Structural Integrity: Why It Matters

Structural integrity is a field of engineering that plays a significant role in ensuring that structures are fit to perform what they are designed under normal operational conditions. Also, it ensures the structures are safe when conditions exceed the original design intent. Aside from being a case of good design, integrity should be maintained for a structure’s life. This requires periodic inspection and maintenance. Engineers make sure structures are dependable, safe, and perform their designed function and forensic engineer come into play in case of accidents.

Causes of Structural Failures

Structures can fail due to a range of different sources. The kind of failure is usually related to the industry, application of the structure, and environment.

Here are the most common causes of structural failures:

  • Reduced strength. Structures can fail if they are no longer strong enough to withstand the load to which they are subject. Often, this is because of inappropriate geometric design or material choice.
  • Manufacturing errors. This includes the use of the wrong materials or failing to follow manufacturing procedures or standards. Also, it can be due to poor workmanship or intolerant components.
  • Structural deterioration. Over time, corrosion, wear, fatigue, or rot can cause the structure to deteriorate. Usually, fatigue failures start when cracks form at regions of high stress. Such cracks grow if subject to cyclic loading, leading to sudden failure.

  • Defective material. This means the chosen materials do not conform to standards, leading to a lower load-bearing capacity than designed.

When Steel Lose Structural Integrity

In the majority of big construction projects like buildings and bridges, structural steel is often used in the form of girders, and others. The metal’s performance is essential to maintain the required integrity. But, steel can weaken because of high temperatures. It can start to soften at around 425°C and loses about 50% of its strength at 650°C. Steel is expected to buckle and twist when subject to high loads at these temperatures. That is why engineers need to consider the environmental temperature range that a structure is subject to over its lifespan.

Calculating Structural Integrity

Engineers consider many things in the design process like materials performance, fracture mechanics, and stress analysis. When constructed, construction should be inspected and maintained to keep its integrity. The engineer might use non-destructive testing, ensure the structure has been constructed based on the appropriate designs, standards, and procedures, as well as recommend and design modifications to address areas of concern.