National contest engages students to create the next best precast, prestressed concrete structural beam design

A team of Rossin College students took first place in the 2019 Engineering Student Design Competition—aka Big Beam Competition—held annually by the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI).

The national competition, which marked its 19th year, teaches college students important structural engineering skills in an applied learning environment they will use throughout their precast concrete construction careers.

“The PCI Big Beam Competition is an excellent opportunity to integrate a realistic design and testing experience into the class curriculum,” says Clay Naito, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and faculty advisor for both teams of Lehigh structural engineering graduate students who participated.

Members of the winning team, Lehigh University Team 2, are Maximilian Beedle, Aerik Carlton (PhD candidate), and Mike Drury (PhD candidate). Lehigh University Team 1—Megan Dulmaine, Bowen Plogmann, and Robert Witkowski—took sixth place.

Big beam pretest
Lehigh University Team 2 won the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute's 2019 Engineering Student Design Competition, also known as the Big Beam Competition. Lehigh University Team 1 also finished in the top 10, taking home sixth place.

The competition involves teams of students and their faculty advisors designing, building and testing a 22-foot, precast concrete beam. Local precast concrete producers provide students with ongoing mentorship. Project entries are judged on a variety of criteria, including the beam’s performance in stress tests that simulate the types of real-life conditions structural building and infrastructure components must endure to ensure life safety, as well as the quality of their analysis and reports and a video overview of their project.

“It’s easy to forget about constructability when you are looking at numbers on a computer screen, but having to think about how we would actually put this beam together opened my eyes to what needs to be considered on the design front,” says Drury, a member of the top-finishing team. “I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

“Lehigh has been fortunate to participate in this competition for a number of years with the help of great local precast producers, including our 2018-19 sponsor, Northeast Prestressed Products,” adds Naito, who is an active member of PCI and was elected as a PCI Fellow in 2019. Naito also received the institute’s 2019 Martin P. Korn Award recognizing the paper offering the greatest contribution to the advancement of precast prestressed concrete technology in research and design published in PCI Journal.

“A key goal of PCI’s strategic plan calls for developing programs for future professionals—students—to become familiar with precast concrete technology in practice,” says PCI President and CEO Bob Risser. “The Big Beam contest is an outstanding example of one of those programs. The contest also offers students a hands-on learning opportunity in prestressed concrete design and performance, as well as honing students’ presentation skills and creativity in submitting their videos.”

The 2019 competition was sponsored by PCI’s ASPIRE magazine. Cash prizes of up to $2000 are awarded to the top 20 finishers in efficient design, highest load capacity, and other categories.

To see student videos, visit PCI’s Big Beam Channel on YouTube.

About PCI

Founded in 1954, The Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI) is a technical institute for the precast concrete structures industry. PCI develops, maintains, and disseminates the information for designing, fabricating, and constructing precast structures. PCI provides technical resources, certification for companies and individuals, continuing education, as well as conducts research and development projects, conventions, conferences, awards programs, and much more. PCI members include precast concrete manufacturers, companies that provide products and services to the industry, precast concrete erectors, and individual members such as architects, consultants, contractors, developers, educators, engineers, materials suppliers, service providers, and students.

Clay Naito

PCI Fellow Clay Naito is a professor of civil and environmental engineering and faculty advisor for both teams of Lehigh structural engineering graduate students who participated in the competition.

Maximilian Beedle

Maximilian Beedle

Aerik Carlton

Aerik Carlton

Mike Drury

Mike Drury