Smart Structures Laboratory

The Smart Structures Laboratory is paving the way for the next generation of structures and construction materials to be thoroughly tested and to provide industry and consumers with the necessary level of confidence in performance and safety.

Professor John Wilson and Professor Riadh Al-Mahaidi discuss the glass-walled, street-level Smart Structure Lab and its revolutionary space for researchers to test the strength of building materials.

Swinburne's innovative Smart Structures Laboratory forms part of the Centre for Sustainable Infrastructure (CSI) and conducts research over a broad range of infrastructure related areas, including large-scale testing of new engineering materials and components.

The laboratory's director, Professor Riadh Al-Mahaidi, is an international leader in the field of bridge engineering, structural systems and structural retrofitting using fibre-reinforced polymer composites. He is joined in the facility by Professor John Wilson, earthquake engineering, Professor Emad Gad, structural engineering, and Professor Jay Sanjayan, geopolymers.

The only one of its kind in Australia, the $15 million laboratory is located at Hawthorn campus in the architecturally striking Advanced Technologies Centre and features transparent walls, allowing passers-by to watch researchers and scientists at work. The testing facility is available to other Australian universities and to government and industry bodies.

The laboratory's research outcomes are expected to lead to the development of more efficient infrastructure systems and safer buildings, bridges, offshore structures and mining structures. Economic and social benefits should come from more resilient, robust and efficient infrastructure constructed with innovative materials designed to lower costs, improve energy efficiency, and reduce environmental impacts generally. All this has the potential to lift the international competitiveness of Australian construction and manufacturing industries. 

Multi-Axis Substructure Testing (MAST) system 

The laboratory houses Australia's first hybrid testing facility – the Multi-Axis Substructure Testing (MAST) system – cutting-edge technology used to test the integrity of new materials and structures. The MAST system allows researchers to stress-test structural components and materials to determine a structure or material's capacity to withstand extreme forces (a bridge's capacity to withstand an earthquake, for example). 

Equipment for large-scale experiments

The Smart Structures Laboratory also provides the equipment for large-scale quasti-static and cyclic testing of material and structural components, which include:

  • Instron 5MN four-column static testing machine
  • MTS 1MN hydraulic universal testing making
  • MTS 250 kN dynamic UTM model 819 high rate test machine
  • Instron 8801 100 kN dynamic testing machine with temperature chamber
  • Instron very high speed testing machine (model VHS) 60 kN maximum, 25 MPS max velocity.

It [the laboratory's hybrid testing facility] minimises error because we are able to test the full-scale component, like a support column, which is far more realistic than a small-scale model…Of course this system is not just about earthquakes, but wind loads on buildings, heavy traffic on a bridge, blasts, impacts, ocean waves, materials fatigue … any source of pressure or stress on a structure.

Professor Riadh Al-Mahaidi

Professor of Structural Engineering and Director, Smart Structures Laboratory

Areas of laboratory research

Large scale testing of civil, mechanical, aerospace and mining engineering components and systems

  • three-dimensional full-scale hybrid simulation tests
  • local/geographically-distributed hybrid simulation tests
  • 6-DOF quasi-static and cyclic tests of structural components
  • new housing materials and building systems for more affordable and environmental housing (including application of phase change materials in Australian houses to reduced energy consumption)
  • design and control of floor systems for human induced vibrations.

New materials under full-scale load conditions

  • advances in geopolymers and their potential as an alternative to cement.

Consulting research

  • fatigue testing of mooring chain and kenter (commissioned by Worsley Parsons)
  • anchorage systems in strengthening of bridge infrastructure using fiber composite materials (outcomes of which have been incorporated into major strengthening projects such as the Westgate Bridge and more recently the M80 Ring Road upgrade)
  • evaluation of the effects of bushfire damage on civil infrastructure
  • product testing, stress testing on truck axel joints.