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December 02, 2014

How GatorBridge helps ships navigate the Ohio River

GatorBridge recently played a role in maintaining one of America’s most venerable engineering marvels:  the series of locks and dams that enable ships and barges to navigate 981 miles on the Ohio River. 

A watercraft travelling the river’s full length must stair-step its way through 21 locks maintained by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE). At the Racine Locks and Dam in Letart, West Virginia, USACE needed to replace structures supporting the driveshafts that raise and lower lock gates.

GatorBridge’s solution consisted of eight aluminum bridges, each 5’ wide by 88’ long.  A driveshaft, supported by bearings (called “pillow blocks”) mounted on pedestals, runs the length of each bridge.  GatorBridge was selected to design and fabricate not only the bridges, but also the pedestals.

Gator’s engineering team designed the bridges and pedestals to withstand imbalances that may occur. Engineers used finite element analysis (FEA) software to calculate component displacements, strains, and stresses for the driveshaft and its supports.

“Unlike most of our competitors, we use FEA on every project because it’s a very realistic, precise way to analyze stress and movement,” said Ben Brown, engineering manager. “The output is a heat map showing how stresses flow through a structure.”

Just as locks help ships “step” their way up or down a river, Gator stepped up to meet the highly unique needs of a client for a customized solution.   A testament to our team’s performance occurred mid-way through the project:  USACE opted to send additional work to Gator. 

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