8 March 2018
UC engineers develop in-situ damage
detection for building steel
An award-winning, pioneering technique for assessing earthquake
damage to steel in buildings or bridges will allow engineers
to give faster, more reliable information to engineers,
with tangible flow-on results for insurers and building owners.
After the major Christchurch earthquakes, many steel-reinforced
concrete buildings were deemed irreparable and
demolished due to lack of information about the extent of
damage to building materials. Often, disagreements between
building owners and insurers continued for extended periods.
New University of Canterbury (UC) research may help to resolve
these issues. Architectural Engineering lecturer Dr Giuseppe
Loporcaro and Mechanical Engineering Professor
Milo Kral’s research into a new technique for assessing damage
to steel rebars (the steel reinforcing rods contained within
concrete slabs of substantial buildings) has been awarded
$20,000 in UC’s annual Tech Jumpstart competition.
Dr Loporcaro says earthquakes are unavoidable natural
events, but when they occur in urbanised areas they can
cause excessive damage. If this damage is not detected immediately,
it extends the recovery phase.
Dr Giuseppe Loporcaro
Steel rebars are built to stretch during severe shaking, enabling
the concrete they are housed in to crack while the rebars
remain intact. This work determines how much the rebar has
already stretched and how much capacity it still has before
breaking if further shaking occurs.
Their method enables engineers to test the rebars on site
rather than in a lab – a lengthier and more costly process. The
other advantage of their method is more reliable results.
“Disruptions cost time and money, as well as impacting the
entire community,” Dr Loporcaro says.
“The in-situ damage detection method aims to speed the assessment
phase, and consequently reduce the impact on the
community in terms of disruption, down-time and costs for
repair and/or demolition.
“It will also allow information to reach owners and insurance
companies more quickly, so issues can be resolved in better
The researchers will use the award to take their innovative research
towards commercial reality.
N E W S
Changed employment relations
rules will mean increased compliance
for employers but are reasonably
pragmatic regarding pressures
on small firms, says BusinessNZ.
The Government plans to amend
the Employment Relations Act to
alter the rules around 90 day trials,
unfair dismissals, meal and rest
breaks, collective agreements and
BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk
Hope says many of the changes
related to collective agreements
and bargaining procedures, which
would mostly affect larger businesses.
He says most larger businesses
would be equipped to cope
with the changes that reverse
some bargaining and collective
agreement rules introduced by the
Other changes more directly affected
small business, he says.
90-day trial periods
Restricting the availability of 90 day
trial periods to small businesses is
a better outcome than removing
them altogether, Mr Hope says.
"Trial periods allow opportunities
for an untried employee while reducing
the ‘unfair dismissal’ risk to
the employer of it not working out.
This is a very real issue for small
"This decision shows the Government
has an understanding of the
needs and pressures facing small
businesses and has been willing to
alter policy to reflect those needs."
At the same time, the Government
has decided to change the rules
around unfair dismissals, with reinstatement
to again be the primary
remedy to an unfair dismissal.
"This will restore an onus on employer
and employee to work positively
together following a challenged
dismissal process - perhaps
a good discipline on both parties
following an employment relations
breakdown," Mr Hope says.
Meal and rest breaks
The current system - allowing employers
and employees to mutually
agree on when meal and rest
breaks can be taken, depending on
the needs of the business - will be
changed to a system of statutory
breaks with flexibility allowed only
in essential services.
"Business has appreciated the
flexibility of the current system.
Changing to a more regulated approach
isn’t ideal for business agility,
for example in manufacturing
Mr Hope says BusinessNZ was
encouraged by the Government’s
willingness to continue dialogue on
The wood that could: as strong as steel?
Researchers at the University of Maryland
(UMD) have created a new densification process
than makes a ‘super wood’. Some media
are reporting it to be as ‘strong as steel’.
The alternative to titanium alloys, literally grown
on trees, is 12 times stronger than natural wood.
The super wood has a two-step process. Samples
of wood are boiled in a watery mixture of
sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite, which
works to partially remove lignin and hemicellulose
from the material. Then, the treated wood
is hot-pressed, which causes the cell walls to
collapse and forms highly-aligned cellulose nanofibers.
What is produced is densified wood.