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Portable home in a box
By Nina Chiarelli
A group of engineers at Western are doing their part to help give the victims of natural disasters a chance to literally rebuild their lives themselves.
Mike Bartlett, a Western civil and environmental engineering professor, is leading a group of engineering faculty and students who are currently testing the components of a mobile shelter made entirely of cardboard.
"It's been a really interesting project so far," Bartlett said. "Although all of the research done on cardboard so far has been how to make boxes, it really does seem quite feasible."
The project, being tested at the Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory on campus, is funded by DuraKit Shelters Inc., a Bond Head, Ontario based company responsible for manufacturing the cardboard structures.
Rod Doran, an executive of research and development with DuraKit Shelters Inc., explained the cardboard huts comprise roof and wall units which come in widths of eight, 12 or 16 feet and floor lengths in increments of four feet. The shelters are made completely of recycled cardboard and are treated with a paint-like coating that makes them resistant to moisture, weather and fire.
"We're hoping to market our product to developing nations and disaster relief organizations like the Red Cross," Doran said.
"Although our product won't be available to the general public, it should be on the market for export by May," he added.
The testing, which has been going on since August in the structures lab at Western, has included snow loading as well as extreme water and wind loading, to test the shelter's structure strength.
"We've completed 80 per cent of the tests so far and the results have been going rather well," said Ashraf El Damatty, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Western.
Western was chosen as the site of the testing because of the formidable reputation the Boundary Wind Tunnel has garnered for its past efforts in wind strength testing.
"While we're actually running physical tests on the components, as well as the full scale models, we're also using a computer simulation program to imitate natural forces and stresses. We need to be sure that the connections are safe," Damatty said.
Doran said the cost will not be determined until all of the tests are complete.