December 10, 2022

Bridge Types: Tensile & Compressive Forces


Students look at how forces of tension and compression affect three different types of bridges. They make models of the beam, arch, and suspension bridges out of sponges, cardboard, and string, and then put forces on them to see how they spread or transfer the loads. Gain knowledge of structural steel design as it will grant you more knowledge and help you in excelling in what materials are used for building a bridge.

Engineering Connection

Civil and structural engineers use the many ways that beam, truss, arch, and suspension bridges can be built to make the bridges that are an important part of our world’s infrastructure. For engineers to design any kind of bridge, they need to know how compression and tension affect bridges and then design bridges that can handle these forces without breaking or failing. 

Teams of engineers decide on the type, design, and materials of the bridge that will best spread the load across an obstacle. They then make detailed design plans that list the materials, measurements, shapes, and angles that will be used to build the bridge.

Learning Objective

Students should be able to do the following after this activity:

  • Explain what a beam or truss bridge is, what an arch bridge is, and what a suspension bridge is.
  • Explain what compressive and tensile forces are and where they are on different types of bridges.
  • Explain how different types of bridges would work best in different situations.

What happens to the rope when people play tug-of-war? It gets pulled on by two sweaty teams that are in competition. Tensile stress is also caused by this force on bridge structures.

What happens to spring when you push down on it and cause it to collapse? You squash it, which makes it shorter. This means that tensional stress is the opposite of compressional stress.

All bridges have both compression and tension, and as shown, both can cause damage to parts of the bridge when different loads and other forces act on the structure. The bridge’s design has to be able to handle these forces without buckling or breaking.

Buckling happens when the force of compression is more than an object can handle. When the lengthening force of tension is too much for an object to handle, it breaks.

The best way to deal with these strong forces is to either make them less powerful or move them to another place. With dissipation, the force is spread out over a larger area so that no one spot takes the full force of it. It’s the difference between, say, eating one chocolate cupcake every day for a week and eating seven cupcakes in one afternoon.

When a design transfers force, it moves stress from a weak spot to a strong spot. In the next few pages, we’ll talk more about how different bridges deal with these stresses in different ways. This was in brief about Bridge types. The bridge engineering courses online certifications will get you more knowledge on the topic. 


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