When I think of groups that add to the wear and tear on our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, I might consider truck drivers, long distance commuters, or public transportation operators. Even if I had been able to expand my list to include bungee jumpers and people who misunderstand how close their car is to the sidewalk, it would never have occurred to me that in Pennsylvania there is damage being done to roadways by Amish buggy drivers. While not the greater part of the damage done, it is still sufficient to have warranted the attention of Munir Nazzal, at Ohio University’s Russ College of Engineering and Technology where he fills the position of Associate Professor of Civil Engineering. Nazzal applied for and received from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) a $320,000 grant to evaluate the damage and work to understand how to mitigate it.

While the wheels of the buggies are made out of steel, it is actually the horses’ shoes that are causing the most damage, fracturing the asphalt and causing rutting. The reason is that the shoes, or calks, are similar to cleats and are designed to give the horses better traction as they haul their carriage. As Nazzal explained:

“The loads aren’t that huge, but they’re being transferred to the pavement through this small area. This is resulting in huge stresses being applied to the pavement.”

Munir Nazzal, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering

The research team will attack this problem from two directions. First, investigation into the makeup of different asphalt mixtures that might be more resistant to such rutting will be undertaken. Second, they will attempt a redesign of the calk itself in order to make it less likely to cause the damage in the first place. One approach that Nazzal’s team will explore is replacing the cleat, normally made out of borium, with a screw-in stud that has a larger, hard polymer surface area to distribute the weight over. Nazzal described what he hopes to achieve with this shoe redesign:

“Drilling holes in the shoe itself and screwing in the calks would likely reduce stress on the roadways. The calks would have different designs for each season to adjust for changing road conditions, and they would possibly be made using 3D printing technology.”

The Amish community, not known for their easy embrace of technology, is actually receptive to this study and the possibilities it presents. Despite the common misconception that the Amish reject outright all modern technology, there is a variance in the types of technology that are permissible within different Amish communities. The key determining factor applied to the screening of modern technology is the question of whether or not it might cause a lessening of the connecting bonds of their tightly knit communities. A meeting back in January was conducted between ODOT, Nazzal, and representatives of the Amish in which they expressed a willingness to participate and will record their daily driving activity once the calks are replaced in order to better understand the lifespan of the redesigned shoes. According to Nazzal:

“We want to make sure that it is cost-effective and that the Amish community would use it. At the end of the day, they’ll be the ones who are using it, so we need their feedback about whether they would be interested in using it in the future.”

[Image: AP]

Another option being explored is the possibility of providing the horses with boots. These are more expensive on the front end, but better for the horses in the long run. After all, while silent, the horses are also an important group of stakeholders in this experiment.

3D printing isn’t all space station parts and advanced prosthetics, or even 3D printed cleats only for MLB pitchers, but instead its usefulness also comes in its ability to interface with a wide variety of everyday low tech and create little improvements that make big differences. Discuss in the Amish Buggies forum at 3DPB.com.

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