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NSC Vol 12 No 2 (Mar/Apr 2004) - Better practice in steel design

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Better Practice in Steel Design

David Brown, Deputy Director of the Steel Construction Institute

David Brown offers encouragement with common design issues deserving attention.

SCI courses offer an opportunity for design Charpy tests measure absorbed energy (in Joules)
engineers to get to grips with the theory and when a sample of material is broken, and are
practice of steel design. They also provide an carried out at particular temperatures, since
excellent opportunity for SCI staff to appreciate toughness varies with temperature. A high Charpy
the common concerns that practising designers Value measured at a low temperature indicates a
experience. It is all too easy for SCI staff to think tougher steel. Tables 4 and 5 of BS 5950 indicate
that because a subject has been covered in a the maximum thickness of steel that may be used,
guide, the objective has been met, that all depending on sub-grade and service temperature.
designers now understand and are following the The designer’s obligation is therefore to study
advice. Meeting designers on courses and dealing Table 3, (shown in part below) and identify the
with their very real questions on the advisory line factors that affect the steel, and then, knowing the
helps us keep some degree of reality in our thickness of the steel sections that have already
thinking, and is a useful barometer for how well been chosen and the service temperature, choose
issues are understood. This article covers no new an appropriate sub-grade.
ground, but, based on our interaction with
designers, it covers issues that deserve further What goes wrong?
explanation. We are aware that in many cases, the steel sub-
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grade is not specified. In some cases, it is

CHOICE OF STEEL SUB-GRADE assumed that the steelwork contractor will choose
We all appreciate that most materials become less the sub-grade. However, although the steelwork
ductile at lower temperatures. I recall seeing a contractor could guess, it is only the structural
Mars bar being flexed at room temperature, but designer that really knows the state of stress,
after immersion in liquid nitrogen being strain rate, service temperature etc. It naturally
spectacularly shattered with a hammer. Many DIY falls to the structural designer then, to specify the
enthusiasts will be aware of breaking cast iron steel sub-grade.
drainpipes into transportable pieces not with a
saw but with a sledgehammer – since cast iron is a Where to get further advice
brittle material. Example calculation of steel sub-grade: SCI’s ‘Blue
The same principles apply to structural steel, and Book’ Volume 2 Worked Examples.
the design Standard BS 5950-1 requires that Further Information: Advisory Desk note 250 New
material sub-grades (i.e. “grades” and “qualitites” Steel Construction Vol. 9 No. 5 Sept/Oct 2001.*
to use the terms from the material Standard EN
10025 are chosen to ensure adequate low- SWAY STABILITY
temperature ductility or “toughness”. The need for The good news is that more designers are
tougher material increases: checking sway stability. Until everyone is doing so,
• as the tensile stress increases, some frames may be experiencing second order
• as the temperature decreases, effects that have not been allowed for.
• as the strain rate increases, The main excitement is probably with braced
• with local stress raisers from non-uniform frames, where past practice was simply not to
stresses, or potential crack propagators, check frame stability, assuming the frame to be
• with the likelihood of incipient cracks in the non-sway. The key advice is to check sway
material microstructure, stability, but not to be dismayed if the frame is
• with thickness. classed as sway-sensitive. The approximate
The more of the above that are present, the more methods in the Standard to allow for the second
likely brittle fracture, and a tougher steel-sub- order effects are in fact delightfully simple, and
Created on 28 November 2009

grade is required. BS 5950-1 directs the designer should not put anyone off. In many cases, the
to Table 3, which addresses the type of detail, sway effects in a braced frame merely need to be
stress level and strain rate in which the steel is to amplified, typically by 15% maximum. This is
be used. simple and cost effective, compared to the
The toughness of the steel sub-grade is alternative of increasing the bracing members in
characterised by its Charpy Value number (CVN). size until the frame is forced to be non-sway.
NSC Vol 12 No 2 (Mar/Apr 2004) - Better practice in steel design

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For the enthusiasts with time to spare, it should be cracking. Note also that with a given thickness,
noted that frame stability is loadcase dependant, there are a number of appropriate solutions
and advantage can be gained by assessing depending on the CEV, heat input and hydrogen
each loadcase. scale – there is no single procedure for a particular
Where to get further advice
Example calculation of frame stability: SCI’s ‘Blue What goes wrong?
Book’ Volume 2 Worked Examples. Occasionally, the CEV of the steel is unknown, with
Further details: “Multi-storey frame design”, New the possibility that the WPS is inappropriate. The
Steel Construction Vol. possibility that the WPS is not appropriate is more
10 No. 6 Nov/Dec 2002 likely with thicker joints, where more elaborate
and “Unbraced frames procedures are usually required in any case. The
- sway stability”, Vol. maximum CEV is given by the material Standard,
11 No. 3 May/June but this is usually higher than the actual CEV. WPS
2003.* based on the maximum CEV are likely to be more
involved (and costly) than those based on the
Having made efforts to What should happen?
ensure our steel is The CEV of the steel should be checked, and the
suitably tough to avoid WPS demonstrated to be appropriate for the steel
brittle fracture, there is and for the thickness of the material being welded.
a further consideration This accords with the National Structural
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that affects material Steelwork Specification (NSSS) which requires

specification when that this information is available. In Table 2.1 of
considering welding. the NSSS, note (2) states that “If the steel is to
Fig. 1. Potential truss joint strengthening (to be avoided!) Absorbed hydrogen incorporate welded connections, ‘Option 5’ must
can lead to brittle be ordered”. Ordering of Option 5 relates to the
failure in the heat product standard, and ensures that the CEV can be
affected zone (the determined. Almost all steel structures incorporate
small zone welding, and the requirement to know the CEV is
immediately adjacent thus widespread. In clause 5.3.1, the NSSS insists
to the weld metal). that WPS are prepared following ‘the guidance of
Welding Procedures BS EN 1011-2 avoid hydrogen cracking’. The
(properly called CEV is an essential piece of data required in
Welding Procedure following the guidance in BS EN 1011-2.

I ::,Q Specifications, or
WPS) are prepared
Thus, currently, option 5 should be the “default”
basis for ordering structural steel. Revisions to
and tested to ensure EN 10025 currently planned will promote CEV from
that this hazard is being an option to becoming mandatory. This
avoided. Increasingly provides the possibility to ensure that there will no
costly and longer be any potential mismatch between the WPS
inconvenient and the material specification.
measures must be
taken to avoid brittle Where to get further help
Fig. 2. Modelling of bases with a dummy member fracture when welding Welding lectures on
thick material, and if "Welding for Designers"; New Steel Construction;
the steel is susceptible. The procedures then Vol. 10, No. 5 Sept/Oct 2002.*
should be appropriate for the thickness of the
material joined, and also the susceptibility of the TRUSS JOINT CAPACITIES
steel to hydrogen embrittlement. The Common practice in general steel design is for the
Created on 28 November 2009

susceptibility of the steel relates to the CEV. Table connection design and detail to be the
1, taken from BS EN 1011, shows the balance responsibility of the steelwork contractor. This
between hydrogen, heat input, combined split responsibility works well for both nominally
thickness and CEV. Note that as the CEV reduces, pinned connections in Simple construction and for
the allowable thickness increases as the steel rigid joints such as portal frame connections.
becomes more “weldable” and less susceptible to Continued over...
NSC Vol 12 No 2 (Mar/Apr 2004) - Better practice in steel design

Discuss me ...

Diffusable Maximum combined thickness

contenta CE of 0,49 CE of 0,43
ml/100g of
Heat input Heat input Heat input Heat input
A rather different policy must be adopted where deposited
1,0 kj/mm 2,0 kj/mm 1,0 kj/mm 2,0 kj/mm
the frame is semi-continuous, and so relies on
mm mm mm mm
very specific connection properties. In this case
> 15 25 50 40 80
the structural designer must also specify the
connection details. 10 ≤ 15 30 55 50 90
Truss joints that involve hollow sections, either 5 ≤ 10 35 65 60 100
as internal members or as chords, are an extreme 3 ≤ 5 50 100 100 100
example of where the normal practice of leaving
≤ 3 60 100 100 100
the steelwork contractor to ‘design the
Measured in accordance with ISO 3690

connections’ is not appropriate. Once the layout

This is Table C1 from BS EN 1011-2:2001 Examples of maximum combined thickness weldable
(geometry) of the truss has been set by the without preheat
designer, and members chosen, the joint capacity
has been set, since this depends entirely on
members, forces and geometry. Since the Components in tension
steelwork contractor is generally not at liberty to Type of detail or location due to factored loads
change the members, forces or geometry, his Stress ≥ 0.3Ynom Stress < 0.3Ynom
responsibility is to check the joint capacity, and if
Plain Steel 2 3
this is insufficient, to strengthen the joint by the
Drilled holes or reamed holes 1.5 2
addition of plates, often as shown in Figure 1. This
is time consuming and expensive. Flame cut edges 1 1.5
Punched holes (un-reamed) 1 1.5
What goes wrong? Welded, generally 1 1.5
Simply that the joint capacities are not checked Welded across ends of cover plates 0.5 0.75
during the design process, often leading to
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Welded connections to unstiffened flanges, see 6.7.5 0.5 0.75

expensive strengthening.
This is part of Table 3 from BS 5950-1:2000 Examples of factor K for type of detail, stress level
(a low K indicates more onerous conditions)
What should happen?
Tables reproduced with the permission of BSI under licence number 2004SK/003. British Standards can be
Best practice is that the truss designer calculates obtained from BSI Customer Services, 389 Chiswick High Road. London W4 4AL; (tel 020 8996 9001).

the joint capacities at the design stage, when the

geometry might be modified, or different storey from ground to first floor if the bases
members chosen, so that expensive fabrication are pinned.
can be avoided. 3. Assume a pin at the base when carrying out
the ULS analysis and design. Use of any base
Where to get more help stiffness at ULS will mean that both the
Design of SHS welded joints from baseplate detail and the foundation will need to be designed for the resulting moment –
which is unwelcome in common UK practice.
BASE STIFFNESS Note that although points 1 and 2 above will, of course,
Accounting for base stiffness in analysis can be of imply moments at the bases, these can be ignored.
significant benefit, even when the bases are Modelling often causes confusion. A simple
nominally pinned, yet much confusion surrounds approach is to define a ‘dummy’ member that has
the subject. This is despite Advisory Desk articles either 10% or 20% of the inertia of the column
in this journal, and specific clauses in BS 5950. In section (depending on the check being
an attempt to encourage designers to use the considered). For simplicity, it is recommended that
beneficial stiffness of nominally pinned bases, the the extreme end of the dummy member is a pin,
following is recommended when the bases are and therefore the length of the dummy member
nominally pinned: should be 75% of the length of the column, as
1. Use 10% of the column stiffness as a base shown in Figure 2.
stiffness when checking frame stability. The
stiffness of the base will improve frame What goes wrong?
stability, and is therefore beneficial. The effect The beneficial effects of bases stiffness, even with
of the base stiffness will be to reduce any a nominally pinned base, are neglected.
Created on 28 November 2009

amplification that is necessary, and will in

some cases result in a frame being classified Where to get more help
as non-sway, rather than sway-sensitive. Modelling of steel structures for computer
2. Use 20% of the column stiffness as a base analysis, SCI. Available on
stiffness for SLS calculations. This will help
*To view items from New Steel Construction see
reduce lateral deflections, often critical in the