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New Zealand: Digital Transformation in Seismic Engineering

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Digital technology has become a key driver of change, transforming various industries, including seismic engineering. Digital innovations have brought about significant changes within seismic retrofitting by tackling ongoing challenges and offering improved safety, cost efficiency, and reduced disruption.

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One example of such innovation is 3-D laser scanning, which allows for precise documentation of existing structures, capturing all modifications with high accuracy. Additionally, digital tools and platforms enable the analysis and optimisation of seismic retrofitting strategies, aiding clients in making better decisions.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are also impacting by providing valuable insights and predictions regarding seismic performance and assisting in developing retrofitting strategies.

These advancements in digital technology have expanded the range of retrofitting strategies available, enabling structures to absorb better and dissipate seismic energy rather than simply reinforcing them. As a result, there is a growing focus on creating structures that can bend without breaking, ensuring overall resilience.

This transformation is exemplified by the research conducted by AUT Associate Professor Shahab Ramhormozian and his team. Their innovative work was tested in one of the world’s most extensive earthquake laboratories. It has received acclaim from researchers in New Zealand and China and garnered endorsements for its pioneering engineering solutions.

The International Laboratories for Earthquake Engineering (ILEE) at Tongji University in Shanghai boasts a shake table that enables real-scale earthquake testing on multi-storey buildings, providing a realistic environment for assessing seismic performance.

Dr Ramhormozian highlighted that, with the support of EQC Toka Tū Ake and other New Zealand research agencies, engineers collaborated closely with their Chinese counterparts to test various innovations on the shake table as part of the ROBUST (Robust Building Systems) project.

The ROBUST project represents a collaboration between New Zealand and China, dedicated to testing and enhancing building resilience against earthquakes. This innovative project features the testing of a three-storey, nine-metre-tall building with friction-sliding energy dissipators in nine different forms and configurations.

In the final testing stage, various non-structural elements such as external cladding, internal partition walls, ceilings, sprinkler piping, tables, chairs, and shelves with books were added to the building. Despite subjecting the building to intense shaking, all components, including the energy dissipators, performed exceptionally well, surpassing the levels experienced during the Canterbury earthquakes.

This collaborative effort involves academic and industry partners from both nations and aims to push the boundaries of earthquake resilience in buildings. One of the critical solutions tested in the ROBUST shake table series was the Optimised Sliding Hinge Joint (OSHJ) connections, initially developed by Professor Charles Clifton in the late 1990s and further refined by Dr Ramhormozian.

Dr Ramhormozian highlighted the significance of conducting tests on a real-scale Shanghai building, incorporating structural and non-structural components. He noted that while these solutions have demonstrated their effectiveness, their testing in New Zealand may have been limited due to constraints in testing facilities. This collaborative project showcases engineering excellence and underscores the importance of international cooperation in advancing earthquake engineering research and practices.

The final shake of the ROBUST building involved a peak ground acceleration significantly more significant than that recorded in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

“Despite this, the structure incorporated OSHJs in a longitudinal direction, friction braces adopted the OSHJ design philosophy, and all non-structural elements performed very well,” explained Dr Ramhormozian. “The results of the ROBUST project not only allow for the modification and improvement of building analysis but also provide insights into where more testing and simulations at component levels need to be done.”

Dr Natalie Balfour, Head of Research at the earthquake insurance company, emphasised the significance of collaboration in the ROBUST project, showcasing how funders with diverse interests can collaborate to facilitate cutting-edge research.

The technology under scrutiny in ROBUST is currently deployed in buildings throughout New Zealand, underscoring the urgency to comprehend its performance in potential future earthquakes. The findings from this research endeavour are poised to play a pivotal role in designing structures capable of withstanding significant seismic events, thereby reducing damage and fostering the creation of safer and more resilient communities.


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