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University of Alberta’s Steel Centre looks to forge the future

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by Ian Harvey

The newly minted University of Alberta’s CISC Centre for Steel Structures Education and Research in Edmonton is open for business and looking to grow.
University of Alberta’s Steel Centre looks to forge the future

The Centre was launched a year ago with $500,000 and is designed to be a place to bring both industry and academia together, says founder Dr. Robert Driver, Steel Centre director.

"It may look much like any other research centre but we really have structured this one differently with more of grassroots approach," he says.

"We have a membership model and we launched with seven members. Six are steel companies or an association and one is a design firm — Dialog. We're hoping to double that by the end of the year. I think we will based on the conversations we're having."

The other members are: the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction (CISC), Supreme Group, Collins Steel. Waiward and Price Steel/TSE Steel Ltd.

While the Steel Centre will be publishing research papers like any other university based entity, it also plans to get students and industry interacting.

"One of the things the industry told us was that they are looking for graduates who are ready to go to work on graduation," he says.

"That's a value to them because they don't have to spend time training them."

To that end, he says, the Steel Centre is fostering networking opportunities between students and the industry.

"We're looking at meetings with CEOs, tours of plants, that kind of thing" he says. "It's about exposure and interactivity and networking. The chances are if some high level people know your name you're probably going to get a job."

To groom cohorts of elite structural engineers, ready to hit the ground running post-graduation, the Steel Centre has created the Steel Squad. Driver says it's a competitive program by application to select the most qualified and suitable candidates to supercharge their education.

"They have to apply and not everyone is accepted," he says.

"They can apply in any year of their studies and we anticipate accepting about five a year. Over the years, since some will also apply in their second, third or even fourth year, we'll have about 15 students though that will change up and down."

While the program is clearly focused on education, there's also a keen vision of the future.

"We want to prepare the industry for the future, 20, 30 years from now," Driver says. "Who knows what that will look like? We're seeing disruption and change all around us in many industries."

Since the launch of the Steel Centre Driver and his colleague have been putting the nuts and bolts of the structure together and both mapping out and fine tuning the core values and goals.

There's a lot of high level research going on in schools across Canada, he says, and the goal generally is to make steel a more viable, cost effective material for construction.

"We're looking at how to make steel structures more earthquake resistant, how to make a cheaper way of connecting steel. Research is important because if you want to product plug-and-play engineers, research will help them get there at least partially.

Alberta seemed a natural fit given its consumption of steel for industrial purposes such as pipelines and energy patch project but the goal is definitely to be a national centre for steel, says Driver.

"We're looking to attract members from across Canada," he says.

"Of course Ontario used to have a lot of steel mills but that's not the case any more. But this isn't just an academic exercise. We tell people that we want you to get as much out of the Steel Centre as you can. If you don't feel you're getting the value back then don't renew your membership or don't join."

With an eye to the future, the Steel Centre is looking at materials science, welding science, computer science technologies and connecting with the Artificial Intelligence community to explore how those sectors might be incorporated into structure steel design and fabrication.

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