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Fatigue Testing, Plastic Design and the Lösenhausen Machine

Tue, 28 February, 2023

With The Welding Institute celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, we have been looking back into the history of the Institute and TWI Ltd.

Back in 1952, Lord Woolton, the former wartime Minister for Food, opened a new Fatigue Testing Laboratory at our site in Great Abington near Cambridge, UK. He used a ceremonial gavel to announce the opening of the laboratory, including an inscription that reads, “British Welding Research Association used by the Rt Hon Lord Woolton P.C. C.H. to open the Fatigue Testing Laboratory at Abington – 23rd June 1952.”

While this piece of history was recently bequeathed to TWI, the fatigue laboratory itself is worth mention as it was one of the first buildings in the world to be built using plastic design theory. Developed in the 1940s, plastic design theory provided an original approach to the design of steel-framed structures based on research undertaken at Cambridge University in conjunction with the British Welding Research Association Committee. This research allowed design loads in steel framed structures to be calculated more accurately, allowing for a more economical use of steel through smaller sections for columns and beams. This research meant that the structure of the laboratory was 50% lighter than an equivalent conventional structure.

The laboratory was purpose-built to house a 200 tonne Lösenhausen fatigue machine, which was the largest fatigue machine in the world at the time. This impressive machine was used on a number of p[projects over the ensuing decades before the fatigue laboratory was finally demolished in 2013 to make way for new facilities to be built on the site. Having served TWI for 61 years, the Lösenhausen machine was finally retired from service and replaced with newer rigs for fatigue testing.

However, other pieces of equipment, including the ‘Jacks Rig,’ which was built by former TWI Chief Executive Bevan Braithwaite, were moved to the new fatigue testing facility and are still in use today!

While the original fatigue laboratory is no longer in existence, the return of the ceremonial gavel provides a link to the heritage of TWI and The Welding Institute, while demonstrating the foundations of the work that continue to this day in fatigue research.

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