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Gravity Unfurls a 300-Year Bridge

Thursday, January 29, 2015

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A UK town is awaiting installation of the world's longest "flat pack" bridge—a unique structure that is transported flat and transforms under gravity into an arch.

The 53-foot-long bridge will go up in less than a day and require little maintenance over its expected 300-year lifespan, according to civil engineers at Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland.

The university, which spent 10 years developing the system, is working with precast concrete engineering company Macrete to install similar bridges throughout the UK and Ireland.

Gravity and a Crane

The bridge is based on "FlexiArch," a patented bridge system that employs modern precast concrete methods but performs like a masonry arch bridge, according to Macrete, based in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

flat pack bridge FlexiArch

Crews are preparing to install the world's longest "flat pack" bridge, a system that arrives in flat precast concrete pieces and transforms into an arch with a little help from gravity and a crane. The bridge shown here is one of more than 50 such bridges installed throughout the UK and Ireland.

The new bridge will be installed in the coming months over the Wallington River in Waterlooville, Hampshire, England.

"This innovative system is exceptional as it is easily transported in flat pack form and then rapidly installed on site," said Abhey Gupta, Macrete's project manager.

"It is also unique, as its strength does not depend on corrodible reinforcement; thus, it should have a lifetime of at least 300 years, whereas conventional bridges seldom achieve their design life of 120 years."

Weighing 16 tons each, 17 three-foot-wide units of precast concrete will be installed in less than a day using a 200- to 300-ton crane and lifting beam, according to the university.

A conventional arch would have taken months to construct and would have been "much more costly," the university said.

'More Versatile than Anticipated'

The bridge system resulted from a decade of research at the university's School of Civil Engineering and was patented in 2004 by Professor Adrian Long, from the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering.

This video shows the construction of a FlexiArch bridge system in 2010.

"This is a real milestone which has been reached as a result of the hard work, effective collaboration and the combined expertise of the Queen's and Macrete team," Long said.

"We are delighted with this latest development and of how successful the FlexiArch system has become. Over 50 FlexiArch bridges have now been installed in the UK and Ireland, where it has been found to be even more versatile than anticipated."

Long said the system was attracting international interest.

Macrete has continued to invest in the technology since it was granted exclusive licensing rights for the UK/Ireland in 2006. Invest Northern Ireland, a regional business development agency, has also invested, allowing Macrete to employ 70 people.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Colleges and Universities; Concrete; Design; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Program/Project Management; Trends

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