of Delaware, delivered a captivating presentation on the corrosion of steel in design. Her talk shed light on the critical aspects of durability and design, emphasizing the importance of addressing corrosion-related challenges in infrastructure projects. In this blog post, we delve into McConnell's discussion, highlighting key insights shared during her presentation.


Understanding the Significance of Durability in Design:

McConnell kicked off her talk by emphasizing the fundamental role of durability in engineering design. Durability encompasses a structure's ability to withstand external forces, environmental conditions, and the passage of time while maintaining its intended functionality and safety. She stressed that durability is not an afterthought but an integral consideration throughout the design process. Corrosion, in particular, emerged as a prime concern that can significantly impact the durability of steel structures.


The Impacts of Corrosion on Steel:

McConnell went on to explain the detrimental effects of corrosion on steel. When steel is exposed to moisture and oxygen, a process called oxidation occurs, leading to the formation of rust. Corrosion weakens the structural integrity of steel, ultimately jeopardizing the safety and longevity of a bridge or any other steel-based infrastructure. McConnell underscored that addressing corrosion requires a comprehensive understanding of its causes, preventive measures, and mitigation strategies.


Identifying Causes of Corrosion:

McConnell highlighted various causes of corrosion that engineers must be aware of during the design phase. Factors such as moisture, salinity, air pollution, and temperature fluctuations were identified as common triggers for corrosion. She emphasized the significance of identifying the specific corrosion mechanisms prevalent in a particular region or project site to tailor preventive measures accordingly.


Preventive Measures for Corrosion:

To combat corrosion effectively, McConnell emphasized the importance of incorporating preventive measures into the design process. Protective coatings, such as paint or specialized coatings, act as barriers against moisture and oxygen, reducing the risk of corrosion. Additionally, the use of galvanization, sacrificial anodes, and proper drainage systems were discussed as effective methods to mitigate corrosion-related issues.


Integrating Corrosion Prevention into Design:

McConnell emphasized that engineers should integrate corrosion prevention strategies right from the initial design phase. By considering factors such as material selection, environmental conditions, and maintenance requirements, engineers can significantly enhance a structure's resistance to corrosion. She stressed the importance of ongoing inspection, maintenance, and repair throughout the lifespan of a steel structure to ensure long-term durability.


The Role of Innovation:

During her presentation, McConnell also highlighted the critical role of innovation in addressing corrosion-related challenges. Researchers and engineers continually explore novel materials, coatings, and design techniques to enhance corrosion resistance. She emphasized the need for collaboration between academia, industry, and government entities to foster innovation and advance the field of corrosion prevention.


By emphasizing the significance of durability and incorporating preventive measures into the design process, engineers can effectively combat corrosion and enhance the longevity and safety of steel structures. The insights shared by McConnell serve as a valuable resource for engineers, researchers, and students, inspiring them to tackle corrosion-related challenges with innovation and expertise. As the field continues to evolve, it is through such presentations and knowledge sharing that we can build a sustainable infrastructure that stands the test of time.


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