The Welding Institute

Revisiting a Small Part of The Welding Institute’s History

2 Mar 2023 1:30 PM | Anonymous

As part of the 100 years anniversary celebrations, we are revisiting parts of our century long history – including an artefact from the early days of the Institute!

71 years ago, in 1952, former wartime Minister for Food, Lord Woolton opened a new Fatigue Testing Laboratory at TWI’s Abington site.

Lord Woolton used a ceremonial gavel to open the laboratory and it was this distinctive piece of history that was returned to The Welding Institute by David Natzler, who was passed the small wooden hammer by his friend.

David’s father, Pierre Natzler, had been involved in welding all his life and had relations with The Welding Institute. Therefore, David kindly decided to honour his father by bequeathing the gavel to The Institute.

The gavel includes an inscription on a silver plate which reads, “British Welding Research Association Used by the Rt Hon Lord Woolton P.C. C.H. to open the Fatigue Testing Laboratory at Abington – 23rd June 1952.

A Unique Build

The fatigue laboratory was built specifically to house a large Lösenhausen fatigue machine, with a 5 ton crane being brought in to help with the installation. The 200 tonne machine was the largest fatigue machine in the world at the time. While the Lösenhausen machine was remarkable for the period, the laboratory structure itself was also ground-breaking.

The fatigue laboratory was one of the first buildings globally to be built using Plastic Design Theory, which was developed in the 1940s.

Plastic Design Theory was a original approach to the design of steel-framed structures following research carried out under Cambridge University’s leadership. Professor John Baker carried out the research via a British Welding Research Association Committee on the Load Carrying Capacity of Frame Structures. This led to a 1948 amendment to BS 449, related to ‘The Use of Structural Steel in Building.’ Plastic Design Theory allowed design loads in steel framed structures to be more accurately calculated, and consequently permitted the use of smaller sections for beams and columns, leading to a more economical use of steel. As a result of this, the fracture laboratory was claimed to be 50% lighter than an equivalent conventional structure.

While the Lösenhausen machine was certainly the catalyst behind the build of the new facility, the laboratory also housed other prominent pieces of equipment, including the ‘Jacks Rig,’ which was built by former TWI Chief Executive Bevan Braithwaite and is still in use today!

Fatigue Laboratory Work

The Lösenhausen machine was used frequently on a number of projects in the decades following, including for a programme testing the fatigue properties of joint designs, which led to an innovative new design standard. Leading to aid fatigue based failure in engineering components and structures. 

The End of an Era

Fatigue Lab Switch OffAfter 61 years of service, the fatigue laboratory was demolished in 2013, image to the right is of the laboratory being switched off, to make way for the building of new facilities at TWI’s headquarters near Cambridge. While the Jacks Rig was moved into the newly built engineering hall, the Lösenhausen machine was eventually taken out of service and replaced with newer rigs to perform industrial fatigue tests. 

However, with the return of the gavel that was used to open the original fatigue laboratory, there remains a strong bond to the heritage of The Welding Institute and demonstrates the foundations of the work carried out on fatigue research and expertise.

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