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Hurricane simulator at WMU helps researchers test strength of building materials

Dynamic Wind Uplift Table at WMU
Posted at 9:53 PM, Sep 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-15 22:13:15-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — It has been around two weeks since Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana, leaving a source of destruction in its wake.

In West Michigan, researchers are testing building materials to make them stand up to hurricane force winds.

The "dynamic wind uplift table" simulates hurricane-force pressures that Western Michigan University (WMU) researchers are using to test the durability of roofing materials.

Their hope is to use the data to create better building codes that'll withstand hurricanes.

"What it does is, it simulates pressures associated with hurricanes and tornadoes," said WMU's Bronco Construction Research Center Director Brian Montgomery.

The machine is 12 by 24 feet. It pushes air at different pressures over the roofing materials to simulate a severe wind storm.

"We see the same damage, the same time of year, in the same location, and so the current model is to build, destroy and rebuild. This is why our motto is to build, sustain and survive," said Montgomery.

Researchers are not just testing products to give them a pass or fail, but instead are compiling data to determine how the products can be more resilient.

"This table can apply a dynamic load, so it accounts for the dynamic effects coming from the uplift. We believe having this factor will give the real behavior and simulate, you know, the overall behavior of the roofing system," said WMU's Bronco Construction Research Center Senior Research Associate Bilal Alhawamdeh.

One local company is already working to improve its products while also trying to be sustainable.

"We’re going to be doing testing here on how [much] better this can hold up in wind-uplift conditions in seismic using literally trash to a board. These boards can be recycled very easily after you use them," said 2001 Company's Owner Thomas Kelly.

"It's our belief that through research and innovative designs that we can increase the resiliency or the survivability of some of these structures that are in these geographically prone areas," said Montgomery.

The "dynamic wind uplift table" is the only one in an academic setting in North America.

While WMU researchers are only testing roofing materials at this time, they're hoping to test siding materials in the future.

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