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Educat i on & T

Educat i on & T
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October 2004 Page 10
he need to assess the behaviour of structures when
they rock arises in many applications in earthquake
engineering such as the overturning potential of
electrical cabinets, the stability of stacked storage vessels
and the behaviour of freestanding and backfilled walls. In
some cases bridge piers are fitted with rocker bearings to
de-tune the structure from resonant effects that would
occur in an earthquake if the pier was fixed at the base.
Contact, separation and sliding at the base of a rocking
structure can be simulated in dynamic finite element
models by applying a contact inter face between the block
base and the floor support. The contact inter face in a
rocking model however does not experience large plastic
deformation as in a crash test and neither is it slow
enough to neglect inertial effects and apply a non-linear
static analysis.
When an earthquake time histor y is applied in a rocking
model, the amplitude of rocking can build up progressively
and damping in the model can have a significant effect on
peak di spl acement s and assessment of overt urni ng
potential. Damping in the system is affected by the
flexibility of the rocking body and the flexibility of the base
support and for this reason a purely kinematic rigid body
approach may not always be appropriate.
Analyt ical Solut ions
If the co-efficient of friction of the materials at the base of
the structure is high, sliding action can be neglected and
equations in [ 1] can be applied to estimate the rocking
period. Much research has been carried out to establish
relationships between earthquake characteristics and
rocking behaviour [ 1] [ 2] [ 3] [ 4] .
Unlike a spring system in which the period of vibration is
constant with increasing amplitude, in a rocking system
the period of rocking increases as the rocking amplitude
increases. Figure 2 shows this effect by applying the
rocking period equation in [ 1] over a range of peak
rocking angles for a block with the dimensions in the
example Finite Element model described below.
The width and height dimensions of a block affect the
theoretical period of rocking, however density of a block
for a given dimension has no influence. The period of
rocking is also reduced by rocking impacts reducing the
sway amplitude over each half cycle.
Ear t hquake R
Ear t hquake R
ocki ng
ocki ng
Behavi our i n F
Behavi our i n F
i ni t e
i ni t e
El ement Model s
El ement Model s
Dr Ror y Lennon, of Halcrow Special Structures, discusses the analysis of tall blocks, such as bridge piers, under
earthquake conditions.
Figure 1: 3D rocking wall model
October 2004
Educat i on & T
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Under horizontal seismic acceleration, rocking of a block
will not begin until the acceleration is large enough to
cause uplif t. This occurs when the overturning moment is
greater than the self-weight restoring moment, and this
occurs when the ground acceleration is greater than the
block horizontal to vertical aspect ratio x g.
Time St ep Model
In the equations of motion of a rocking block, inertial
rotation about either corner at the base of the block (I
) is
equated with the self-weight restoring moment and the
moment applied by acceleration of the ground (u
) in an
= -mg R Sin( - ) - mu
R Cos( - )
The implementation of the equations in a numerical
routine is complicated by the self weight restoring moment
changing sign each time the block rocks at the base from
one corner to the other. A non-linear rocking model with
a single degree of freedom the angle of rotation can
be implemented by applying the equations of motion in a
time-stepping routine with a conditional statement to
change the sign of the restoring moment and apply
impact damping at the point of impact in each half cycle.
This type of model can be generated in a spreadsheet and
can respond to horizontal and vertical acceleration time
histories, giving a 2D rocking effect without sliding.
Figure 4 shows the rotation of a rocking block in a single
degree of freedom system, tilted initially to an angle equal
to half the overturning angle. In this case no ground
acceleration is applied, the block is tilted and released to
rock in free vibration. The pattern of displacement in
Figure 4 appears at first glance to be damped harmonic
motion, however the rotation follows a hyperbolic path.
Angular velocity in Figure 5 corresponds to the rotations in
Figure 5 and shows that angular velocity decreases
instantaneously at each rocking impact. The time step in
a dynamic finite element analysis has to be small enough
to model this sudden change.
In Figure 6 t he sign of angular accelerat ion, also
corresponding to the rotations in Figure 4, is reversed at
each impact as the block rocks from one corner to
another, changing the sign of the self-weight restoring
The magni t ude of accel erat i on decreases bet ween
impacts as the horizontal distance between the centre of
mass in the block and the supporting corner gets smaller,
reducing the lever arm of the self-weight restoring
moment between impacts. If this lever arm distance goes
to zero between impacts, the block is at the point of
Figure 2: Theoretical rocking period in the example model Figure 4: S.D.O.F. and Finite Element rocking model rotations
Figure 3: Rocking block analysis parameters
Figure 5: Angular velocity in the example rocking model
Finit e Element Modeling
Creating a dynamic finite element rocking model with
cont act int er f aces allows addit ional f eat ures of t he
simulation to be included:
Sliding at the base can be modelled in addition to
Sof t/plastic soil support, concrete crushing at the
contact inter face and other non-linear material effects
can be considered.
Geometric details in the rocking structure affecting
centre of mass and contact positions can be included.
The analysis can be carried out in 3D to include plan
displacements and rotations.
Vertical stacks of more than one block can be modelled
(Figure 1)
In an explicit dynamic analysis acceptable element sizes
can be determined from the usual wave speed rules. If an
implicit dynamic analysis is carried out, element sizes
should be small enough to capture modes of vibration of
the rocking block and floor support that arise from impact
at the base.
It is not always necessar y to model the floor beneath the
block, grounded contact elements could be applied at the
base of the block instead. However, with Raleigh stiffness
damping applied in a Finite Element model energy is
dissipated in the regions that vibrate on impact in the floor
support and the rocking block and modelling the floor with
beams, shel l s or sol i ds al l ows great er cont rol over
damping in the model.
The stiffness (beta) component of Raleigh damping can
be applied to control the level of amplitude decay in a
rocking block. The mass (alpha) component of Raleigh
damping is associated with damping inertial movements
and unless the structure is affected by fluid drag, only
stiffness damping is needed.
Stiffness damping in the supporting floor can be tuned to
a prescribed level consistent with structural damping
based on the floor natural frequency. If it is possible to
apply different levels of Raleigh stiffness damping between
the floor support and the rocking block, stiffness damping
in the rocking part of the model can be adjusted to give
overall damping consistent with experimental test data or
other targets.
Rocking amplitude decay can be used to establish the
overall system damping with the following formula [ 2] :
= 1/n [ ln(
is the proportion of critical damping
n is the number of impacts

is the starting tilt angle

is the peak rocking angle af ter impact n
Cont act int erf ace propert ies
The normal contact stiffness applied at the block to floor
inter face influences the overall behaviour of the rocking
system. A low normal contact stiffness gives greater
contact penetration, a longer impact time and a higher
bounce effect at the base and this may not be realistic for
models with stiff materials.
A higher contact stiffness requires a smaller time step size
and can also affect system damping. To refine these
parameters a sensitivity study checking the effect of time-
step size and contact stiffness on amplitude decay may be
needed. A low coefficient of friction in a Mohr-Coulomb
friction model at the contact inter face generates sliding
and at the point of impact in a rocking cycle. This can
have the effect of reducing rocking amplitudes as shown
in the example model.
Example Finit e Element Model
The exampl e Fi ni t e
Element model in Figure 7
i s meshed f rom pl ai n
strain quad elements to
gi ve a concret e bl ock
section 6m high by 1.2m
wide and a floor support
1m high by 4m wide, fully
fixed at the ends. 2D
node t o node cont act
elements are applied at
the five nodal positions
coincident in the base of
the block and the floor.
The nor mal cont act
stiffness is 10
N/m. The
transient analysis uses a
const ant t i me st ep of
1/1000 of a second over 5
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October 2004 Page 12
Figure 6: Angular acceleration in the example rocking model
Figure 7: 2D example rocking model
October 2004
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Comparison of S.D.O.F and Finit e Element Models
Figure 4 shows a close agreement between rotations in
the single degree of freedom spreadsheet model and the
Finit e Element model wit h small dif f erences in t he
distribution of amplitude decay near the start and end of
the tests.
Ef f ect of Base Frict ion on Rocking Behaviour
The rocking response of two similar models are compared
in Figure 8. The no sliding model has a coefficient of
f ri ct i on of 1. 0 at t he cont act i nt er f ace, ef f ect i vel y
preventing horizontal sliding at the base. The sliding
model has a coefficient of friction of 0.1 giving less
resistance to sliding. The effect of sliding at the base on
reducing rocking amplitudes is clear in the rotation time
histories in Figure 8.
Summar y
Rocking behaviour in tall blocks under earthquake loading
can be analysed to various levels of detail. Rocking
period, peak displacements and overturning potential can
be i nvest i gat ed wi t h est abl i shed equat i ons and
procedures. However the rotation of the block in response
to ground movement changes at different angles of
rotation in the rocking cycle and to investigate rocking
response for a specific earthquake condition requires a
time-histor y analysis.
If base sliding can be neglected in the model a single
degree of freedom time-step method can be used to
si mul at e rot at i on under hori zont al and vert i cal
acceleration time histor y loadings.
Creat i ng a dynami c Fi ni t e El ement model al l ows
additional details to be included in the analysis such as 3D
displacement, greater damping control, sliding and sof t
base support conditions. Conditioning of the contact
inter face in a rocking Finite Element model can have a
significant effect on the rocking behaviour.
Ref erences
[ 1] Housner, G.W, The behavi our of Invert ed Pendul um
Structures During Earthquakes , Bulletin of the Seismological
Society of America, Vol.53, No.2, Februar y 1963.
[ 2] Priestly, J.N., Evison, R.J., Carr, A.J., Seismic response of
structures free to rock on their foundations , Bulletin of the New
Zeal and Nat i onal Soci et y f or Eart hquake Engi neeri ng,
September 1978
[ 3] C. Sim, A. K. Chopra and J. Penzien, Rocking response of
rigid blocks to earthquakes , Earthquake Engineering and
Structural Dynamics, Vol. 8, 565-587, 1980
[ 4] Ishiyama, Y, Motions of rigid bodies and criteria for
overturning by earthquake excitations , Earthquake Engineering
and Structural Dynamics, Vol. 10, 635-650, 1982
[ 5] Advanced Contact Analysis in ANSYS , CAD-FEM GmbH /
IDAC Ireland course notes 2003
Cont act
Ror y Lennon
Halcrow Special Structures
Figure 8: Effect of friction at the base of the block