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DOI 10.1617/s11527-012-9960-9

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

junction of pultruded GFRP beams

Yu Bai Thomas Keller Chao Wu

Received: 1 June 2012 / Accepted: 16 October 2012 / Published online: 23 October 2012

RILEM 2012

common failure mode of pultruded glass fiber-reinforced (GFRP) beams subjected to bending. The

causes of this separation appear to depend on the

presence of lateral supports to prevent lateral buckling.

To clarify the driving mechanisms, four-point bending

experiments were carried out on pultruded GFRP

girders. Lateral buckling was prevented by using

lateral supports. Web-flange separation failure due to

exceeding the shear strength was observed before any

buckling was seen. Furthermore, nonlinear FEA was

performed to identify the critical stress states of GFRP

beams from the research literature, without any lateral

supports in the post-buckling phase. In this case, based

on numerical calculation, the critical stress states and

their locations depended significantly on the shape of

initial imperfections. The ultimate loads, with or

without lateral supports, were predicted by a modified

Discovery Early Career Researcher Award.

Y. Bai (&) C. Wu

Department of Civil Engineering, Monash University,

Melbourne, Australia

e-mail: yu.bai@monash.edu

T. Keller

Composite Construction Laboratory CCLab, Ecole

Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne EPFL, BP 2225,

Station 16, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

e-mail: thomas.keller@epfl.ch

web-flange junction.

Keywords Fiber-reinforced polymer Pultrusion

Web-flange junction Bending Buckling

Initial imperfection

1 Introduction

Glass fiber reinforced polymer (GFRP) composite

materials are increasingly used for load-bearing

structures because of their excellent physical and

mechanical properties, including low weight, high

strength-to-weight ratio and corrosion resistance [1].

However, some less advantageous properties also

exist, which may hinder more widespread use. One

unfavorable aspect is the relatively low Youngs

modulus of these materials, which makes the serviceability of GFRP structures the most significant design

parameter and prevents full use of the material

strength [2]. Furthermore, the low modulus also

increases possibility to buckling failure, in general

and in particular due to more significant second order

effects [3]. Another characteristic of concern is the

low ratio of shear to compressive strength due to

the materials orthotropic nature [4]. Especially at the

web-flange junction of pultruded GFRP profiles, a

much lower shear strength has been reported [5, 6]

because of the presence of a roving-rich core at the

heart of the web and flange junction.

1144

Concerning GFRP profiles under axial compression, a low shear-to-compressive strength ratio and

significant second order effects induce shear failure

prior to material compressive failure or even buckling

[7, 8]. The results support the hypothesis that global/

local buckling-interaction failure modes observed in

open thin-walled cross sectionssuch as I-profiles

[911]can be induced by shear failure in the webflange junction. Formulations to take shear failure into

account have been developed in [4] for the prediction

of the ultimate loads of columns made of pultruded

GFRP profiles. Based on the above results, similar

delamination shear failure at the web-flange junction

may also occur in the compressive zone of pultruded

GFRP beams subjected to bending because of similar

stress states at the junction to those in columns.

Various failure modes of pultruded GFRP beams

are identified and summarized in [11]. In addition to

longitudinal material failure because of compression

or tension (bending failure), particular failure modes

such as lateral-torsional buckling [1214], web crushing and web buckling in transverse direction at

concentrated loads or reactions [15], and local buckling of walls due to in-plane compression [16, 17] have

been reported. Elements that significantly influence

the stress state and failure mode are lateral supports,

which prevent global lateral buckling. In practice,

such supports are provided in many cases by slabs that

are connected to the upper (compressed) flanges. In the

presence of lateral supports, a GFRP beam subjected

mainly to a bending deformation may fail because of

the maximum tensile or compressive stress at flanges.

However, due to a low shear-to-compressive (or

tensile) strength associated to GFRP materials, shear

failure is more likely to occur. In a recent study [18],

pultruded GFRP I-beams were subjected to concentrated loads at the mid-span in the plane of the web.

The beams were constrained in the lateral direction to

avoid any lateral/torsional instability. All beams

exhibited a wedge-like shear failure at the upper

web-flange junction. On the other hand, pultruded

GFRP I-beams loaded without lateral supports exhibited separation of the flange and web during lateral

post-buckling [17]. The failure mode was numerically

analyzed and traced back to high transverse tensile

stresses [19]. A certain shape of the initial imperfection was assumed in the analysis. However, the

sensitivity of the numerical results to the selection of

this shape was not investigated and, based on [6], it is

to the separation of flange and web and the subsequent

lateral buckling of the web and flange. It therefore

becomes necessary to study more comprehensive

failure criterion to include stress components other

than the transverse tensile stress.

The aim of this paper is to contribute to the

clarification of the mechanisms that occur at the webflange junction of pultruded GFRP beams subjected to

simultaneous shear and axial compression. Four-point

bending tests were performed on laterally-constrained

GFRP girders with different cross-sections. The load

deflection responses and ultimate loads were recorded,

and the corresponding failure modes were carefully

examined. The stress states were identified at critical

locations to further examine the tested girders (with

lateral supports) and the above-mentioned [17, 19]

beams (without lateral supports), assuming different

initial imperfection shapes. The resulting stress states

at the critical locations were compared with a failure

criterion to derive the structural failure mechanisms

(before or after global buckling) through web and

flange separation.

2.1 Experimental investigation

The experiments described below were performed in

1998 for the design validation of the five-storey GFRP

Eyecatcher building in Basel, Switzerland, which

remains the tallest FRP building in the world. The

primary load-carrying structure of this building consists of three parallel trapezoidal GFRP frames

composed of pultruded shapes and connected by

wooden decks, as shown in Fig. 1 [20]. The structural

joints in the frame were bolted in order to facilitate

dismantling of the re-usable structure. Based on recent

findings concerning potential shear failure at the webflange junctions of pultruded GFRP composites [6, 8],

the former four-point bending experiments on single

span girders were re-analyzed in this regard.

Because the selection of cross-sectional shapes and

sizes of the girders was limited at that time, projecttailored cross-sections were designed by assembling

individual standard pultruded shapes. Three crosssections were built up using adhesive bonding

[20]. The same sections were used in the full-scale

1145

Fig. 1 Eye-catcher

building and its three

structural GFRP frames

were identical to the floor girder sections, sections T2

to the column sections, and sections T3 to the floor

girder sections at the bolted connections (crossing

points of girders and columns), and additional plates

were bonded to the webs to reinforce the shear

capacity in this case (T3).

The pultruded GFRP shapes were provided by

Fiberline Composites, Denmark. They consisted of

E-glass fibers embedded in an isophthalic polyester

resin. The fiber fractions were *50 % per volume or

70 % per weight, whereof *70 % were rovings and

30 % combined mats. The Youngs Modulus was

28 GPa in pultrusion direction and the shear modulus

3.0 GPa. The axial compressive strength and transverse tensile strength were 240 MPa and 51 MPa

respectively, and the interlaminar shear strength

31 MPa, according to the design manual [21] and

of the built-up sections were bonded using two

different two-component epoxy resin-based adhesives: Sikadur 330VP and the more liquid and more

easily processable Sk-8LVP from Sika AG, Zurich

(see Table 1). Curing of the bonded connections was

achieved in only two hours at 80 C in a paint drying

oven. Six girders were examined, two of each crosssection, and denominated as Tx-1 or Tx-2. Tx-1 girders

were bonded with the first, and Tx-2 girders with the

second adhesive, as shown in Table 1.

As members of the three frames, the girders and

columns of the building are subjected to significant

bending moments. Accordingly, all the specimens

were examined under a four-point bending set-up, as

shown in Fig. 3. The span was 5.68 m for girders T1

and T2, while 2.64 m was used for T3. A wooden plate

(140 9 180 mm2) was placed under each jack to

1146

Girder

Pultruded shapes

Adhesive

I (9106 mm4)

45.0

110.1

5.68 (6.00)

1.52

T1-1

U 240 9 72 9 12

Sikadur 330VP

T1-2

P 144 9 10

Sk-8 LVP

T2-1

T2-2

U 240 9 72 9 12

I 160 9 80 9 8

Sikadur 330VP

Sk-8 LVP

10.4

95.8

5.68 (6.00)

1.52

60.7

124.3

2.64 (3.00)

1.28

T3-1

U 240 9 72 9 12

Sikadur 330VP

T3-2

P 144 9 10

Sk-8 LVP

P 192 9 12

U U-shaped cross-section, I I-shaped section, P plate section, dimensions in (mm)

a

Web area ratio was obtained by area of webs over area of whole cross-section

floors prevent the global lateral buckling of the frame

elements, timber posts were installed at 2.08 m (T1

and T2) and 0.68 m (T3) from the adjacent ends to

prevent global lateral instability of the girders. A load

control mode at loading rates of 424 kN/min was

adopted up to the final structural collapse. The midspan deflections were measured and the failure modes

were recorded.

2.2 Experimental results and discussion

The load-dependent deflections at mid-span of all

girders are shown in Fig. 4. The responses were linear

up to the failure, which occurred before any buckling

phenomena were observed. The effect of the adhesive

type on the composite action between the pultruded

shapes could not be observed, as the corresponding

curves almost overlap. The resulting slopes of the

loaddisplacement curves and the ultimate loads and

showed a much higher slope and ultimate load because

of a much shorter span and the additional shear

reinforcements, while girders T1 and T2 exhibited

very similar responses because of similar moments

of inertia and the same span. However, the T2

girders failed at a much lower load level than the T1

girders.

The failure modes are shown in Fig. 5. The T1

girders exhibited a separation of the top flange from

the web of the U-shape below the jack, followed by the

detachment of the upper plate and buckling of the web,

as depicted in Fig. 5a. T2 girders separated between

the web and upper flange of the I-shape, as shown in

Fig. 5b. The crack started from the support point and

extended to the loading point. The failure mode of T3

girders was similar to that of the T2 girders. As shown

in Fig. 5c, delamination occurred between the top

flange and the web of the U-shape on one side from the

1147

Table 2 Experimental results and comparison of deflections at ultimate load to FEA results

Girder

Ultimate

load (kN)

Experim.

deflection (mm)

Experim. slope

(kN/mm)

Calculated

deflection (mm)

T1-1

103

253

0.41

247.8

T1-2

112

275

0.41

268.8

97.7

T2-1

64

177

0.36

205.6

126.0

T2-2

62

175

0.35

199.1

113.8

T3-1

268

56

4.8

51.1

89.5

T3-2

308

61

5.0

58.7

96.2

observed in the middle of the other web, followed by

the detachment of the inner plate.

An analysis of these failure modes revealed that

failure always occurred at locations of highest shear

stresses or high shear stresses in combination with

high axial (compression) stresses. With the exception

of T1, where the primary failure was limited to the

location below the jack, the separations always

initiated at one support point and propagated up to

the adjacent loading point, therefore covering the

length of constant shear loading.

Assuming webs are the main components of shear

resistance for I- or box-shaped cross-sections, the

critical shear stress could be estimated using the shear

force (i.e. the ultimate load from one load jack of the

four-point bending set-up) divided by the web area.

Plotting the ultimate load per jack against the web

area, shown in Fig. 6, resulted in an almost linear

relationship, which was confirmed by also taking

results from [17, 18, 23] into account. This result

suggests a similarity of the failure mechanism in all

those beam experiments as well as comparable shear

strength of the webs for those different pultruded

GFRP materials in bending. Therefore, in the following, simple beam theory was used to identify the stress

components at the critical positions for the experimental girders where lateral buckling was excluded, in

order to better understand the commonality of failure

modes. More advanced nonlinear FE analysis was

performed in Sect. 3 for beams loaded without any

lateral supports.

dE

aP PL3 3a 4a3

GA 24EI L

L3

Deflection

ratio (%)

97.9

between one load and the support, A the crosssectional area of the webs, E the Youngs modulus,

G the shear modulus, and I the moment of inertia of the

section. The first term on the right side of Eq. (1) is the

deflection due to shear and the second is deflection due

to bending. Considering the material properties introduced in Sect. 2.1 and the geometric parameters in

Table 1, the calculated mid-span deflection at the

ultimate load for all the scenarios are summarized in

Table 2 and compared with the experimental measurements. Overall, simple beam theory is able to

reasonably predict the deflections. Good agreements

can be found for the scenario T1 and T3 (underestimation less than 5 %, except T3-1 with an underestimation of 10.5 %). Comparing to the experimental

results, the deflections of specimens T2-1 and T2-2 are

overestimated by 26 and 13.8 % respectively, because

the plane strain assumption may not be fully valid in

this scenario especially for the top and bottom parts of

the flanges made from U sections.

Based on the beam theory, the interlaminar shear

stress, sxy can be expressed as

R

Q A0 y dA

sxy y

2

I

where A0 the area above the y-position of the shear

stress; Q is the shear force.

The axial normal stress, rx, can be calculated by the

following Eq. (3):

M

y

I

rx y

elastic mid-span deflection, dE:

from the position of axial normal stress to the neutral

1148

symmetric cross section.

The resulting values of shear stress and axial

normal compressive stress at the web-flange junctions

of the critical locations (loading points) are summarized in Table 3. The scenarios T2 and T3 showed

relatively high level of shear stresses (38.5 and

36.4 MPa respectively, average values of two specimens) in comparison to strength, indicating the

potential shear failure there. The scenario T1 possessed a high level of normal axial stress (221.2 MPa,

average values of two specimens) in combination with

still significant shear stress (15.3 MPa) at the webflange junction.

results from research literature

Table 3 Stress state at upper web-flange junction

Girder

T1-1

14.7

-212.1

T1-2

15.9

-230.2

T2-1

39.1

-75.4

T2-2

37.8

-73.1

T3-1

33.8

-163.0

T3-2

38.9

-187.3

3.1 Experimental scenario from the research

literature

As mentioned above, Bank et al. [17] carried out a

series of experiments on GFRP wide-flange I-beams

with a cross-section of 203 9 203 9 9.5 mm. A total

of seven beams were examined with a 2,743 mm span

under a four-point bending set-up without lateral

supports; the two loading points were symmetrical and

610 mm from the center. The transverse tensile

strength, ry, and axial compressive strength, rx, were

reported as being 69 and 207 MPa respectively, and

the interlaminar shear strength, sxy, was 43 MPa.

During the experiments, noticeable lateral deformation was observed between the loading points because

of global lateral buckling. In the post-buckling

process, the deformation increased significantly while

the applied load was sustained. Failure occurred

through separation at the web-flange junction. Unfortunately, the observed location of failure initiation was

1149

location of initiation was not observable due to the

velocity of the process. Taking geometric nonlinearity

into account and considering a shape of initial

imperfections as shown in Fig. 7a, FE analysis was

performed in [19] to identify the stress state at failure.

From the results it was concluded that the transverse

tensile stress, ry, at the web-flange junction at midspan caused the separation between web and flange.

In the following section, the sensitivity of the FEA

results in [19] to the selection of the shape of the initial

imperfections is investigated. A simple lateral out-ofstraightness, with a maximum mid-span value of span/

300 was selected, as shown in Fig. 7b, in order to

compare the results with those obtained from shape 1

in Fig. 7a. The effect of this imperfection shape 2 on

the stress state was calculated using nonlinear FEA.

3.2 Stress analysis and discussion

3-D FE models were developed based on the commercial software ANSYS 9.0 (anisotropic solid elements

Solid64), according to the experimental and material

parameters given in [17]. Particularly, no lateral

supports were taken into account. In total, 3,308 Solid64

elements with 7,624 nodes were resulted in one FE

model, which was simply supported with two concentrated loading. Such a mesh was validated as a further

refined mesh resulted in identical loaddisplacement

responses. The material properties reported in [19] were

used as Ex = 24.3 GPa, Ey = Ez = 10 GPa, Gxy =

Gyz = Gzx = 3.7 GPa, vxy = 0.33, vyz = vzx = 0.3

(where E is the Youngs modulus, G is the shear

modulus, v is Poissons ratio, x is the longitudinal

direction of the beam, y and z are transverse directions of

the beam). Two different shapes of initial imperfections

were assumed according to Fig. 7a, b as described

above. Geometric nonlinearity was considered using the

arc-length method. Figure 8 shows the resulting postbuckling deformations.

Stresses from two cross sections as indicated in

Fig. 8a, sections AA (the mid-span, with the maximum flange out-of-plane deformation) and BB (the

middle between the loading point and the support),

were reported [19]. By employing the same initial

imperfection as in [19], see shape 1 in Fig. 7a, the

transverse tensile stress at the web-flange junction of

section AA in Fig. 8a was 64.1 MPa (see Fig. 9a),

corresponding to 103 % of the value given in [19] at

1150

imperfections in nonlinear

FEA: a shape 1; b shape 2

Fig. 8 Post-buckling

deformation based on initial

imperfections: a for shape 1;

b for shape 2

strength of 69 MPa. At the same location of section

AA, the corresponding shear stress and axial normal

stress were 7.0 and -91.3 MPa, respectively. At

section BB (see Fig. 8a), within the maximum shear

force range, the shear stress at the web-flange junction,

shown in Fig. 9b, resulted in 33.4 MPa (with corresponding transverse tensile stress of 5.8 MPa and axial

normal stress of -12.9 MPa), i.e. 107 % of the value

given in [19] and 78 % of the material strength

(43 MPa). It should be noted that all the above stress

values identified from Fig. 9 were obtained from the

web with a distance of 1.5 cm below the bottom

surface of the top flange to avoid any stress concentration at the sharp corner at the web flange junction.

For the imperfection shape 2, two critical cross

sections (AA and CC, see Fig. 8b) were defined, of

which stresses at the web-flange junction are evaluated. AA is the mid-span section at which the

maximum out-of-plane buckling deformation of the

top flange is observed in the FE analysis. Section CC

is at the loading point at which the maximum shear

stress and axial normal stress are expected. Figure 10

shows the resulting transverse tensile and shear

stresses at failure at sections AA and CC (see

Fig. 8b) based on imperfection shape 2. The transverse

AA) to 50.8 MPa (shape 2 section AA, 74 % of

strength). At the same location of section AA in

shape 2, the corresponding shear stress and axial

normal stress are 12.1 and -58.5 MPa, respectively.

The maximum shear stress increased from 33.8 (shape

1 section BB) to 41.7 MPa (shape 2 section CC,

97 % of strength). The corresponding transverse

tensile stress and the axial normal stress at the same

location of CC are 13.3 and -73.1 MPa. Therefore,

changing from imperfection shape 1 to 2 changed the

critical type and location of stress from transverse

tensile at mid-span (shape 1, section AA) to shear

stress at the loading section (shape 2, section CC),

which also may change the causes of the web-flange

separation.

In order to highlight the effect of lateral supports, a

second FEA run was performed which included lateral

supports for the beams in [19] (continuous lateral

supports along the beam side with initial imperfection

shape 2 shown in Fig. 7b). The shear stress at the webflange junction of section CC amounted to 40.0 MPa

(94 % of strength) and the corresponding axial normal

stress and transverse tensile stress were -112.3 and

5.5 MPa respectively. The lateral supports therefore

did not obviously change the shear stress (41.7 vs.

1151

failure initiation based on

initial imperfection shape 1:

a transverse normal stress at

section AA; b shear stress

at section BB

Fig. 10 Stress distribution at failure initiation based on initial imperfection shape 2: a transverse normal stress at section AA; b shear

stress at section CC

(-73.1 vs. -112.3 MPa). In either case (with or

without lateral supports) for initial imperfection shape

2, transverse tensile stresses reduced considerably.

Based on knowledge of the stress states at the critical

locations of pre- and post-buckling GFRP beams (with

and without lateral supports), an appropriate failure

criterion may help in understanding the failure mechanism. This failure criterion should take axial compressive stress (rx), interlaminar shear stress (sxy) and

transverse tensile stress (ry) into account. A quadratic

Lagace [24] is able to consider both interlaminar

shear and interlaminar normal (i.e. transverse) stresses. However, it does not include in-plane axial normal

stress. Axial normal stresses are taken into account in

the modified von Mises criterion proposed by Fenske

and Vizzini [25] to indicate delamination in laminates.

This criterion was applied as follows:

2 2 2

rx

sxy

ry

1

4

fcx

fs

fcy

where fs is the interlaminar shear strength, fcx is the

axial compressive strength and fcy is the transverse

normal strength; sxy, rx, and ry are the corresponding

stresses. The resulting normalized failure criterion

1152

Fig. 11 Comparison of

critical stress states with

failure criterion for girders

T1T3, post-buckled beams

[17] with two shapes of

initial imperfections, and

laminates in compression

from [7] (solid symbols are

projections of hollow

symbols on coordinate

planes)

coordinate planes, is shown in Fig. 11.

The critical stress states (values normalized by the

corresponding material strengths) obtained for girders

T1T3 are shown in Fig. 11 (transverse normal

stresses resulted as zero from simple beam theory).

The failure at the web-flange junction resulted from

the high level of shear and/or axial normal stresses (rx

and sxy, see projections into the xz plane). The failure

criterion can therefore be reduced to a second-order

interaction equation taking only the terms of axial

normal stress and interlaminar shear stress into

account, i.e., the intersection line in the xz plane,

where overall, a satisfactory comparison (1.09 vs. 1

based on Eq. 4) between stresses and failure criterion

was found. The deviation of stresses T2 (1.63 vs. 1

based on Eq. 4) and T3 (1.90 vs. 1 based on Eq. 4)

from the criterion may imply that an initiation of

delamination shear failure at the web-flange junctions

occurred before the final structural collapse.

Post-buckling stress states from the FEA of beams

in [17] with imperfection shapes 1 and 2 are also

indicated in Fig. 11. A high level of transverse tensile

stress corresponds to imperfection shape 1 (see

projection into xy plane). For imperfection shape 2,

interlaminar shear stress approaches the failure criterion (see projection into xz plane).

To further validate the selection of the failure

criterion, results from axial compressive experiments

conducted on pultruded GFRP laminates (provided by

the same manufacturer as the Eyecatcher girders) were

also included in Fig. 11. Laminates of different

lengths (100, 200 and 300 mm), corresponding to

different non-dimensional slenderness (0.67, 1.37 and

2.68 respectively) were used [7]. Independent of the

non-dimensional slenderness, delamination was

observed, either when the load was approaching the

Euler load for slender laminates or far below the Euler

load for compact laminates. The critical interlaminar

shear and axial normal compressive stresses (as the

main stress components) were extracted from [7] and

compared with the failure criterion in Fig. 11 (see

xz plane). The reasonable agreement points to a

similar failure mechanism as for the pultruded GFRP

girders and beams.

The results summarized in Fig. 11, including the

significant effect of the selection of the initial imperfection shape, may suggest that in all the casesand

even in the case presented in [17]web-flange

shear/axial compressive strength of the material,

which can be approached by a quadratic failure

criterion as follows:

2 2

rx

sxy

1

5

fcx

fs

It is important to mention that in most practical

cases lateral supports are present, for example in the

form of a slab that is connected to the upper girder

flange, which prevents lateral buckling and the

accordingly high transverse tensile stresses at the

web-flange junction, which arise in the post-buckling

phase. In all the cases with lateral supports investigated above, however, web-flange separation occurred

due to high combined shear/axial compressive stresses

in the pre-buckling phase, whereby shear dominated in

most cases (with the exception of girders T1).

1153

(3)

at the loading point through exceeding the

combined shearaxial compression strength.

Unfortunately the exact location of experimental

failure initiation was not specified.

A modified von Mises criterion, which incorporates stress components including normal axial

stress and shear stress in addition to transverse

tensile stress, is used to describe the failure of

GFRP beams with or without lateral supports.

The agreement is reasonable taking the limited

available experimental results into account.

Measurements of the stress state at web-flange

junctions at critical failure positions are recommended for future research to further validate the

failure mechanism.

References

5 Conclusions

Four-point bending experiments were carried out on

pultruded GFRP girders with built-up cross-sections.

Lateral buckling was prevented by the use of lateral

supports. Web-flange separation failure was observed

for all beams before any buckling was observed. Beam

theory was used to identify the critical stress states at

the failure locations. Furthermore, nonlinear FEA was

performed to identify the critical stress states of GFRP

beams from the research literature, without any lateral

supports in the post-buckling phase. Based on this

work, the following conclusions can be drawn:

(1)

(2)

occurred at the web-flange junction between

supports and loading points. In the loading point

region they were combined with high axial

compression stresses. In most cases, flange-web

separation occurred through exceeding of the

shear strength.

In cases without lateral supports, where failure

occurred during the (lateral) post-buckling phase,

the critical stress state from numerical calculation

and its location significantly depended on the

selection of the shape of initial imperfections.

Depending on this selection, flange-web separation was caused in one case at mid-span through

exceeding of the transverse tensile case. For

construction. Structural engineering documents. International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering

(IABSE), Zurich

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