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Bridges & Structures

Worldwide Steel Fabrication Scanning Tour

photo of steel beam

Partnership Between FHWA, Private Industry, And Academia

Background: The objective of this Federal Highway Administration initiative is to bring steel fabrication experts from government and private organizations together to review advanced steel fabrication practices and procedures worldwide. Observations of the review panel will be consolidated and summarized in a widely distributed report. Recommendations of the panel will be considered by the industry in the on-going process of modernization, fast-tracking that process. The end-result will be more reliable and economic steel bridge structures in the United States of America.


Program Purpose

The International Technology Scanning Program (ITSP) serves as a means for identifying, assessing, and importing foreign highway technologies and practices that can be cost-effectively adapted to U.S. Federal, state, and local highway programs. The approach is similar to the "bench marking" process that is widely used by firms in the private sector. Bench marking involves comparing an organization's methods and products to the world's best with the intent of exceeding them. Instead of duplicating others work, this process enables advanced technology to be developed and put into practice more quickly and makes more efficient use of research funds. Ultimately, the program provides better, safer, and more environmentally sound roads to the American public by implementing the best practices developed abroad.

Program Goals

The primary goals of the ITSP are:

  • to ensure that the U.S. highway community is world-class in technical and managerial areas of the highest priority;
  • to gain access to the results of foreign investment in highway R&D and R&D implementation;
  • to avoid unnecessary U.S. duplication of advances already developed by other countries; and
  • to facilitate the successful implementation of key foreign innovations in the U.S.


The origins of the ITSP can be traced to the last half of the 1980s, when FHWA activities became focused on locating research and technology abroad for application in the United States. Prior to this, providing technical assistance to counterparts overseas was the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA's) primary international activity.

During the 1980's, U.S. transportation professionals became increasingly aware of improved materials and innovative methods employed by foreign countries in their transportation programs. This awareness, largely due to the activities of the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP), was boosted by the enactment of the Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA). Section 6003 of the Authorized the Secretary of Transportation "to engage in activities to inform the domestic highway community of technological innovations abroad...." The ISTEA not only provided greater impetus to explore what foreign technology had to offer U.S. transportation systems, but also made funding available for Federal efforts to evaluate the potential for U.S. implementation of foreign transportation technologies and methods.

While the makeup of a team scanning teams vary from one scanning review to another, participants usually represent the FHWA, State highway departments, local governments and; where appropriate, transportation trade and research groups, the private sector, and academia. Personal domestic and international networking, team dynamics, and the creation of U.S. champions for promising foreign innovations are keystones of the methods used. Successful implementation in the U.S. of the world's best practices is the goal of the program.

In many instances, scanning reviews add depth and cohesion to research and practice in the United States. The process and findings generally complement and enhance the existing knowledge base in the U.S. highway community, often putting innovations on the fast track to deployment.

Realizing the potential of scanning tours as means of learning from the research and technological advances of others, and given ISTEA's emphasis on searching out foreign transportation technology to apply to domestic problems, the FHWA established the ITSP. TEA-21 continues to support this program

Legislative Authorization

The ITSP is established under 23 U. S.C. 506 of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21 st Century, which states that the Secretary may establish an international highway transportation outreach program "to inform the United States highway community of technological innovations in foreign countries that could significantly improve highway transportation in the United States..." Section 506 further outlines authorized activities under 6 subsections, including, "development, monitoring, assessment, and dissemination in the United States of information about highway transportation innovations in foreign countries that could significantly improve highway transportation in the United States."

Amplifying Questions

  1. Application of Innovative Structural Shapes and Bridge Configurations
  2. Applications of New Materials
  3. Techniques for Cutting and Joining Steel Members
  4. Automated Recording Procedures for Shop and Field Inspection
  5. Integrated CAD/CAM Procedures and Robotic Fabrication
  6. Additional topics of Interest
  1. Application of Innovative Structural Shapes and Bridge Configurations
    1. What new, cross-sectional shapes and overall geometry have you used in bridges?
    2. Is there a preference for open or closed shapes? Why?
    3. Please respond to the following questions in terms of
      1. cost effectiveness,
      2. good or bad performance,
      3. any special design criteria required:
        1. Have you constructed any bridges using corrugated steel webs?
        2. Have tubular members been used in truss or girder elements?
        3. Are single box bridges used?
        4. Have any modular steel bridges been developed?
        5. Are steel piers used as much now as in the past?
        6. Are steel bridges used with integral pier caps?
        7. Are there innovative bridge decks?
        8. Where are orthotropic steel decks used?
        9. Have any steel bridge configurations been developed to enhance fatigue resistance to minimize the need for designs controlled by fatigue factors?
        10. Have innovative, seismic-resistant steel bridges been developed?
    4. Do standardized steel bridges exist?
      1. What type and span?
      2. Are typical bridge design details standardized in your region? By whom?
    5. What innovations have you made in the construction of short-span (<40 m) to medium-span (<80 m) steel bridges? What is your experience with costs and trends?
    6. Has prestressing been used in the construction of steel bridges?
      1. Has it been cost effective and does it provide good performance?
      2. Are there special design criteria?
    7. How do rolled "I" shapes compare with welded plate girders?
    8. What is the trend in the use of bracing and diaphragms?
      1. What standards exist?
      2. Are removable diaphragms used?
    9. Are steel castings used for connections?
      1. What materials are used?
      2. What specifications have been developed?
  2. Applications of New Materials
    1. How are higher-strength steels (485 MPa to 800 MPa yield strength) being used?
      1. What are the future trends for these steels?
      2. Are all of the higher-strength steels produced as TMCP or is Q&T material used?
      3. What toughness, sampling frequency, and locations are used?
    2. Are tapered (thickness) plates used very often?
      1. Are there thickness-tolerance specifications?
      2. What is the availability of such plates?
      3. What is their relative cost?
    3. How much weathering steel is being used versus, painted steel?
      1. Are there any special fabrication requirements?
      2. Are there any improvements being made to basic weathering?
      3. What do you see as the future use of weathering steels?
      4. Are special joints and details used?
      5. Is staining a problem? How do you manage it?
    4. What is the maximum thickness of plate used in steel bridges?
      1. Are there differences for pedestrian, vehicular, and railroad bridges?
      2. Are there standard codes?
      3. What is the basis for the criteria that are used?
      4. Is toughness considered when determining thickness limits?
    5. What are the actual levels of P and S used in bridges? Is calcium treatment used or specified on all bridge steels? To what extent is vacuum degassing used?
    6. What organization(s) is responsible for writing the specifications for bridge steel?
      1. Are steels certified to more than one specification? Is this required by the owner? Does this practice cause fabrication problems?
      2. What substitutions are allowed for steels specified in contract documents?
    7. Who is responsible for encouraging new steel development?
    8. Have advanced composite materials been used in conjunction with structural steel to construct bridges?
    9. Is undermatched weld metal used for design and fabrication?
      1. How is it being used?
      2. What is the range of applications?
    10. What use is made of stainless and clad steels in bridge structures?
    11. What new steels are used for pins, bolts, and bearings?
  3. Techniques for Cutting and Joining Steel Members (in the Shop/Field and Field Erection Techniques)
    1. What recent innovations have been developed in the areas of welding consumables, equipment, and processes?
      1. Are high-energy welding processes (i.e., electron beam, laser or other) in common use?
      2. Are high deposition rates used?
      3. Is electroslag or electors welding used? What are the requirements? What thickness?
      4. Are multiword, sub-arc systems being used? How many wires? What type of power?
      5. Is solid wire Mig/Mag weld permitted?
        1. Is short circuiting welding permitted? Under what conditions?
        2. Is pulsed-arc Mig welding permitted? Under what conditions?
      6. What other processes are used?
      7. Is flux-core self shielded, flux-core gas shielded or metal core welding used?
      8. What percentage of welds are made by these different processes?
      9. What is your planned future use?
    2. What cutting systems are in common use?
      1. What is used in the field?
      2. Do you weld directly on the cut surface?
      3. Are thermal cut holes used with or without further treatment?
    3. Is automated handling of materials for assembling member elements being used in the shop? In the field?
    4. Are there in-process distortion controls?
      1. How does material variability influence this process?
      2. How is welding distortion predicted?
      3. What dimensional checks are used?
      4. How is drilling accounted for?
    5. What cambering and heat-straightening techniques are used?
      1. Is the process automated?
      2. Where are the control points?
    6. Are in-process NDT testing and monitoring techniques being used to assess weld quality?
      1. How often?
      2. What statistical principles are applied?
    7. What are the fit-up requirements for pre-assembly and construction?
      1. Are shop fit-up requirements imposed by owners?
      2. Is this a partial or full fit-up?
      3. What does the fabricator do in the shop to ensure compliance?
      4. Are computerized preassembly methods permitted?
      5. What procedures are used to ensure success?
      6. What has been your experience with this method?
      7. Are special criteria applied to horizontally curved girders?
    8. Is field welding used to any extent?
      1. To what extent is the process automated?
      2. How are consumables stored on site? (c) What processes are used?
    9. How are weld procedures and personnel qualified?
      1. Are statistical methods employed?
      2. Are welders who are qualified for other applications (i.e., pressure vessels, ships) accepted for bridge work without additional qualification?
    10. How are weld acceptance procedures applied?
      1. Are fitness for service criteria allowed?
      2. Who is responsible for Quality Control (QC)/Quality Assurance (QA) of the fabrication and erection?
      3. Who develops the standard?
    11. What role does automation play in the assembly and welding of orthotropic decks?
    12. What are the size and length limitations or restrictions in fabrication? Is this controlled by transportation or construction limitations?
    13. Are structural adhesives being used to join steel components?
    14. Have electrodes maintained compatibility with base metal weldability?
    15. What procedures are used for plate and shape bending?
      1. What thickness and radius criteria are applied for cold bending?
      2. Do fracture toughness requirements impact these procedures?
      3. What role does the type of steel play?
    16. What kind of pre- and post-welding treatments are used? What role do ceramics, metal spacers, back-gouging, peening or other "improvements" have in these?
    17. What percentage of field splices are bolted? What percentage are welded?
      1. If bolted splices are used, are special treatments or sealants required for corrosion protection?
      2. Are these treatments specified or used at the discretion of the fabricator?
    18. Are there special installation requirements for anchor bolts?
  4. Automated Recording Procedures for Shop and Field Inspection
    1. Is automated, ultrasonic scanning of groove welds performed in the shop? Would it be possible to see this demonstrated during our site visit?
    2. How is the integrity of the inspection records maintained?
    3. Who is responsible for the data base input?
    4. Are automated inspection procedures used in the field? How often?
    5. How are fillet welds inspected?
  5. Integrated CAD/CAM Procedures and Robotic Fabrication
    1. How are design drawings translated into shop drawings?
    2. Are electronic design documents used in the bidding process? Are they used for fabrication?
    3. How are shop drawings approved?
      1. Are they electronically submitted? If so, how is the approval given?
      2. How are shop-generated machine codes checked?
    4. How are robots monitored? How often?
    5. What are the requirements for qualification of operators of robotic and automated machinery?
    6. What types of automated field erection are used?
    7. What has been your experience regarding the measurements used to monitor the transition from old methods to automated, computer-integrated manufacturing in terms of-
      1. direct and indirect labor ratios.
      2. man-hours per ton.
      3. efficiency improvements.
      4. cost differentials.
      5. capital differentials.
    8. What direct labor cost increases or decreases occur as a result of automation?
  6. Additional topics of Interest
    1. Are there committees established to identify, review, and promote technological advances at different government or authority levels (i.e., regional or national)?
    2. Is heat straightening used to assist repair of damaged bridge members?
    3. What bearings are being used?
      1. Are comparable bearings used for steel and concrete bridges?
      2. Are they fabricated in the shop or by specialty manufacturers?
      3. What controls the type selection?
      4. What do you see as trends for the future?
    4. How closely do design engineers work with fabricators/erectors/inspectors prior to fabrications and erection?
    5. What part of the design/fabrication/construction process has the potential for the most improvement?
    6. What measures are being taken to make steel bridges more competitive?
    7. What percent of your budget is invested in research and development? What government incentives are provided?

Scan Panel

Partnership Between FHWA, Private Industry, And Academia

Steel Bridge Fabrication Scan Panel is made up of representatives from the following:

  • American Iron and Steel Institute
    • Alex Wilson, Chairman-AISI Transportation & Infrastructure Committee
  • American Welding Society
    • Hardy Campbell, Senior Staff Engineer-Technical Services
  • Bethlehem Lukens Plate
    • Alex Wilson, Customer Technical Service Manager
  • ESAB
    • Jerry Uttrachi, Vice President Equipment Marketing
  • Federal Highway Administration
    • Krishna Verma, Welding Engineer, Office of Bridge TechnologyTeam Leader
    • Kathleen Linehan, Washington, D.C. Division Bridge Engineer
    • Milo Cress, Nebraska Division Bridge Engineer
    • Bill Wright, TFHRC Laboratory Manager
  • High Steel Structures, Inc.
    • Pat Loftus, President
    • Bob Kase, Vice President Engineering-Field Operations & Technology
  • Illinois DOT
    • Ralph Anderson, Engineer of Bridges and Structures
  • Lehigh University
    • Dr. John Fisher, Director Report Facilitator
  • National Steel Bridge Alliance
    • Arun Shirole, Executive Director
    • Bill McEleney, Regional Program Director
  • PDM Bridge - Wausau, IL
    • Randy Sathre, Maintenance/Facilities Engineer
  • Texas DOT
    • Ronnie Medlock, Structural Engineer
  • University of Delaware
    • Dr. Dennis Mertz, Professor
  • University of Texas-Austin
    • Dr. Karl Frank, Professor
  • Utah Pacific Bridge
    • Jim Hamilton, Superintendent
  • West Virginia DOT
    • James Sothen, Director-Structural Engr. Div.
Updated: 06/27/2017
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000