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High-strength steel (HSS) flexural members are becoming increasingly popular as design solutions,
because of their higher strength to weight ratios compared with mild steel beams and of the more
robust fabrication techniques that have evolved in recent years [1]. HSS is also finding its way into
many national standards, such as in the Australian AS4100 Steel Structures code [2], which now
allows for steels with a yield stress up to 690 N/mm2. One such application is as a half-through
girder arrangement, which is typical of many railway bridges. In this structural configuration, the
top (nominally unbraced) flange of the plate girder is subjected to compressive normal stresses,
which may precipitate its overall or lateral buckling. Usually, the thickness of the web of the plate
girder is used to prevent or to delay this overall buckling. To optimise the strength to weight ratio of
a HSS plate girder in a half-through girder bridge, the issue of overall buckling requires careful
consideration, particularly as the elastic modulus of the steel (~ 200 kN/mm2) does not increase
with the yield strength.

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Mark A. Bradford, Huiyong Ban

Centre for Infrastructure Engineering and Safety, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

m.bradford@unsw.edu.au, h.ban@unsw.edu.au

INTRODUCTION

High-strength steel (HSS) flexural members are becoming increasingly popular as design solutions,

because of their higher strength to weight ratios compared with mild steel beams and of the more

robust fabrication techniques that have evolved in recent years [1]. HSS is also finding its way into

many national standards, such as in the Australian AS4100 Steel Structures code [2], which now

allows for steels with a yield stress up to 690 N/mm2. One such application is as a half-through

girder arrangement, which is typical of many railway bridges. In this structural configuration, the

top (nominally unbraced) flange of the plate girder is subjected to compressive normal stresses,

which may precipitate its overall or lateral buckling. Usually, the thickness of the web of the plate

girder is used to prevent or to delay this overall buckling. To optimise the strength to weight ratio of

a HSS plate girder in a half-through girder bridge, the issue of overall buckling requires careful

consideration, particularly as the elastic modulus of the steel (~ 200 kN/mm2) does not increase

with the yield strength.

Cross-girders provide restraint at the location of the bottom flange against out-of-plane or overall

buckling. These elastic restraints are depicted in Fig. 1 as having a translational stiffness ka (units of

force / length) and a twist rotation restraint kr (units of force length). Also shown in this figure is

the lateral-distortional mode shape [3], for which the lateral restraint to the top compression flange

is provided by the stiffness of the web alone as a cantilever, and whose cross-section changes shape

or distorts during the buckling. The buckling mode shown in Fig. 1 is sometimes considered as a

flange strut under uniform compression and restrained by an elastic spring (the web), and in this

form the buckling mode treated as a so-called inverted U-frame. For this, an elastic buckling

solution exists in closed form [4], but it has been shown that a correct representation of this

buckling mode including the restraint stiffnesses ka and kr, as well as the variation of the

longitudinal stress along the flange, necessitates are more complex formulation.

In buckling strength calculations, both the elastic buckling moment Mo and the moment to cause

plastic failure of the cross-section Mp need to be known, and the buckling strength Mb is related to

these in the form shown in Fig. 2 [5] as

Mb

= F ( ) ,

Mp

(1)

in which

=

Mo

(2)

is the generalised member slenderness ratio and F () the empirical design relationship. The shape

of this curve depends on many factors, including the residual stresses, geometric imperfections and

the possibility of local buckling, and is given empirically in design codes of practice. Because HSS

is fabricated from plate elements, further optimisation of the plate girder in a half-through girder

can be achieved by tapering the web depth of the member, for which elastic buckling solutions are

also possible [6].

In order to develop a suitable design model for a HSS through-girder, the correct representation of

the function F () is needed. To this end, the present paper presents a study of tapered plate girders

of HSS, using ABAQUS modelling of the steel. The results incorporate the interaction of elastic

buckling, cross-sectional distortion, yielding, residual stresses and tapering, they form a basis for

developing design guidance for HSS half-through girders.

2

Full plasticity

1.5

Elastic buckling

1

0.5

0

0

0.5

1.5

2.5

Fig. 2. Representative buckling curve F ()

ANALYSIS

A finite element analysis was undertaken on a tapered I-section beam of length L = 30 m having a

flange breadth bf = 200 mm, flange thickness tf = 20 mm and web thickness t = 20 mm. The midspan web depth was 3000 mm and at the ends its depth was 3000 mm, with the taper ratio being

05, 075 and 10. The membrane stiffness of the deck is such that, sensibly, the elastic lateral

stiffness in Fig. 1 is ka = , whilst for the buckling analysis the elastic torsional stiffness kr was

taken as kr [0, ].

The 4-node shell element S4R with reduced integration in the ABAQUS library was employed to

mesh both the flanges and the web, and in addition to the simply supported ends of the beam, the

lateral displacement of the bottom flange was fixed and the twist restraint (kr) was simulated using

the spring element SPRING1 in the ABQUS library. The uniformly distributed load was applied at

the junction of the bottom flange and web as a series of concentrated forces at the nodes. Fig. 3

shows a typical three-dimensional meshing of half of the girder, in which the flange had four

elements across its width, the web 30 elements through its depth, and in which the length of each

element was 100 mm (300 elements lengthwise). Because lateral-distortional buckling modes are

the focus of the present paper, local bucking was not considered a relevant design issue and so no

stiffeners were included.

The HSS was represented as having an elastic modulus E = 210 kN/mm2, shear modulus G = 81

kN/mm2 and Poissons ratio = 03. The material properties in the plastic domain for 690 kN/mm2

steel were adopted from the authors study [1], while for the non-linear buckling analysis, a

geometric imperfection was applied in accordance with the first-order eigenmode with the out of

straightness being 1/1,000 of the span [7].

For beams with elastic restraint against buckling, the buckling mode is known to be sinusoidal for

the case of uniform bending or similar to sinusoidal for other cases [5]. An elastic eigenvalue

analysis was undertaken to quantify the effects of the taper constant and dimensionless twist

restraint z on the buckling, in which

z =

k r L2

,

2GJ

(3)

and in which J is Saint Venants torsional constant for the mid-span cross-section.

Fig. 4 shows two typical first-order buckling eigenmodes for a tapered girder ( = 05), the curve in

Fig. 4(a) being a single sine curve over the buckling half-wavelength L = 30 m for low torsional

restraint stiffnesses but that with a high torsional stiffness having local waves in opposite directions.

Fig. 5 shows the out-of-plane (normalised) lengthwise buckling deformation of the top flange for

various taper ratios, in which it can be seen that the effect of the taper ratio is fairly inconsequential

but that the shape of the elastic buckle is strongly dependent on the stiffness z. The (normalised)

cross-sectional buckling deformations at mid-span are shown in Fig. 6, in which it can be seen that

the profile of the web departs from being perfectly straight (when z = 0) with an increase in z.

Again, it can be seen that the taper ratio has little effect on the distortion of the cross-section.

The elastic critical loads qcr of tapered girders with varying values of and with z [0, ],

determined by eigenvalue analysis, are plotted in Fig. 7. It can be seen that the elastic buckling load

is insensitive to z below a threshold value of z ~ 105, and insensitive to it above another threshold

value of z ~ 107. The form of the curve and the sharp rise in the elastic buckling load within z

[105, 107] is consistent with earlier theoretical research [8]. In addition, it can be seen from Fig. 7

that the elastic buckling load is insensitive to the taper ratio .

1.3 Non-linear buckling

In order to determine the inelastic buckling load using ABAQUS, a 30 mm out-of-straightness of

the top flange at mid-span was applied (30,000 / 1000). For an elastic analysis, the loaddeformation response was determined and the peak value (que) recorded as the elastic non-linear

buckling load, while for an inelastic analysis, material imperfections in the form of residual stresses

was applied and the peak value of the load-deformation response (qu) was recorded as the nonlinear buckling load for 690 MPa HSS. At mid-span, the load to cause full plasticity of the crosssection is qp = 342 kN/m, whilst that to cause first yield is 326 kN/m. The non-linear buckling loads

are also shown in Fig. 8. It can be see that both the non-linear buckling loads are above the

eigenvalue buckling load, because there is a stable post-buckling path for a geometrically imperfect

member past the theoretical bifurcation buckling load. These loads are considerably below the yield

and full plastic loads because of the effect of the member taper and of elastic buckling. Typical nonlinear equilibrium paths are shown in Fig. 8, and the results are given in graphical form in Table 1.

a)

b)

Deformation

1.0

= 0.5

= 0.75

= 1.0

z=0

0.5

6

z=10

7

z=10

z=+

0.0

-0.5

0.0

0.2

0.4

0.6

0.8

Along the length of span (/L)

1.0

x/L

(a)

(b)

Undeformed shape

(c)

Undeformed shape

z = +

8

z = 10

7

z = 10

6

z = 10

z = 0

Undeformed shape

z = +

8

z = 10

7

z = 10

6

z = 10

z = 0

z = +

8

z = 10

7

z = 10

6

z = 10

z = 0

50

= 0.5

= 0.75

= 1.0

40

Nonliner

buckling

Elastic non-linear

(Elastic)

buckling

30

Nonliner buckling

Non-linear

(690 HS(690

steel)

buckling

HSS)

20

Eigen-value buckling

10

0

-2

0 10

10

10

10

10

10

10

12

10

Fig. 7. Buckling load as a function of twist restraint parameter z

(b)

15 qu

que

(a)

10

qcr

5

Nonlinear buckling (690 HS steel)

0

0

Out-of-plane deformation (mm)

50

qu

40

que

30

20

qcr

10

Nonlinear buckling (690 HS steel)

0

0

Out-of-plane deformation (mm)

Fig. 9 plots the relationship between the dimensionless buckling load qu/qp, which is the counterpart

to Mb/Mp in Eq. (1), against the modified slenderness (qp/qcr), which is the counterpart to in Eq.

(2). The solid curves in this figure are those determined using ABAQUS, while the dashed curves

are determined using F() = 032/ in the terminology of Eq. (1). It can be seen that buckling

solutions are only valid in the approximate domain [4, 7] and that the hyperbolic approximation

for F provides a lower bound suitable for design, when the taper ratio is such that [05, 10].

0.1

0.1

qu/qp

0.08

qu/qp

0.08

0.06

numerical

result

0.06

0.04

032/

0.04

0.02

= 05

0.02

numerical

result

032/

= 10

0

0

Fig. 9. Buckling strength curves

DEISGN PROPOSAL

Based on the numerical results in this paper, a tentative design procedure is as follows, and

applicable for a practical half-through girder fabricated from HSS with a taper ratio greater than 05.

Based on the cross-section at mid-span, the fully plastic moment Mp is determined, as is the elastic

buckling moment Mo from appropriate curves that can be found in the literature that incorporate the

modified torsional restraint z. The buckling strength from the previous section and using Eq. (1) is

therefore Mb = 032(MoMp) Mp.

SUMMARY

This paper has investigated the buckling of half-through girders made from HSS, and whose webs

may be tapered. Hitherto, design codes have not considered this with any accuracy, because the

interaction of elastic buckling, tapering, yielding and residual stresses does not appear in design

standards. The problem was analysed using ABAQUS software.

The numerical approach can be computationally inefficient, because ABAQUS requires a nonlinear analysis to be deployed when yielding and residual stresses are included, and the entire load

versus deflection response (with the input of a small geometric imperfection) needs to be traced to

determine the peak load for the buckling strength of the member. Using elastic solutions for the

lateral-distortional buckling of torsionally-restrained I-section members reported elsewhere, a

formulation for the buckling strength using the same methodology as in Eurocode 3 has been

proposed, and which was shown to lead to safe lower bound solutions within the range of

parameters for which it is applicable.

Table 1. Buckling results

z

0

10-2

10-1

1

101

102

103

104

105

106

107

108

109

1010

1011

1012

1013

+

Taper ratio = 05

qcr

que

qu

5.5

5.5

5.5

5.5

5.5

5.5

5.5

55

60

87

130

183

199

201

202

202

202

202

144

144

144

144

144

144

144

144

146

166

274

431

469

483

489

490

490

490

142

142

142

142

142

142

142

142

144

165

230

300

323

327

327

327

327

327

qcr

que

qu

54

54

54

54

54

54

54

55

58

85

136

181

196

197

198

198

198

198

176

176

176

176

176

176

176

176

178

190

278

439

474

493

495

496

496

496

161

161

161

161

161

161

161

161

163

176

232

302

326

329

329

329

329

329

Taper ratio = 10

qcr

que

qu

56

56

56

56

56

56

56

56

59

83

141

183

195

197

197

197

197

197

200

200

200

200

200

200

200

200

201

212

280

440

476

495

497

498

498

498

171

171

171

171

171

171

171

171

172

183

234

303

326

328

329

329

329

329

REFERENCES

[1]

[2]

[3]

[4]

[5]

[6]

[7]

[8]

Ban, HY, Bradford, MA, Flexural Behaviour of Composite Beams with High Strength Steel,

Engineering Structures, Vol. 56, pp. 1130-1141, 2013.

Standards Australia, AS4100 Steel Structures, SA, Sydney, 1998.

Bradford, MA, Lateral-Distortional Buckling of Steel I-Section Members, Journal of Constructional

Steel Research, Vol. 23, pp. 97-116, 1992.

Oehlers, DJ, Bradford, MA, Composite Steel and Concrete Structural Members: Fundamental

Behaviour, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1995.

Trahair, NS, Bradford, MA, Nethercot, DA, Gardner, L, The Behaviour and Design of Steel Structures

to EC3, Fourth Edition, Taylor & Francis, London, 2008.

Bradford, MA, Cuk, PE, Lateral Buckling of Tapered Monosymmetric I-Beams, Journal of

Structural Engineering, ASCE, Vol. 114, pp. 977-996, 1988.

British Standards Institution, Eurocode 3: Design of Steel Structures Part 1.1: General Rules and

Rules for Buildings, BS EN 1993-1-1, BSI, London, 2005.

Bradford, MA, Ronagh, HR, Generalized Elastic Buckling of Restrained I-Beams by FEM, Journal

of Structural Engineering, ASCE, Vol. 123, pp. 1631-1637, 1997.

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