The Process of Building Implosions - Part 2

In the last article (part 1) it was discussed how we plan out a building implosion. Once the team has a clear idea of how the structure should fall, it's time to prepare the building. The first step in preparation, which often begins before the blasters have actually surveyed the site, is clear any debris out of the building. We mentioned in our Part 1 article the word “soft strip”. Soft strip is where our team of construction personnel, or, more accurately, destruction personnel, begin taking out non-load-bearing walls within the building. This makes for a cleaner break at each floor: If these walls were left intact, they would stiffen the building, hindering its collapse. Destruction crews may also weaken the supporting columns with sledge hammers or steel-cutters, so that they give way more easily.

Next, blasters can start drilling and loading the columns with explosives. Blasters use different explosives for different materials, and determine the amount of explosives needed based on the thickness of the material. For concrete columns, blasters use traditional dynamite or a similar explosive material. Dynamite is just absorbent stuffing soaked in a highly combustible chemical or mixture of chemicals. When the chemical is ignited, it burns quickly, producing a large volume of hot gas in a short amount of time. This gas expands rapidly, applying immense outward pressure (up to 600 tons per square inch) on whatever is around it. Blasters cram this explosive material into narrow bore holes drilled in the concrete columns. When the explosives are ignited, the sudden outward pressure sends a powerful shock wave busting through the column at supersonic speed, shattering the concrete into tiny chunks.

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Demolishing steel columns is a bit more difficult, as the dense material is much stronger. For buildings with a steel support structure, blasters typically use the specialized explosive material cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine, called RDX for short. RDX-based explosive compounds expand at a very high rate of speed, up to 27,000 feet per second (8,230 meters per second). Instead of disintegrating the entire column, the concentrated, high-velocity pressure slices right through the steel, splitting it in half. Additionally, blasters may ignite dynamite on one side of the column to push it over in a particular direction.

To ignite both RDX and dynamite, you must apply a severe shock. In building demolition, blasters accomplish this with a blasting cap, a small amount of explosive material (called the primer charge) connected to some sort of fuse. The traditional fuse design is a long cord with explosive material inside. When you ignite one end of the cord, the explosive material inside it burns at a steady pace, and the flame travels down the cord to the detonator on the other end. When it reaches this point, it sets off the primary charge.

Some implosion companies like to use electrical detonators instead of traditional fuse, however, we here at FBUSA don’t like to use electrical detonators due to their history of pre-detonation accidents. As a small energy in the building can initiate the implosion in turn causing a major accident to happen. This is why we prefer the use of non-electric cord together with detonating cord, or the other option, use electronic initiation, which gives the perfect detonation time of the hole. This minimizes the air blast and vibration. The problem is that it’s more expensive to detonate the explosives this way but for the sake of Safety this is always money well spent. As mentioned earlier, for reasons to use electrical detonators these days instead of a traditional fuse is for the following reasons. An electrical detonator fuse, called a lead line, is just a long length of electrical wire. At the detonator end, the wire is surrounded by a layer of explosive material. This detonator is attached directly to the primer charge affixed to the main explosives. When you send current through the wire (by hooking it up to a battery, for example), electrical resistance causes the wire to heat up. This heat ignites the flammable substance on the detonator end, which in turn sets off the primer charge, which triggers the main explosives.

To control the explosion sequence, blasters configure the blast caps with simple delay mechanisms, sections of slow-burning material positioned between the fuse and the primer charge. By using a longer or shorter length of delay material, the blasters can adjust how long it takes each explosive to go off. The length of the fuse itself is also a factor, since it will take much longer for the charge to move down a longer fuse than a shorter one. Using these timing devices, the blasters precisely dictate the order of the explosions.

Blasters determine how much explosive material to use based largely on their own experience and the information provided by the architects and engineers who originally built the building. But most of the time, they won't rely on this data alone. To make sure they don't overload or under-load the support structure, the blasters perform a test blast on a few of the columns, which they wrap in a shield for safety. The blasters try out varying degrees of explosive material, and based on the effectiveness of each explosion, they determine the minimum explosive charge needed to demolish the columns. By using only the necessary amount of explosive material, the blasters minimize flying debris, reducing the likelihood of damaging nearby structures.

To further reduce flying debris, blasters may wrap chain-link fencing and geotextile fabric around each column. The fence keeps the large chunks of concrete from flying out, and the fabric catches most of the smaller bits. Blasters may also wrap fabric around the outside of each floor that is rigged with explosives. This acts as an extra net to contain any exploding concrete that tears through the material around each individual column. Structures surrounding the building may also be covered to protect them from flying debris and the pressure of the explosions.

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When everything is set up, it's time for the drop. In our 3rd and final article, we'll explain what final steps are takin to prepare for the implosion, and we'll look at the implosion itself. We'll also touch on evaluating the post implosion project once the dust has cleared to assure all is safe for the project itself and the surrounding area. For Part 3 of the Process of Building Implosions CLICK HERE.