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Testing times


THE MOST hush-hush of the activities that take place at the Taylor Woodrow technology centre are connected to the nuclear industry. A special area is dedicated to testing the robustness of transport flasks. Models one third of the scale of the operational flask are dropped 9 m through a hole in the roof on to a reinforced strong floor section. 'We only get enough models for one-off tests so we have to get it right every time, ' says Dr Rennie Chadwick (below).

In one area of the site a low rise concrete frame leans at a crazy angle. While Dr Chadwick is reluctant to be drawn on names, the client that requested the tests comes from the nuclear industry, and 'had a particularly unusual set of requirements'. The structure, a full scale version of part of the final building design, was tested for its maximum def lection under a given load. 'We put cables over an A-frame and pulled it, ' says Dr Chadwick. 'It passed with flying colours.' The centre has proved beneficial not only for Taylor Woodrow, but also for the many other firms which use the facilities there ? the acoustic testing facility has become so popular that it is in use every day.

Currently, the fire facilities are being put to use testing ETFE panels, intended for use in a shopping centre roof.

'We can find out how the atrium will behave in the event of a fire, ' Dr Chadwick explains. 'The idea is to get them to fall like glass to give natu ral ventilation. We can wire the system so the roof falls in. The HSE are interested in our findings.' The team demonstrated their scaffold-free solution ? which was approved and has now been fully adopted across Taylor Woodrow sites ? for the system build market to the HSE at the technology centre. Different types of modular buildings are also being examined, from lightweight steel to timber frame.

But not every exercise is about cutting edge technology.

'We're testing how you put a kitchen together, ' Dr Chadwick says. 'We've got an accepted method now. When you're doing 400 flats you don't want wastage or trades having to do second visits. It's really a logistics exercise.' The cladding test area at Leighton Buzzard is the largest outside the USA, and has been running for 20 years. Cladding systems are fitted to steel frames before a standard sequence of tests, wh ich encapsulate EU regulations, are undertaken. In addition to static tests checking for leaks and def lection, dynamic tests, employing a huge jet engine to blow wind and water at speeds of up to 100 mph, are also used. 'Most major developments in the UK use a proprietary cladding system which has been tested here, ' Dr Chadwick says.