Title:
ELECTROMAGNETICALLY REINFORCED STRUCTURAL ASSEMBLY AND ASSOCIATED METHOD
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An electromagnetically reinforced structural assembly includes structural members, rigid mechanical connections joining an adjacent pair of the structural members, and at least one electromagnet disposed in the structural assembly. Each electromagnet is configured to be selectively energized to provide an electromagnetic attractive force between a respective pair of structural members to urge adjoining pairs of structural members to maintain their respective connections. An associated method of reinforcing a structural assembly includes providing a structural assembly with rigid mechanical connections and selectively actuating at least one electromagnet in the structural assembly to provide an electromagnetic attractive force that reinforces the connections.



Inventors:
Lee, Frank A. (Charlotte, NC, US)
Application Number:
11/620407
Publication Date:
07/10/2008
Filing Date:
01/05/2007
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
52/741.1
International Classes:
E04H9/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
FERENCE, JAMES M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ALSTON & BIRD LLP (BANK OF AMERICA PLAZA, 101 SOUTH TRYON STREET, SUITE 4000, CHARLOTTE, NC, 28280-4000, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An electromagnetically reinforced structural assembly comprising: a plurality of structural members; a plurality of rigid mechanical connections, each connection rigidly joining an adjacent pair of the structural members; and at least one electromagnet disposed in the structural assembly, each electromagnet configured to be selectively energized to provide an electromagnetic attractive force between a respective pair of the structural members at the mechanical connection thereof and thereby reinforce the connection.

2. A structural assembly according to claim 1, further comprising: a power source configured to provide electrical power for energizing the electromagnet; at least one sensor configured to sense a condition of the structural assembly; and a controller configured to control the power provided by the power source to the electromagnet according to the condition sensed by the sensor to selectively reinforce the mechanical connection of the structural assembly.

3. A structural assembly according to claim 2 wherein each electromagnet is adjustable between a non-energized state and an energized state, each electromagnet being configured in the non-energized state when the condition is not sensed and each electromagnet being configured in the energized state when the condition is sensed.

4. A structural assembly according to claim 1 wherein each electromagnet is integral to at least one of the structural members such that the electromagnet is configured to generate an electromagnetic field in the structural member.

5. A structural assembly according to claim 4 wherein each electromagnet includes a conductive element defining a plurality of turns around one of the structural members, the conductive element being configured to receive an electric current and thereby generate the electromagnetic field in the structural member.

6. A structural assembly according to claim 1 wherein each electromagnet is attached to at least one of the structural members.

7. A structural assembly according to claim 2 wherein the controller is configured to receive a manual input to energize the power source and actuate the electromagnet.

8. A structural assembly according to claim 2 wherein the sensor is configured to sense at least one of the group consisting of a stress, a strain, and a density in at least one of the structural members.

9. A structural assembly according to claim 2 wherein the sensor is configured to sense external weather phenomena.

10. A structural assembly according to claim 1 wherein the rigid mechanical connections comprise weld joints connecting each respective pair of structural members.

11. A structural assembly according to claim 1 wherein the rigid mechanical connections comprise at least one of the group consisting of rivets and bolts extending through each respective pair of structural members.

12. A method of reinforcing a structural assembly, the method comprising: providing a structural assembly having a plurality of structural members, adjacent pairs of the structural members rigidly joined by rigid mechanical connections; and selectively actuating at least one electromagnet to provide an electromagnetic attractive force between respective pairs of the structural members at the mechanical connection thereof to urge the structural members together and reinforce the connections.

13. A method according to claim 12 further comprising wrapping a conductive element a plurality of times around one of the structural members.

14. A method according to claim 13 further comprising passing an electric current through the conductive element such that an electromagnetic field is generated in the structural member.

15. A method according to claim 12 wherein providing the structural assembly comprises attaching at least one electromagnet to one of the structural members.

16. A method according to claim 12, further comprising manually energizing the electromagnet from a remote location.

17. A method according to claim 12, further comprising remotely identifying a location of each actuated electromagnet.

18. A method according to claim 12, further comprising monitoring and sensing a predetermined condition and performing said actuating step upon sensing the predetermined condition.

19. A method according to claim 18, further comprising remotely identifying the predetermined condition sensed.

20. A method according to claim 18, further comprising initiating a response according to at least one of the actuated state of the electromagnet and the predetermined condition sensed.

21. A method according to claim 20 wherein the response is performing repairs on the structural assembly.

22. A method according to claim 20 wherein said initiating step comprises activating an alarm based on the predetermined condition sensed.

23. A method according to claim 12, further comprising selectively returning each electromagnet to a non-actuated state after a termination of a predetermined condition.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to an electromagnetically reinforced structural assembly with electromagnetic enhancement of rigid mechanical connections and an associated method of using electromagnets to selectively reinforce rigid mechanical connections in structural assemblies.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Weather, heat, time, and other natural and man-made phenomena have been known to apply large forces on structural assemblies. For example, a skyscraper may be required to withstand large shear forces due to high winds or an earthquake. Similarly, a bridge may be subject to tensile and bending forces as a result of the weight of vehicles on the bridge, as well as torsion forces due to extreme weather.

A structural assembly is also often required to endure the destructive effects of corrosion and void growth in its structural members. This progressive deterioration in the structural integrity of the assembly may be augmented by improper or inadequate maintenance or even man-made disasters, such as the explosion of a bomb or other detonating device.

In general, the resistance of a structural assembly to such forces is highly dependent on the strength of the connections joining adjacent structural members of the building. Such structural members may include walls, beams, columns, and floor-slabs. For example, the strength of a building may be defined by the strength of the joints between the I-beams of the building's frame, and any failure of rivets or other fasteners in the I-beam joints may weaken the structure and reduce the capability of the building to resist an increase in the forces borne by the joint, such as during an earthquake.

The reinforcement of the rigid mechanical connections in a structural assembly may require the use of stronger materials, a larger quantity of fasteners, or a greater number of joints to bear the load. Permanently increasing the load bearing capacity of such joints, however, may increase the cost of construction, the weight of the structural assembly (which may in turn increase the forces to be borne), and the complexity of the construction project. In addition, implementing these measures may reduce the availability of certain architectural designs, thereby limiting the creativity of the design and the aesthetic value of the structural assembly. Furthermore, the transient and unpredictable nature of a load-creating event, such as an earthquake or a hurricane, makes permanent fortification of the joints even more inefficient and problematic.

As a result, there is a need for a structural assembly in which the structural integrity of the mechanical connections is selectively enhanced to withstand increases in the forces borne by those joints, such as forces resulting from extreme weather and natural and man-made disasters, as well as an associated method for selectively enhancing the structural integrity of structural assemblies.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention generally relates to an electromagnetically reinforced structural assembly with rigid mechanical connections that may be selectively reinforced in response to increased or abnormal forces, as well as an associated method for selectively enhancing rigid mechanical connections. Electromagnets in the structural assembly create electromagnetic fields to urge adjoining pairs of structural members to maintain their respective connections.

According to one embodiment of the present invention, the electromagnetically reinforced structural assembly comprises a plurality of structural members and a plurality of rigid mechanical connections, each connection rigidly joining an adjacent pair of the structural members. At least one electromagnet is disposed in the structural assembly, and each electromagnet is configured to be selectively energized to provide an electromagnetic attractive force between a respective pair of the structural members at the mechanical connection, thereby reinforcing the connection.

According to some embodiments, the electromagnetically reinforced structural assembly may further comprise a power source, at least one sensor, and a controller. The electromagnets may be adjustable between a non-energized state and an energized state, and the power source may be configured to provide electrical power for energizing the electromagnet. The sensor may be configured to sense a condition of the structural assembly, and the controller may be configured to control the power provided by the power source to the electromagnet according to the condition sensed by the sensor in order to selectively reinforce the structural assembly. Thus, each electromagnet may be configured in the non-energized state when the condition is not sensed and in the energized state when the condition is sensed.

In one embodiment, each electromagnet may be integral to at least one of the structural members such that the electromagnet is configured to generate an electromagnetic field in the structural member. Each electromagnet may include a conductive element defining a plurality of turns around one of the structural members. The conductive element may be configured to receive an electric current and thereby generate the electromagnetic field in the structural member. In another embodiment, each electromagnet may be attached to at least one of the structural members.

In some embodiments, the controller is configured to actuate the electromagnet according to a condition sensed by the sensor. The sensor may be configured to sense a stress, a strain, or a density in at least one of the structural members, or the sensor may be configured to sense external weather phenomena, such as wind speed or earthquake vibrations. The controller of some embodiments may also be configured to receive a manual input to energize the power source and actuate the electromagnet.

The structural assembly may have rigid mechanical connections comprising weld joints that connect each respective pair of structural members. In other embodiments of the invention, the rigid mechanical connections may comprise rivets or bolts that extend through each respective pair of structural members.

An associated method of reinforcing a structural assembly is also provided. The method comprises the steps of providing a structural assembly having a plurality of structural members joined by rigid mechanical connections and selectively actuating at least one electromagnet. By selectively actuating an electromagnet, an electromagnetic attractive force is provided between respective pairs of the structural members at the mechanical connection to urge the structural members together and reinforce the connection.

In one embodiment, the method further comprises wrapping a conductive element a plurality of times around one of the structural members. An electric current may then be passed through the conductive element to generate an electromagnetic field in the structural member. In another embodiment, at least one electromagnet may be attached to one of the structural members to reinforce the corresponding rigid mechanical connection.

In some embodiments of the present invention, the method of reinforcing the structural assembly may include manually energizing the electromagnet from a remote location. The method may also include the step of remotely identifying the location of each actuated electromagnet.

In one embodiment, the method may include sensing a predetermined condition and may further comprise remotely identifying the predetermined condition sensed. Reinforcing the structural assembly may include the step of initiating a response according to the actuated state of the electromagnet or according to the predetermined condition sensed. If a response is initiated, the response may be to perform repairs on the structural assembly. Likewise, the response may be to activate an alarm based on the predetermined condition sensed.

In some embodiments of the present invention, the method may further comprise indefinitely maintaining at least one electromagnet in an actuated state. The method may also include selectively returning each electromagnet to a non-actuated state after the predetermined condition has terminated.

Thus, the present invention provides a structural assembly and method that selectively enhance the integrity of the mechanical connections of the assembly using electromagnets, e.g., by selectively actuating electromagnets in a structural assembly to reinforce the rigid mechanical connections of the structural assembly.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Having thus described the invention in general terms, reference will now be made to the accompanying drawings, which are not necessarily drawn to scale, and wherein:

FIG. 1 is a side plan view illustrating a structural assembly including I-beam structural members, with electromagnets that are integral to a structural member of the assembly, according to one embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a perspective view illustrating a portion of the frame for the hull of a nautical vessel, according to another embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 3 is a schematic diagram illustrating a portion of the hull of a nautical vessel, with electromagnets that are attached to two of the structural members of the structural assembly, according to the embodiment of FIG. 2; and

FIG. 4 is a plan view illustrating a rigid mechanical connection of a structural assembly, including an electromagnet that is attached to a structural member and a power source, controller, and sensor in communication with each other.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The present inventions now will be described more fully hereinafter with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which some, but not all embodiments of the inventions are shown. Indeed, these inventions may be embodied in many different forms and should not be construed as limited to the embodiments set forth herein; rather, these embodiments are provided so that this disclosure will satisfy applicable legal requirements. Like numbers refer to like elements throughout.

The present invention generally relates to a structural assembly 10 with rigid mechanical connections 20 that may be selectively reinforced in response to increased or transient forces, as well as an associated method for selectively enhancing rigid mechanical connections 20. As described further below, the structural assembly generally includes electromagnets that create magnetic fields to urge adjoining pairs of structural members together to maintain their respective joints.

Referring to FIG. 1, the structural assembly 10 may be a frame for a structure, such as a building or a bridge. The structural assembly 10 includes a plurality of structural members 12, 14, such as walls, beams, columns, or floor-slabs, which are joined to form rigid mechanical connections 20 between adjoining members. The structural members 12, 14 can be various types of structural components, such as I-beams, other types of beams, plates, rods, sheets, channels, and the like. As shown in FIG. 1, the first member 12 is an I-beam arranged horizontally as a beam, and the second members 14 are I-beams arranged vertically as columns. Other members 15 are also provided in the assembly 10, e.g., extending between the connections 20. Mechanical connections 20 are formed by extending fasteners 22, such as rivets or bolts, through each respective pair of I-beam structural members 12, 14. In particular, each fastener 22 extends through one of the first members 12 and an adjacent one of the second members 14, e.g., through the flanges of the adjacent members 12, 14. Alternatively, the adjoining structural members 12, 14 may be welded together to form the connections 20.

The structural assembly 10 may also be the frame of other structures, such as a motor vehicle or a nautical vessel. For example, FIG. 2 illustrates an embodiment in which the assembly forms the internal frame of the hull of a ship. The frame of the hull includes first structural members 12 that extend generally longitudinally to define one side of the frame and second structural members 14 that extend generally longitudinally to define the other side of the frame. The frame of the hull also includes other structural members 16 that extend generally transversely with respect to the first and second structural members 12, 14. The structural members 12, 14, 16 intersect and are connected at a plurality of joints or mechanical connections 20. That is, the second structural members 14 intersect the first structural members 12, such that each member is positioned adjacent and connected to at least one of the other members 12, 14. The members 12, 14 also intersect with and are connected to the transverse members 16, forming additional mechanical joints 20.

In other embodiments, the structural assembly 10 can have other configurations and can be used for the construction of other buildings, vehicles, and the like.

In each of the structural assemblies 10, the mechanical connections 20 can be reinforced by electromagnets 30. For example, the electromagnets 30 may be disposed at critical load-bearing joints in the frame of a structure to reinforce those mechanical connections 20 during periods in which the structural assembly 10 is subject to increased forces. Each electromagnet 10 is configured to provide an attractive force that tends to urge two adjacent structural members 12, 14, 16 together, thereby providing a reinforcement effect that can be selectively actuated.

In some embodiments of the present invention, the electromagnets 30 can be integral to the associated structural members 12, 14, 16. For example, as shown in FIG. 1, a conductive element 34 is wrapped a number of times around one of the first structural members 12. An electromagnetic field 32 is created when electricity is passed through the conductive element 34. The electromagnetic field 32 surrounds the portion of the first structural member 12 that is wrapped with the conductive element 34 and acts as an attractive force with respect to the adjoining second structural member 14, i.e., the structural member 14 that is rigidly connected to the first structural member by the connection 20. As a result of the attractive force provided by the electromagnetic field, the adjoining structural members 12, 14 are urged towards each other, thereby reinforcing the rigid mechanical connection 20 between them.

In others embodiments of the present invention, the electromagnets 30 can be distinct from the structural members 12, 14 and affixed to one or both of the structural members near the rigid mechanical connection thereof. For example, as shown in FIG. 3, the electromagnets 30 are provided as separate members that are connected to the structural members 12, 14 adjacent the connections 20. Electrical power is supplied through a power line 45 to energize the electromagnet 30 and create an electromagnetic field 32 around the energized electromagnet 30. The electromagnetic field 32 acts as an attractive force with respect to the adjoining second structural member 14, thereby urging the adjoining structural members 12, 14 together and enhancing the integrity of the rigid mechanical connection 20 between them. In some cases, an electromagnet can be provided at a connection of three or more structural members, such that the electromagnet is configured to provide an attractive force between the three or more structural members and reinforce the connection of the multiple members.

The structural assembly 10 of the present invention typically includes a power source 40 that is configured to provide electrical energy to the electromagnets 30 to actuate the electromagnets 30 and generate the electromagnetic fields. The power source 40 can be selectively actuated so that the electromagnets 30 are powered only at select times, e.g., when the structural assembly is experiencing a higher-than-normal load or stress, or at times when a higher-than-normal load or stress is likely or expected, such as during an earthquake.

The assembly 10 can also include devices for automatically actuating the electromagnets 30. For example, as shown in FIG. 4, the power source 40 is in electrical communication with one or more sensors 60 and a controller 50. The sensors 60 are configured to monitor the structural assembly 10 and measure or detect a particular condition of the assembly 10, such as a stress, strain, or displacement in the assembly 10. For example, each sensor 60 can include a strain sensor that uses one or more Wheatstone bridges to detect small changes in the stress, strain, or displacement of a portion of the assembly 10. The assembly 10 typically includes a plurality of sensors 60, such that each sensor 60 can detect a condition in a different portion of the assembly 10. The sensors 60 transmit a signal 55 indicative of the monitored condition to the controller 50, which may be located proximate to the assembly or remotely from the power source 40 and/or the enhanced rigid mechanical connections 20.

The controller 50 can receive the signal 55 from the sensor 60, analyze the signal 55, and determine the appropriate response. For example, if the signal 55 from one or more sensors 60 indicates that the assembly 10 is experiencing a stress, strain, or displacement that is higher than a predetermined threshold value (or a change in stress, strain, or displacement that is greater than a predetermined threshold value), the controller 50 can respond by actuating the power source 40 to provide electrical power via a power line 45 to one or more of the electromagnets 30 to generate an electromagnetic field 32 and provide a reinforcement to the assembly 10. In particular, the controller 50 can transmit a signal 57 to the power source 40 in response to the condition sensed and reported by the sensor 60. The signal 57 from the controller 50 to the power source 40 can cause the power source 40 to supply electrical power to the electromagnet 30 through the power line 45, thus actuating all of the electromagnets 30 or only those electromagnets 30 that are capable of reinforcing the portion of the assembly 10 that is undergoing the condition. The signals 55, 57 and other communication between the different elements of the assembly 10 are typically transmitted electronically, e.g., via a wired or wireless connection.

Each sensor 60 can be strategically located within the structural assembly 10 or external to the structural assembly 10, depending on the nature of the condition to be detected and the best location at which to detect the particular conditions of interest. For example, each sensor 60 can be affixed to a structural member 12, 14, as shown in FIG. 4, and configured to measure the stress or strain induced in the structural member 12, 14. Alternatively, the sensor 60 can be located at a rigid mechanical connection 20 or on a fastener 22 and configured to measure the density of a structural member 12, 14, a fastener 22, or other component of the structural assembly 10.

In some cases, one or more of the sensors 60 are located external to the structural assembly 10 and configured to measure certain weather and environmental variables. For example, the sensors 60 may be located at the top of a structural assembly 10, such as a skyscraper or other building, in order to sense wind speed. Likewise, the sensor 60 may be located outside the structural assembly 10 or on the external surface of the structural assembly 10 at or near ground level in order to measure the intensity of vibrations caused by an earthquake or a large explosion.

In some embodiments, the electromagnets 30 are configured to remain in the non-energized state when no conditions are being detected by the sensor 60 or when the conditions detected do not meet a threshold level, as determined by the controller 50. For example, each electromagnet 30 can be configured to remain in the non-energized state until the controller issues a command or other signal to the electromagnet 30. Alternatively, the controller 50 can provide a continuous signal that maintains the electromagnet 30 in a non-energized state, the signal being interrupted or replaced with another signal only when actuation of electromagnet 30 is desired. In any case, when the controller 50 determines that the condition sensed by the sensor 60 meets a threshold level and warrants a response, the controller 50 can be configured to actuate electromagnet 30, e.g., by transmitting the signal 57 to the power source 40 to instruct the power source 40 to supply electrical power to the electromagnet 30.

When determining whether a response is necessary, the controller 50 may be configured to compare the level of stress or strain, the speed of the wind, the intensity of vibration, or other condition detected by the sensor 60, to a predetermined value for the corresponding condition. Similarly, the controller 50 may be configured to calculate a difference between a “normal” condition, such as material density, and the condition sensed by the sensor 60.

The controller 50 may be configured to determine which, if any, of the rigid mechanical connections 20 may be at risk as a result of the condition sensed by the sensor 60, as well as the extent of the risk. In response, the controller 50 may determine which of the electromagnets 30 in the structural assembly 10 should be actuated and transmit a signal 57 to actuate only those electromagnets 30 selected. In some embodiments of the present invention, the controller 50 may be configured to receive a manual input to actuate the electromagnets 30. For example, a remote third party, such as a maintenance technician or a security guard, may provide a manual input to the controller 50 to actuate one or more electromagnets 30 in the event that the third party determines that fortification of the rigid mechanical connections 20 is immediately required.

According to one method of the present invention, the integrity of a structural assembly 10 is enhanced by providing a structural assembly 10 configured as previously described, sensing a predetermined condition, and selectively actuating one or more electromagnets 30 in the structural assembly 10. As discussed above, the electromagnets 30 may be integral to or distinct from the structural members 12, 14 that form the structural assembly 10. In this regard, FIG. 1 illustrates an electromagnet 30 in which a first structural member 12 is part of the electromagnet such that the electromagnet is integral to the first structural member 12. For example, a conductive element 34 can be wrapped or coiled a plurality of times around one of the structural members 12, 14. An electric current can then be passed through the conductive element 34 to generate an electromagnetic field 32 in the structural member 12, 14.

Alternatively, FIGS. 3 and 4 illustrate an electromagnet 30 that is distinct from the structural members 12, 14 and affixed thereto. In this case, the electromagnets 30 and the structural members 12, 14 can be provided as distinct members, and the electromagnets 30 are then attached to the structural members 12, 14 near the rigid mechanical connections 20 that are to be reinforced. In this way, an existing structural assembly 10 may be reinforced by installing one or more electromagnets 30 at certain mechanical connections 20.

In some cases, the structural assembly 10 can be reinforced by automatically or manually energizing the electromagnets 30 from a remote location. Further, the location of each actuated electromagnet can be remotely identified, and/or each electromagnet can be separately controlled so that reinforcement is provided only at select connections where the reinforcement is required or otherwise desirable.

The electromagnets 30 can be controlled according to the conditions of the assembly, e.g., by sensing a predetermined condition, such as by using the sensors 60. Thus, according to one method of the present invention, the predetermined condition that is sensed is remotely identified, and a response is initiated. The response can be initiated according to the actuated state of the electromagnet 30 and/or the predetermined condition that is sensed. Further, in some cases, the response can include performing repairs on the structural assembly 10. In other cases, the response can be initiated by activating an alarm based on the predetermined condition sensed.

The one or more electromagnets 30 in an assembly can be actuated selectively only at particular times, such as when additional reinforcement is required due to environmental conditions. That is, each actuated electromagnet 30 can be selectively returned to a non-actuated state once the predetermined condition is terminated. Alternatively, the electromagnets 30 can be maintained in an actuated state indefinitely.

Many modifications and other embodiments of the inventions set forth herein will come to mind to one skilled in the art to which these inventions pertain having the benefit of the teachings presented in the foregoing descriptions and the associated drawings. Therefore, it is to be understood that the inventions are not to be limited to the specific embodiments disclosed and that modifications and other embodiments are intended to be included within the scope of the appended claims. Although specific terms are employed herein, they are used in a generic and descriptive sense only and not for purposes of limitation.