When engineers are designing buildings for construction, how do they ensure that the building won’t collapse one day?
This is the subject of structural integrity, a vital field that helps ensure that structures are fit for purpose and safe to inhabit.
In this guide, we’ll explain what structural integrity is, why it’s important, and what the most common causes are.
What is structural integrity?
A building or component’s structural integrity is its ability to support the loads placed on it without breaking. Whatever object it is, it needs to be able to handle the weight it bears without deforming or giving out, all while performing its intended function.
Why is structural integrity important?
Catastrophic failure is the result of compromised structural integrity. This can result in death and injury for anyone using the building, as well as severe damage to the structure and resultant monetary loss.
What are the causes of structural failure?
Structural failure can result from a range of different causes. Some of the most common sources of structural failure include:
- Construction errors: Using the incorrect materials and procedures are used to create structures or designs don’t conform to safe standards and specification, there are usually disastrous results. This was the case for trapping at least 23 people under the rubble.
- Weak structures: Due to inappropriate designs or material choices, some structures simply aren’t strong enough to support the loads they’re subject to.
- Environment: The conditions that a structure will be subject to are important considerations in the design process. If factors like natural disasters and erosion over time aren’t accounted for, then structural integrity will degrade give enough time. Regular maintenance measures such as treating joints with waterproof sealants like these from RS can help mitigate the effects of the environment.
- Defective materials: Even when the right materials are selected, they can be defective due to manufacturing errors. If they’re used in a structure, it won’t be able to support the loads it’s intended to.
- Deterioration: Many materials wear down over time due to corrosion, erosion, fatigue or rot. These failures often start small and grow over time until they result in sudden failure. In October 2022, a pedestrian bridge in Gujarat, India collapsed due to corrosion of half of its cables, resulting in more than 80 fatalities.
- Improper use: If a structure is abused and not used for its intended purpose then there are greater chances of its structural integrity being compromised. The most common scenario is a structure being placed under more load than it’s designed to bear.
Structures in different industries, environments and applications are exposed to a different mix of risk factors. As such, these variables need to be studied and accounted for early in the design process.