Scorpion device takes the sting out of earthquakes

Accelerate postdoc designs innovative shock absorber that saves lives and buildings while cutting costs

The project started when Michael Gray was researching earthquake-proofing techniques as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Department of Civil Engineering. Michael had developed a prototype connector device with one end that could grip part of a building’s frame between a pair of comb-like pincers, while the other end was welded to a brace.

“During an earthquake, parts of the claw portion of the connector are designed to bend to absorb the force of the shaking, protecting the building,” says Michael. “They act like the crumple zones in the front-end of a car. It’s an easy solution, but no-one else was doing it.”

The Accelerate funding allowed Michael to partner with Cast Connex Corporation to refine the prototype.

We pushed the limits of the connector’s material and structure. In the end, we learned how to make a better connector — one that’s modular, with known, identical properties that can be used in any part of any building. Our connector can be used on new buildings, as well as in retrofitting projects to bring old structures up to code. It offers the best balance of performance with affordability,“ says Michael.

Cast Connex President and CEO Carlos de Oliviera says there are other important benefits to the design. “After an earthquake, you can easily remove these connectors and replace them with new ones — just like changing old fuses. That ability could mean the difference between saving an old building or having to demolish it. This technology really is the future in retrofitting buildings.”

Within months, the new connector — dubbed the “Scorpion” — was being used in seismic upgrading projects on buildings in Quebec and BC.

“This is a very quick adoption of a new building technology in Canada,” says Michael, who’s now working with Cast Connex. “It provides another tool to solve design challenges, with the end result being better, safer buildings.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia,  the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the  Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

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