The University of Dayton Research Institute’s new large-structure research and testing facility has allowed researchers to expand their structural testing capabilities — in both size and scope.

Inside the Structures and Materials Assessment, Research and Testing (SMART) Laboratory, which features 12,000 square feet of floor space and a nearly 40-foot floor-to-ceiling clearance, researchers in UDRI’s Aerospace Mechanics and Structural Integrity divisions are testing significantly larger structures — think small passenger plane — than they were able to accommodate previously. The lab also features a 20-by-20, 10-foot-deep floor pit to provide additional clearance for very tall structures, as well as 5- and 10-ton overhead cranes for heavy-duty lifting.

“There were times when customers sought bids for testing very large structures, such as a full tail assembly from a cargo jet, and we couldn’t bid on the work because we simply didn’t have the room,” said Mike Bouchard, head of the Aerospace Mechanics division. “Our new lab has allowed us to go after a much bigger variety of work, no pun intended. We’re able to test everything from a small material sample all the way up to and including an entire vehicle, even a small aircraft.”

Structural testing is designed to evaluate how a structure or material behaves under pressure. Test items are secured in test beds or rigs that will push, pull, bend, twist, vibrate, bake, humidify and/or otherwise stress the parts in ways that mimic the types of stress they will encounter during actual use, allowing researchers to see how well they hold up. 

“We simulate realistic service conditions to help customers understand whether their parts and materials are strong and durable enough to withstand the repeated loads and harsh environments they will regularly experience in the field. These tests yield valuable information that helps our customers better maintain existing assets, develop new products or choose the best material for each specific application,” said Bouchard, whose division is currently working with MHT Floor Technologies of Haleyville, Alabama, to test the efficiency of a new, energy-saving insulated floor system for refrigerated truck beds.

Rigging the 28-foot truck bed to create and measure thermal properties first meant bringing the entire truck into a controlled environment, something researchers would not have been able to do before the SMART Lab was built, said research engineer Michael Adams, who is leading the program.

 The Research Institute has performed structures and materials assessment for six decades and developed significant expertise and renown in both areas, Bouchard said. “One of the things that has always set us apart is our ability to offer customers specialized and even unique testing that we can customize to their needs, and now we’re able to offer so much more.”