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Construction Science Fiction: The Electro-Carbon Lift

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The ironworkers eagerly awaited the start of their shift. It was six-thirty in the morning, and crew was sitting in the parking lot. John Marken, the foreman, was in the cab of his truck talking to his wife on his wristphone. Dave and Michael, the young connectors, were discussing last night’s ball game, Dave tying the laces of his boots and Michael taking a puff from his electric cigarette. Mitch, the old man of the crew, at 49 years old, was telling war stories to the apprentice, Luis, and the hook man, Duron. The TV16 news truck pulled into the split-gravel parking lot.

Today was the first field test of the Electro-Carbon Lifting System, developed by the Telsa Group. For the last two days, the ironworkers strung the curtain of carbon fiber from the temporary support post attached to the fourth floor of the exposed structural steel frame. Salex Steel company owner Sal Alexander sat impatiently in the doublewide construction trailer cluttered with blueprints along with dignitaries and honored guests.

A voice broke out above the din of low voices.

“What you will see today, for the first time in public, is the raising of an assembled structural steel wall segment eleven feet, three inches in height and forty feet, nine inches in length,” declared David Fasinelli, the chief engineer for Telsa. “Induction of just 75 volts of direct current through our Magna Lift generator and directed into the carbon fibers will elevate this six-ton assembly into the waiting hands of the ironworking crew that will guide the section to its final resting place atop the fourth floor of this structure. No crane will be used, only the excited molecules interacting with the ferric components.” The voices once again grew to a low indistinguishable hum. The two doors of the trailer swung open and the group began to shuffle out into the cool morning air. The smell of the sea salt blowing from the bay to the west was in the air. 

Dave and Michael were in the construction elevator ascending the side of the old building. Slabs of granite had been removed to accommodate the new construction. A herd of well-dressed executives and construction managers made their way into the roped-off area between the portable construction trailer and the 1990s vintage four-story building. David Fasinelli and Sal Alexander took their place behind a blue and yellow console that matched the colors of the Telsa company logo. 

The pre-assembled building wall section, braced by rust colored steel pipes, sat on wooden four-by-four timbers in alignment with the building wall to which it would soon extend further skyward. Red carbon cables—each about three inches thick and a quarter of an inch wide—hung from brackets atop the building. They shimmered and danced in the early morning breeze. Melvin Kennedy, the project manager for the Summl Corp., the general contractor, lifted his microphone. His nasal voice rang over the loudspeakers. He welcomed the honored guests and the reporters that would witness this historic event. “Three…Two…One…Let the lift begin," he declared.

Fasinelli began to turn knobs on the console. A low vibrating hum was heard above the murmurs of the attendees. The voltage made its way through the thick black cables to the red carbon fiber cables. The ironworker ground crew stood ready—each man was at one of the pipe braces—and their tool belts were left at the gang shack as the steel wrenches could be pulled by the magnetic field.

The wall section began to raise from its timber supports, first the near end, and with slight adjustment by Fasinelli, then the far end rose ever so slightly from the support. It was now floating about six inches from the ground. A couple of gasps echoed from the crowd, and one loud voice shouted, “Yes!”

The ironworker ground crew released the braces by hand then backed away from the wall. The wall floated like a bumblebee and started to drift slightly away from the crowd. Fasinelli quickly toggled the controls, and the wall sat floating completely still as if in magical levitation. The engineer pulled slightly down on the sliding control and the wall began to rise as if pulled up by a crane. The grey painted iron frame rose slowly between the red carbon fibers. With a slight buzz-crackle, electric noise hummed through the assembly. The electro-carbon cords slithered like snakes around the slowly rising steel. Floor by floor, the wall section floated up to its final elevation, about four minutes in all.

Dave and Michael, the ironworker connectors, were leaning with outstretched arms at each end of the elevated monolith. Fasinelli adjusted the horizontal control knob, which caused the wall to drift towards the ironworkers. Dave spoke into his radio as the wall hovered directly over the connection base plates. The connectors dropped their special plastic-composite spud wrenches into the holes of the wall base plates.

"Let her down slowly," Dave spoke into the small radio. Fasinelli slowly pushed up on the sliding control until the word “High,” the crew's verbal signal to stop hoisting, broke the radio silence. The connectors spun bolts into the three column connections and tightened them. Dave declared to the radio and the crew, “She’s safe.” Fasinelli turned all of the controls to zero and shut off the power switch. Applause rang out from the crowd.

Fasinelli shook hands with Sal Alexander then walked over to Melvin Kennedy. The men shook hands, and Melvin handed David the microphone. “Ladies, gentlemen, and honored guests. Today you have witnessed the first public demonstration of the Telsa Electro-Carbon Lifting System. This is a historic, world event. Years of research, utilizing old and new technology, have led us to this milestone in cost cutting and safety technology. In the near future we will be able to lift heavy objects into space at low cost without using rockets. Thank you for your attendance.”

The group began to split up, some going into the construction trailers and others to their vehicles. Several reporters began to surround Fasinelli. The ironworker crew took their break on the roof celebrating with coffee, donuts and soda supplied by the general contractor.

 

George Facista hails from Phoenix, Ariz. He is employed as apprenticeship supervisor of the District Council of Union Ironworkers of California, Nevada and Arizona. He has worked in all aspects of the ironworking trade for 35 years as foreman, general foreman, inspector and safety representative. Facista began teaching apprentice ironworkers in 1997 and assumed the role of apprenticeship coordinator of Arizona in 2005. He became apprenticeship supervisor in 2009. Facista earned his associate degree in Ironworking in 1996 and his bachelor’s degrees in Safety and Health and Education in 2001. He also is a Certified Welding Inspector. In his spare time, George enjoys playing guitar, hunting and spending with family and friends.

To see all of the stories in ENR's Imagining Construction's Future science fiction collection, click here.

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