Earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, floods – 2017 alone has played host to a spate of natural disasters worldwide.
Typhoon Lan in Japan, flooding in South Sudan this past September that has affected more than 10,000 people and Hurricane Harvey – the first major hurricane to make landfall in the US since 2005 – are just a few.
The devastating impact of these natural events, particularly on developing countries, means the recovery process can be complicated and drawn-out. Rebuilding infrastructure is at the heart of the matter, and the ability to move people, aid and resources around disaster-struck areas can be crucial to its recovery.
Australian-owned company Lifting Point considered the challenges these events pose to existing infrastructure, communities and the post-disaster recovery process in developing nations.
The family-run research and design business specialises in modular construction technologies, and holds a number of global patents for a range of products aimed at reducing costs and complexity in the construction sector.
Its InQuik bridging system is rethinking concrete bridge construction in an original way.
InQuik General Manager Steve Dunlop says the company wanted to produce a cost effective, easily transported and easy-to-use alternative to traditional bridge construction, particularly where resources and skilled labour may be scarce and in disaster-stricken areas.
“That’s where it started, and from there it developed to a point where we saw that it had some significant advantages in more developed markets,” Mr. Dunlop says. Those developed markets include Australia, New Zealand and Asia-Pacific, nations where the company has found relevance for the system, particularly in rural and flood-prone areas such as New South Wales and Queensland.
A unique design
The Australian designed and manufactured InQuik bridge system contains two major components – a metal tray, which defines the shape of the bridge and girders into a single unit, and a prefabricated steel reinforcing cage. As a result, the panels can be assembled on site before concrete is poured and creates a single homogeneous slab to form the deck, with no need for external formwork supports.
Each bridge panel is designed to be fully self-supporting when the concrete is placed in the tray and multiple panels can be placed next to one another for wider bridge girths. The variety of modular components also allows for many different configurations.
The system is designed for small to medium bridge applications, ranging from around six to 18.5 metres in length in single spans, with the ability to have varied lengths and adapt to multiple spans due to its modular design.
“Essentially it’s using steel instead of timber formwork. However, the formwork remains in place and reinforces the structure when the concrete deck is poured. It’s designed for a 100-year life and the steel form offers very good protection,” Mr. Dunlop says, adding that the steel element helps combat concrete cancer in the structure.
“The bridge is unique because it uses concrete technology in a very smart way and still meets all the Australian Standards.”
The steel formwork is fabricated off site and easily stackable, making it ideal for bulk transportation. Because the bridge components are not precast and poured on site, the modular parts are significantly lighter and easier to install.
“A 12-metre deck component, for instance, would weigh between four and five tonnes per module, rather than a precast slab of the same length that could weigh between 28 and 30 tonnes,” Mr. Dunlop says.
Once on site, the components are placed together in one module and the concrete is poured to form the deck. Installation requires the abutments and concrete to be placed by a lightweight crane, followed by the deck panels, the barriers and pouring of the concrete. Because it’s pre-engineered and pre-fabricated to such an extent, installing the InQuik system requires less technical expertise than conventional bridge construction methods.
“Which is a big benefit of its design as it gives local council and government the opportunity to empower the community and employ local labourers,” he says.
Because of the InQuik’s small, lightweight, modular form, it also provides a number of environmental and maintenance-orientated benefits compared with other bridge solutions, according to Logan Mullaney, InQuik Managing Director.
“It’s a replacement for box culverts, which are traditionally used on this sort of bridge application. Typically this involves laying a lower panel slab into the riverbed, which can be quite detrimental to the environment. We’ve had strong support for InQuik from various bodies because it doesn’t do this,” Mr. Mullaney explains. “Because it’s not a box culvert and not actually placed in the riverbed, we don’t need to enter the waterway and we don’t impact on the natural water flow, fish habitats or flora underneath the bridge.”
Mr. Mullaney says one of the big advantages over other traditional bridge construction methods is that InQuik can be used on main roads. “In the case of NSW, there are limitations being placed on the use of proprietary precast components, which limits them to not be used on roads with traffic volumes over 1000 vehicles per day. Our system is fully approved for this,” he says.
“We build the system in three weight bearing capacities: T44 (44 tonnes), T62 (62 tonnes) and SM1600 (160 tonnes), all to Australian Standard AS5100.”
Lightweight and designed for little to no maintenance, Mr. Mullaney says the system needs inspecting every five years depending on government requirements. He adds that the inspections on the InQuik bridge have fewer requirements than other systems, due to it being one mass of concrete.
“The steel framework helps to combat corrosiveness in everything from tropical to rural areas, whether inland, coastline – it’s close to maintenance free,” he says. “The structure has been designed for low maintenance for 100 years, besides repairs for integrated barriers or other aspects that may be affected in accidents.”
The system is also designed to withstand heavy flooding events, opening up its application for areas susceptible to similar events, particularly in rural NSW and Queensland.
“When designing it, we teamed up with local engineering company called SMEC, which has a long history with major Australian projects including Snowy Hydro, and with the Australian Reinforcing Company (ARC) – which has been in Australia for nearly 100 years,” says Mr. Mullaney.
The InQuik products are currently manufactured at the ARC facility in Newcastle, and Mr. Mullaney expresses that the support from the reinforcing firm and SMEC gives the product enormous flexibility in reaching the various Australian states, beginning with NSW.
The first InQuik bridge was completed in June 2016 at Boxers Creek in NSW, with a further four bridges installed across NSW since.
“NSW was our principal market from the start, especially as there are a number of old bridges around the region that are reaching the end of their lifecycle,” Mr. Mullaney says. “Queensland is also a big market as regional Queensland has a large stock of old timber bridges that are also surpassing their design date, many of which were built 100 years ago, not to mention the old cement structures built in the 1940s and 1950s.”
Mr. Mullaney says the market response to the product has been positive. “Everything is really positive from a feedback point of view, especially on the ones we’ve completed so far. The Murrumbidgee River bridge in Kosciuszko National Park is a good example of the system’s installation working well,” he says.
“It was completed by the guys on site in 12 hours over three days, which was great considering the national park’s very sensitive environment had to be taken into account. And that was a big selling item for the National Parks organisation – the InQuik system didn’t impact on the area and a local contractor did the installation. It was also a long way out of town so transport was another major challenge that was overcome using the system.”
National Parks Road Supervisor Rod Peel recognised the timely and cost-effective manner in which the system was installed.
“InQuik is a very quick and efficient way to replace bridges as long as you do the survey and site preparation work correctly. Our survey and designers were excellent and the bridge has reached our expectations,” Mr. Peel says. “The pricing was similar to precast, although with our location [InQuik] was attractive in that the product came on two trucks, and was placed with concrete poured in about 11 hours over two days.”
As the company mounts up for more market growth in the near future, both Mr. Dunlop and Mr. Mullaney are spending a lot of time out in the field talking to customers and laying the foundations for new opportunities.
“We were invited to talk at the Austroads Bridge Conference earlier in the year and we’re also going the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA) event in the Hunter Valley as well as a small bridge conference on the Gold Coast,” Mr. Dunlop says, adding that the InQuik team has even been invited to present on the system at the World Bank head office in New York.
The originality of the system has also been recognised by industry, with InQuik winning the Technology Award at Concrete Institute of Australia’s NSW state awards earlier in 2017.
Harking back to the impetus behind its conception, Mr. Mullaney says the idea of establishing the InQuik bridge as a viable option for developing countries struck by flooding and similar events continues to gain traction. “I was in Papua New Guinea recently and the government has just approved the use of the InQuik system on its highways and for a project involving the construction of around 70 bridges. The only thing that needs to be supplied is the material, and the labour is minimal, which means it’s also empowering the local villagers and giving them the opportunity to be involved in these projects,” he says.
“It’s a really cost-effective option for many governments in developing countries that can’t afford other options or don’t have the expertise on hand.”
As for further future growth, Mr. Mullaney says the company’s family-orientated business style will continue to drive the success and innovation behind the InQuik system. “The company is predominantly family owned. My father and uncle are the inventors, and I’ve got three brothers also involved in the company – it’s quite a tight-knit group,” he says.
Mr. Dunlop says that as the company grows, so will its operations. The strong relationship with ARC means it is poised to be potentially manufactured in the ARC’s facilities across Australia.
“Part of our goal is to move further with the product so that one day local councils and even road agencies will have the system sitting in their inventory and ready to be used should a quick and long-lasting bridge solution be needed, especially in an emergency situation,” he says. “The technology has evolved a bit since we first introduced it and it continues to evolve. We can create an incredibly strong bridge structure by fully integrating the decks with the abutments. We’ve added abutments, headstocks, blade piers and incorporated different types of barriers, and there’s the potential to increase that even more.”
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