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Thrust Layout Optimization – New safety assessment tool for old structures

Preserving architectural heritage is something that demands attention, but the methods used to identify faults are centuries old. A new safety assessment tool called Thrust Layout Optimisation (TLO) has been developed by Researchers at the University of Sheffield, and it builds upon the ‘thrust line method’ of the 1600s.

Thrust Layout Optimization is an innovative technique to assess the structural capacity of stone and brick masonry structures when subjected to applied forces. Researchers state that TLO can be applied to masonry constructions of various geometries, irrespective of the presence or absence of openings, and it also identifies regions within structures that require additional tensile capacity.

How does TLO work?

In the paper titled “Application of thrust layout optimization to masonry structures,” which is published in The Royal Society Journal, researchers talk about how the TLO method works.

The researchers state “The procedure employs a modified truss layout optimization with transmissible loads formulation, which means that an initial thrust line layout does not need to be specified in advance. Highly visual output is generated, allowing areas where tensile strength has been implicitly assumed to be clearly identified, which is beyond the scope of traditional thrust line analysis.”

It also mentions that sliding failures, which are common in the thrust line method, are overcome in TLO.

The researchers developed a digital workflow to convert 2D mesh geometries, created in a CAD environment, into a suitable data structure to be used in TLO. Rhino software package was used to prepare test examples and a custom export process to transfer vertex and face data. The TLO procedure itself was then executed as a Python script.

An open-source data structure was created for data handling. It enabled efficient storage of information and performing actions on geometric data.

Isuru Nanayakkara, a research student at the University of Sheffield and lead author said: “Currently, engineers have been turning to analysis and design tools that are better suited for steel and concrete structures, which means that steel reinforcement is sometimes being used in new masonry designs when it’s not needed.”

“We hope that our new thrust layout optimization technique can help here,” he adds.

Professor Matthew Gilbert, professor of civil engineering at the University of Sheffield says “A long-running problem is that the ways in which applied forces are successfully transmitted down to the ground in masonry structures are often not intuitively obvious, so digital tools that help explain this to engineers are potentially invaluable.

Access to better tools for safety assessment

Access to improved safety assessment tools will ensure structural integrity and longevity of structures. The open-source software, with further development, will enable subject matter experts to assess the safety of stone and brick masonry structures.

As the years pass, these timeless structures face various challenges, including weathering, material degradation, and the effects of time. Safety assessment tools become crucial to identify potential risks and develop appropriate preservation strategies. Traditionally, these assessments have relied on manual inspections, which can be time-consuming, labor-intensive, and subject to human error. However, with the advent of this cutting-edge software, the process of evaluating the structural integrity of these buildings is streamlined and enhanced, ensuring the preservation of our architectural heritage for generations to come.

Professor Matthew Gilbert says, “The current climate crisis also makes it particularly important that engineers have access to efficient and reliable tools to assess the safety of existing masonry constructions – helping to ensure that these can be used long into the future, rather than being needlessly demolished and replaced.”

With advancements in technology and the creation of comprehensive tools, professionals can analyze old structures in detail and implement appropriate measures to mitigate hazards. Access to such tools empowers engineers, architects, and safety experts to make informed decisions, promote proactive maintenance, and ultimately enhance the safety and resilience of our built environment.

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