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Kinetica Dynamics: Skyscraper Stabilizer
18 May 2017
Kinetica Dynamics may be a young start-up, but its approach to stabilizing tall buildings is based on a well-established idea. "It's a reinvigoration of an old vibration damping technology," says Michael Montgomery, an engineer and the company's co-founder and chief executive.

The technology, a polymer that diminishes vibration and shock, is bonded tightly to the structure of buildings and was first used in the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center to prevent motion sickness caused by the upper parts of the towers moving in the wind. The polymer, which was created by the US technology company 3M, was installed between the steel frames throughout the towers to dissipate vibrations.

In the past few decades, however, high-rise buildings have been built mostly out of concrete. The 3M polymer isn't as efficient with this construction method. Instead, wind-damping systems in these skyscrapers usually involve huge tanks of water or steel pendulums at the top of the building. But these systems occupy a lot of space and cannot efficiently be used to reduce seismic vibrations or the damage they cause.

By placing large dampers at locations between concrete structures where the stresses from vibrations are the highest, Kinetica has adapted the original distributed system to work efficiently in concrete buildings.

Montgomery's PhD supervisor, Constantin Christopoulos, a civil engineer at the University of Toronto in Canada, and his colleagues devised the system in 2004. Suspecting that unless they took on the commercial challenge themselves, the idea would never make it out of academic journals, Montgomery and Christopoulos launched the company in 2011."If we didn't step up and develop it, we knew it would go by the wayside," says Montgomery.

The biggest challenge, says Montgomery, is getting the risk-averse construction industry to take a chance on a start-up with an unconventional idea. "They're happy to be second, but scared to be first," he says. "They want to work with people who have done it before."

Kinetica has partnered with 3M and Japanese manufacturing company Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal. These big companies can help Kinetica to get a seat at the table to pitch its technique. They also manufacture the product, whereas Kinetica handles the design. Kinetica also now pitches itself as a company that uses a damper that has a long and successful history in steel buildings, rather than as a young start-up with a new idea.

The slow pace of large-building construction is another challenge for Kinetica. "We're a small company dealing with timelines of 5 to 7 years," says Montgomery. That's a pretty long time to stay afloat before the device actually gets into a building.

The company takes on consulting jobs to bridge the gap, but its founders hope that Kinetica is about to take off. The first building to use its damping system is currently under construction in Toronto, with the dampers set to be installed in the next six months. Another five buildings are in various stages of design.

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