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Calculation of Working Pressure for Cylindrical

Vessel Under External Pressure

Conference Paper in American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Pressure Vessels and Piping Division (Publication)
PVP · January 2010
DOI: 10.1115/PVP2010-25173


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Yogeshwar Hari Dennis Keith Williams

University of North Carolina at Charlotte DR. DENNIS K. WILLIAMS, P.E.


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Proceedings of the ASME 2010 Pressure Vessels & Piping Division / K-PVP Conference
July 18-22, 2010, Bellevue, Washington, USA




Gurinder Singh Brar

Guru Nanak Dev Engineering College,
(Punjab Technical University, Jalandhar)
Gill Road, Ludhiana. 141006.
Punjab, India.
Tel: 91-9781991160

Yogeshwar Hari
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
9201 University City Blvd.
Charlotte, NC 28223-0001 USA

Dennis K. Williams
Sharoden Engineering Consultants, P.A
P.O. Box 1336
Matthews, NC 28106-1336 USA

ABSTRACT literature is then used to calculate the maximum allowable

external working pressure. Fifty simulated shells of geometry
Initial geometric imperfections have a significant effect on
similar to the example tower are generated by the Monte Carlo
the load carrying capacity of asymmetrical cylindrical pressure
method to calculate the nondeterministic buckling load. The
vessels. This research paper presents a comparison of a
representation of initial geometric imperfections in the
reliability technique that employs a Fourier series representation
cylindrical pressure vessel requires the determination of
of random asymmetric imperfections in a defined cylindrical
appropriate Fourier coefficients. The initial functional
pressure vessel subjected to external pressure. Evaluations as
description of the imperfections consists of an axisymmetric
prescribed by the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code,
portion and a deviant portion that appears in the form of a
Section VIII, Division 2 rules are also presented and discussed
double Fourier series. Multi-mode analyses are expanded to
in light of the proposed reliability technique presented herein.
evaluate a large number of potential buckling modes for both
The ultimate goal of the reliability type technique is to
predefined geometries and the associated asymmetric
statistically predict the buckling load associated with the
imperfections as a function of position within a given cylindrical
cylindrical pressure vessel within a defined confidence interval.
shell. The method and results described herein are in stark
The example cylindrical shell considered in this study is a
contrast to the dated “knockdown factor” approach currently
fractionating tower for which calculations have been performed
utilized in ASME B&PV Code.
in accordance with the ASME B&PV Code. The maximum
allowable external working pressure of this tower for the shell
thickness of 0.3125 in. is calculated to be 15.1 psi when utilizing
the prescribed ASME B&PV Code, Section VIII, Division 1
methods contained within example L-3.1. The Monte Carlo D Bending stiffness of cylindrical wall
method as developed by the current authors and published in the D0 Outside diameter of the shell

1 Copyright © 2010 by ASME

E Young’s Modulus Furthermore, buckling of cylindrical shells can occur when the
L Length of the shell structure is subjected to the individual or combined action of
Nxx Axial distributed in-plane force axial compression, external pressure, and torsion.
Nyy Circumferential in-plane force Buckling behavior (in particular, the critical buckling load)
P External design pressure is not accurately predicted by linear elastic equations. In
Pa Maximum allowable external working pressure contrast, classical buckling theories employing non-linear
Pcl Classical buckling load of a perfect shell equations have been utilized extensively in the past to predict
Pcr Critical buckling load of a shell with imperfections buckling behavior. However, classical theories include the
R Inside radius of the shell effect of pre-buckling deformations and post-buckling
Wn(ξ,θ) Initial imperfection function behaviors. In a shallow shell where the pre-buckling curvature
k Number of half waves in axial direction is small, the equilibrium conditions were shown by Donnell [1]
l Number of full waves in circumferential direction to be adequately described by Eq. (1) in a linearized form,
t Nominal shell wall thickness whereby the critical buckling load could be computed upon
w Radial displacement substitution of the applicable boundary conditions.
λ Non-dimensional buckling load
 Poisson’s ratio 2 0 (1)
θ Non-dimensional circumferential coordinate
ξ Non-dimensional axial coordinate
It should be noted that represents the Laplacian operator
and that signifies the application of twice while four
Buckling is a failure mechanism that is associated with both times. Furthermore, represents the flexural
the application of a compressive load to a structural component rigidity of the shell.
and the instability of that component once any number of critical
loads are reached or exceeded. Shell buckling physically CLASSICAL & NONCLASSICAL BUCKLING LOADS
manifests itself by the appearance and growth (under continual
load) of bulges, ripples, and waves in both the circumferential Ultimately, the buckling behavior of thin cylindrical shells
and longitudinal direction of a cylindrical shell. Similar to is influenced in varying degrees by initial imperfections and
column buckling of bars and beams, shell buckling is variations in the geometry of the cylindrical shell. Variations in
encountered in long, shallow (i.e., relatively thin wall thickness) the shell wall can be manifested in the form of gradients in the
vessel and tank members when the members begin to exhibit particular loading, eccentricity from the ideal (i.e., perfect)
visibly large transverse displacements to an applied axial load or shape, variations in the material properties such as Young's
to an applied external pressure (or vacuum). A shell structure is modulus, imperfections in the shell wall thicknesses (i.e., local
considered to fail from buckling while subjected to a thin spots), and other miscellaneous parameters. Most large
compressive load; the structure undergoes a transition in diameter pressure vessels are manufactured by welding rolled
deformation from that of the direction of compressive load plates, creating both longitudinal and circumferential seams.
application to a deformation that is predominantly perpendicular Due to variations in manufacturing tolerances and techniques,
to the direction of load application. The load at which the initial fabricated cylindrical shells differ from perfect shape as
deformation transition and instability occurs is commonly evidenced by out-of-roundness and local thin wall conditions on
referred to as the critical buckling load. Often times this type of occasion. In the present work, a fractionating tower having
buckling failure is of a catastrophic nature, occurring without variations in the shell wall thickness (regarded as imperfections)
any visible precursor or form of warning to the user or operator. and subjected to external pressure is studied and the respective
Shell buckling can also produce a sudden collapse in a vessel or results are presented herein.
tank. Based upon the work by Saunders and Windenberg [2], an
Buckling failure is an important feature to be considered in approximation of the classical critical buckling load for a
many pressure vessel designs, especially when the vessel is cylindrical shell subjected to external pressure can be calculated
subjected to vacuum (i.e., external pressure) service. Typical as shown in Eq. (2):
failure theories based upon material strength, such as Tresca or
von Mises failure theories, have no method by which to address
0.807 (2)
buckling and the instability issue. Furthermore, the most
significant material properties affecting the resistance to
buckling failure are Young's modulus of elasticity and Poisson's When imperfections in shells exist and are considered in the
ratio. The most significant geometrical parameter is the aspect engineering design, the load carrying capacity of shells is
ratio comprised of the diameter to length (i.e., slenderness) ratio. reduced, as evidenced by tests. In an effort to relate the
The ultimate strength (or yield strength) does not play a predicted critical buckling load to the closed form classical
significant part in the prediction of the critical buckling load for form, a non-dimensional buckling load (λ) is defined as shown
any given shell geometry. Historically, buckling failures have in Eq. (3). The intent of utilizing λ is to allow the engineer to
occurred at calculated compressive stresses significantly less account for the effects of imperfections on the "actual" critical
than the ultimate compressive stress of the given shell material. buckling load of a given structure.

2 Copyright © 2010 by ASME

,0 (5a)
(3) ,0 2 (5b)

In general, two approaches can be used for determining the The length and inside radius of the cylindrical shell are
critical buckling load of a cylindrical shell: deterministic represented by L and R. The first half range cosine series
methods representing a host of closed form solutions, and summation term in Eq. (4) denotes the axisymmetric part of the
stochastic methods that employ any number of statistical imperfection and the second half range sine series summation
parameters. While the deterministic approach carries out term denotes the non-symmetric portion of the imperfection.
analysis on the basis of some physical laws, stochastic (or The axisymmetric imperfections as derived from Eq. (4) are
probabilistic) methods attempt to mimic several unknown given by Eq. (6):
factors (including the imperfection profile, for instance) that can
affect the critical buckling load or the given shell. Deterministic ∑ cos (6)
approaches do not include perturbations in the shell wall
thicknesses, which are admittedly known to exist in practice. In
the present analytical study, a stochastic approach is employed The initial asymmetric imperfections are represented by a
in an attempt to predict the probability of a given critical double Fourier sine series. To determine the non-dimensional
buckling load within a defined confidence interval. This critical buckling load, calculation of Fourier coefficients must
approach was previously presented by the authors [3, 4] for a first be completed. Fourier coefficients Ckl and Dkl, as
series of shells subjected to an external pressure. represented in Eq. (7), have to be determined in order to
The example cylindrical shell considered in this study is a represent the initial imperfections in a simulation of a number of
fractionating tower with a 14 ft. I.D., 21 ft. long bend line to shell geometries utilized in this study, herein after referred to as
bend line, fitted with fractionating trays, and designed for an the "GSB shells".
external design pressure of 15 psi at 700°F. The tower material
of construction is assumed to be SA-285, Gr. C carbon steel. , ∑ ∑ sin cos sin (7)


ASYMMETRIC VARIABLE WALL THICKNESS The particular cylindrical shell portion of the fractionating
Determination of the critical buckling load for a shallow tower has an internal diameter of 4.27 m, a height of 6.4 m, and
cylindrical shell containing small asymmetric thickness nominal wall thickness of 7.9375 mm (0.3125 in.). The
variations while subjected to an external pressure is performed significant geometric and material parameters for the
by a non-classical technique in the current study. This analysis fractionating tower are defined in Table 1 below:
was accomplished employing a reliability approach that
simulated of a number of shells using the Monte Carlo TABLE 1
technique, calculation of critical buckling loads using the multi-
mode method [5], and calculation of the non-dimensional
Nominal shell wall thickness, t 0.3125 in.
buckling load (λ) based on the reliability function. Similar to the
Stack length, L 39 in.
method described by Elishakoff et al. [6], any initial
Inside shell radius, R 84 in.
imperfection can be represented by series of trigonometric
Young’s Modulus, E 30 x 106 psi
functions, such as in a Fourier series. A review of the
previously defined work [6] revealed a multitude of errors and Poisson’s ratio,  0.31
omissions in the formulations and figures as published in the
open literature, thereby creating the necessity to revisit the bases Initial imperfections in the Fractionating tower of the
for the results as described and documented by the current current work are in the form of shell wall thickness variations.
authors [3]. With this in mind, as given by Elishakoff and In an effort to calculate the external working pressure, 20
Arbocz [7] and Arbocz and Williams [8], the initial imperfection cylindrical shells (identified as GSB1 through GSB20 shells)
function Wn(ξ,θ) can be represented as shown in Eq. (4) below: were simulated using a random number generator of a
commercially available symbolic math program. The software
sin cos utilizes the linear congruence method for generation of random
, ∑ cos ∑ ∑ (4) numbers. Consistent with the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel
sin sin
Code [9], “The reduction in thickness shall not exceed 1/32 in.
The chosen coordinate system for the cylindrical shell (1mm) or 10% of the nominal thickness of the adjoining surface,
utilizes axial (x) and circumferential (y) coordinates. In whichever is less,” the simulated shell wall thicknesses were
addition, ai, bkl, ckl are Fourier coefficients (multipliers) of the confined within a range that varied between 0.313 in. and 0.281
respective trigonometric terms. Equation (5) shows the in. These values were further consistent with the assumption
relationship for the non-dimensional coordinates ξ and θ in the that out-of-tolerance dimensions would be detected and
axial and circumferential directions, respectively. corrected as appropriate in a quality inspection and assurance
program of any reputable vessel manufacturer. A total of 144

3 Copyright © 2010 by ASME

"readings" were generated for each simulated shell; 12 readings BUCKLING LOAD MAPS & MODE COUPLING
axially and 12 circumferentially at each chosen elevation along
Buckling load maps consist of the predicted critical
the longitudinal direction. Table 3 (located at the end of this
buckling loads for different mode combinations of wave
paper) displays the simulated and generated shell wall thickness
numbers in the axial and circumferential directions. The
values for the GSB10 shell.
buckling loads were calculated for a perfect cylindrical shell
The shell wall thickness values thus generated represent
subjected to external pressure by first employing solutions to the
asymmetric imperfections (with respect to the circumferential
classical simply supported boundary conditions as previously
direction of the cylinder) and can be converted into
identified by Donnell [1] in Eq. (1). The imperfections (i.e.,
axisymmetric imperfections by taking arithmetic mean of all
wall thickness variations) are assumed to follow the double
values at a particular elevation. For example, Fig. 1 shows the
Fourier sine series as sown in Eq. (9). The load maps are then
asymmetric variations in the shell wall thicknesses for the
used to determine the dominant mode shape.
simulated GSB10 shell. These shell wall thickness variations
were transformed into axisymmetric form as shown below in
Fig. 2. sin cos sin sin (9)

From the literature [5] it has been shown that coupling

between one axisymmetric mode with wave number (i,0) and
two asymmetric modes with wave numbers (k,l) and (m,n) will
occur, if the relationships i=‫׀‬k±l‫ ׀‬and l=n are satisfied. For the
case of one axisymmetric (i,0) and one asymmetric (k,l) mode,
the coupling conditions reduce to the single relation i=2k. The
coupling between three asymmetric modes with wave numbers
(k,l), (m,n) and (p,q) will occur if the relations k+m+p= odd
integer and q=‫׀‬l±n‫ ׀‬are satisfied. If all these coupling conditions
are satisfied, then the resulting critical buckling load of the shell
is generally lower than the buckling load were each mode to be
considered separately. The use of the former conditions results
in an 8-mode failure coupling that is ultimately employed in the
determination of the predicted critical buckling load. This mode
coupling is clearly depicted in Fig. 3 as shown below:

The initial axisymmetric imperfections are represented by AXISYMMETRIC ASYMMETRIC

Eq. (6) from which the respective Fourier coefficients were
calculated. The initial asymmetric imperfections are represented (2,0) (1,5) + (2,6) + (2,8)
by Eq. (7) and substitution of the specific range over which the + +
summation must be performed yields Eq. (8), from which the (1,6) (2,4)
respective Fourier coefficients were calculated. + +
(1,11) (1,10)
, ∑ ∑ sin cos sin (8)


Donnell’s equilibrium based partial differential equation as
given by Eq. (1) was used for calculating and predicting the
critical buckling load of GSB shells subjected to external
pressure. The initial imperfection in the shell wall thickness, w,
is assumed to follow the 8 coupled buckling modes as
graphically defined in Fig. 3. It is this combination of
deformation modes that appear to create the minimum critical
buckling load for the simulated shells under the present
consideration for the external pressure load case.
A vertical bar graph depicting the number of buckled shells
for discrete ranges of the non-dimensional buckling load (λ) is
shown in Fig. 4. This histogram was employed in the
calculation of the reliability function from which the empirical
FIG. 2 AXISYMMETRIC WALL THICKNESS (GSB10 SHELL) value of the non-dimensional buckling load is determined for the
series of simulated shell geometries previously described herein.

4 Copyright © 2010 by ASME

maximum allowable external working pressure for the assumed
shell thickness of 0.3125 in. The steps in the Code calculations
are repeated below for the reader as follows:
For the assumed shell thickness (t) of 0.3125 in. and outside
diameter (D0) of 168.625 in., calculate ratio’s (L/D0) and (D0/t)
Enter Fig. G at the value of L/D0 = 0.231; move horizontally to
the D0/t line of 540 and read the value of A of 0.0005.
FIG. 4 HISTOGRAM OF  FOR 20 SIMULATED SHELLS Enter Fig. CS-2 at the value of A = 0.0005 and move vertically
to the material line for 700°F. Move horizontally and read B
Figure 5 illustrates the reliability function for the 20 value of 6100 on ordinate.
simulated shells. The value of the non-dimensional buckling
load (λ) can be calculated at any desired reliability from this STEP 4
curve, e.g., for a reliability of 0.95, λ is equal to 0.86. The maximum allowable external working pressure for the
At the 95% reliability level, the non-dimensional buckling assumed shell thickness of 0.3125 in. is
load value of the simulated shells utilizing the Monte Carlo 4 4 6100
technique, results in value of approximately 0.86, as shown in 15.1 
3 3 540
Fig. 5. The classical critical buckling load for the predefined
fractionating tower subjected to external pressure as given by
Eq. (2) is 21.163 psi. Since, Pa is greater than the external design pressure P of 15 psi,
the assumed thickness is satisfactory.


The results presented herein clearly indicate that the effect
of shell wall thickness variation on buckling load deserves
special attention. Thus, in the absence of initial geometric
imperfections, this particular kind of thickness variation may
constitute the most important factor in the predicted buckling
load reduction. Under the current parameters of the work as
described in the preceding paragraphs,  was determined to be
0.86 while employing the Monte Carlo technique. The results
clearly indicate that the mere presence of shell wall thickness
variations as a result of non-repeatability in any particular
manufacturing process (even within industry accepted tolerance
limits), that the load carrying capacity of the shell decreases by
approximately 14%. Furthermore, it can be concluded that
FIG. 5 RELIABILITY FUNCTION v.  imperfections in shell wall thickness within the defined
tolerance limits have been sufficiently considered within the
ASME B&PV CODE SECTION VIII, DIVISION 1 ASME Code [10] as has been demonstrated in example L-3.1.
CALCULATION OF EXTERNAL PRESSURE The load carrying capacity must be reduced due to the
known presence of imperfections. The results obtained from the
The maximum allowable external working pressure evaluation of the non-dimensional buckling load when the
calculations are performed in ASME B&PV Code [10] as shown fractionating tower is subjected to external pressure while
in Appendix L, example L-3.1. The prescribed design employing the Monte Carlo technique and the ASME B&PV
information is related to a fractionating tower of 14 ft. inside Code [10] are shown in Table 2. For the simulated shell
diameter and designed for an external design pressure of 15 psi geometries considered in the present study, which are subjected
at 700F. The tower is assumed to be fabricated from SA-285, to external pressure, the non-dimensional buckling load becomes
Gr. C carbon steel. The design length is 39 in. Assuming a shell 0.86. The Monte Carlo technique considering asymmetric
wall thickness, t = 0.3125 in., the Code [10] calculates the imperfections results in a 14% decrease from the classically

5 Copyright © 2010 by ASME

computed values described in Eq. (2). In contrast, the load REFERENCES
carrying capacity of a shell under external pressure must
1. Donnell, L. H., 1934, “A New Theory for the Buckling of
decrease by 20% according to ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel
Thin Cylinders Under Axial Compression and Bending,"
Code, Section VIII, Division 1 rules [10].
Transactions of the ASME, Aeronautical Engineering,
There is an obvious difference of approximately 3.2 psi in
AER-56-12, pp. 795-806, ASME, New York.
the working external pressure for the two methodologies. The
2. Saunders, H. E., and Windenberg, D. F., 1931, "Strength of
far more conservative results in the case of the ASME Boiler
Thin Cylindrical Shells Under External Pressure”,
and Pressure Vessel Code [10] approach may be due to the fact
Transactions of the ASME, 53(15), p. 207, ASME, New
that the Code has adopted a deterministic approach based upon
empirical relations developed and published by various pressure
3. Brar, G. S., Hari, Y., and Williams, D. K., 2009, “Fourier
vessel design engineers based upon the results and experience
Series Analysis of a Cylindrical Pressure Vessel Subjected
gained by testing of cylindrical shells subjected to external
to External Pressure,” PVP2009-77854, ASME 2009
pressure. The Code does not employ specific measures for
Pressure Vessels and Piping Conference, ASME, New
addressing the effects of thickness perturbations throughout a
given shell geometry subjected to external pressure. In contrast,
4. Brar, G. S., 2009, “Buckling Load Predictions in Pressure
the Monte Carlo simulations allow various statistical matching
Vessels Utilizing Monte Carlo Method”, Ph.D. Thesis,
procedures to specifically address any given range of geometric
University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA.
parameters when seeking a solution to the equilibrium based
5. Arbocz, J. and Babcock, C. D., 1976, “Prediction of
differential equation long ago defined by Donnell [1].
Buckling Loads Based on Experimentally Measured Initial
In accordance with the rules of the ASME Boiler and Pressure
Imperfections”, Buckling of Structures, Budiansky B., ed.,
Vessel Code [10], the empirical relations developed account for
IUTAM Symposium, Cambridge, Mass., 1974, Springer
shape imperfections must be applied to the allowable stresses
Verlag, Berlin, pp. 291-311, New York.
utilized in the design calculations for external pressure. The
6. Elishakoff, I., Li, Y., and Starnes, J. H., Jr., 2001, Non-
calculation steps as reproduced in the previous section of this
Classical Problems in the Theory of Elastic Stability,
paper are used to calculate the external working pressure for un-
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
stiffened cylindrical vessels in accordance with the ASME Code
7. Elishakoff, I. and Arbocz, J., 1985, "Reliability of Axially
[10] and are contained in Table 2 below.
Compressed Cylindrical Shells with General Non-
symmetric Imperfections," Journal of Applied Mechanics,
52, pp. 122-128, ASME, New York.
WORKING PRESSURES FOR FRACTIONATING TOWER 8. Arbocz, J. and Williams, J. G., 1977, "Imperfection Surveys
on a 10 ft. Diameter Shell Structure," AIAA Journal, 15, N.
ASME B&PV Code 15 psi 7, pp. 949-956, Reston, VA.
Asymmetric (Monte Carlo) 18.2 psi 9. ASME, 2001, ASME Boiler & Pressure Vessel Code,
Section VIII, Division 2, American Society of Mechanical
Engineers, New York.
10. ASME, 2007, ASME Boiler & Pressure Vessel Code,
Section VIII, Division 1, American Society of Mechanical
Engineers, New York.


θ\L(in.) 0.75 3.25 5.75 8.25 10.75 13.25 15.75 18.25 20.75 23.25 25.75 28.25
0 0.293  0.287  0.294  0.298  0.294  0.296  0.300  0.306  0.288  0.283  0.310  0.309 
30 0.287  0.292  0.288  0.300  0.288  0.289  0.300  0.290  0.306  0.295  0.296  0.298 
60 0.297  0.283  0.284  0.310  0.281  0.306  0.309  0.290  0.305  0.290  0.305  0.295 
90 0.294  0.291  0.292  0.289  0.306  0.295  0.295  0.305  0.294  0.300  0.294  0.284 
120 0.304  0.283  0.284  0.310  0.293  0.288  0.309  0.283  0.298  0.311  0.287  0.284 
150 0.294  0.308  0.297  0.301  0.300  0.296  0.286  0.312  0.291  0.294  0.286  0.288 
180 0.313  0.301  0.306  0.302  0.307  0.283  0.293  0.282  0.309  0.302  0.295  0.289 
210 0.293  0.303  0.302  0.307  0.290  0.287  0.310  0.303  0.307  0.306  0.306  0.308 
240 0.289  0.297  0.295  0.300  0.292  0.313  0.296  0.295  0.295  0.292  0.297  0.299 
270 0.310  0.303  0.309  0.303  0.296  0.308  0.282  0.285  0.300  0.286  0.286  0.307 
300 0.295  0.305  0.292  0.286  0.297  0.299  0.299  0.293  0.312  0.293  0.288  0.284 
330 0.291  0.299  0.284  0.281  0.298  0.303  0.307  0.307  0.298  0.293  0.312  0.287 

6 Copyright © 2010 by ASME

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