Western researchers debut new hybrid technology to test roof durability during hurricanes

Contact: Erin Flynn
A photo of a large machine that recreates wind pressure on roofing samples.

The wind uplift table at the Bronco Construction Research Center is the only one of its kind in an academic setting in North America.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Hurricane Ian is one of the most destructive storms the U.S. has seen. Leaving behind an estimated $60 billion in damage, it’s the latest in a growing number of extreme weather events taxing the nation's infrastructure. Researchers at Western Michigan University are leading the way in developing technology to understand the forces generated by these supercharged storms.

The Bronco Construction Research Center is debuting new hybrid technology to conduct both static and dynamic wind uplift tests in its 12-by-24 foot wind uplift table—the only equipment of its kind in an academic setting in North America.

“The College of Engineering and Applied Sciences is leading efforts to continually improve roofing structures and our understanding of how materials react under strong wind conditions," says Dr. Steve Butt, dean of the college. "This is an example of how the innovative work of Western's researchers is leading to better construction methodologies to alleviate the destruction of structures around the world."

The dual-use test methodology further distinguishes Western from other academic institutions, providing results that meet both the United States and Canadian standards for wind uplift tests performed on commercial roofing systems.

"The Bronco Construction Research Center's motto is 'build, sustain, survive,' and that's our goal: to help strengthen products so we aren't continually having to rebuild," says Brian Montgomery, center director. "WMU prides itself in being a leader in innovative research into wind uplift loading, forces and the associated fatigue."

Western's wind uplift table differs from a wind tunnel in that it recreates the pressure generated in an extreme wind event.

"It's those forces that are a result of the wind flow over a structure that create the uplifting force and the associated fatigue that destroy roofing components," says Montgomery. He points out while some commercial companies offer testing services, they often lack the depth of education and expertise available at Western.

"Our technology measures the forces and pressures, and then our researchers document photos of the stress fracturing and all of that to give the customer an idea of maybe why it wasn't their product: maybe it was exacerbated by poor installation, maybe there weren't enough fasteners. It gives a more in-depth idea of what failed."

Commercial businesses interested in testing their products at Western should contact Montgomery.

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