Design of Modular Blast-Resistant Steel-Framed Buildings in Petrochemical Facilities

Author: Paul B. Summers, P.E., S.E., M. ASCE., MMI Engineering, 11490 Westheimer Road, Ste 150, Houston, Texas 77077, Tel: 281-920-4600,

Blast-resistant modular (BRM) steel-framed buildings have been utilized in petrochemical facilities and are becoming more common – both for turnaround situations and as alternatives to conventional in-place construction. These modular buildings utilize steel structural frame members (usually HSS members that are ‘seismically’ compact per AISC 341) with crimped steel plate walls. The method of attaching the plate walls to the frame members typically does not utilize mechanical fasteners; rather, continuous welded construction is usually used. Roof joists and floor joists (usually seismically compact steel sections) typically support flat plate roofs and floors. BRM buildings can be designed for blast loading conditions that are on par with other blast resistant construction. BRM buildings may be anchored or unanchored. If unanchored, they may slide which can result in additional risks. Typical ‘building blocks’ are 10 to 14 ft (3.0 to 4.3 m) wide by 20 to 50 ft (6.1 to 15.2 m) long. BRM buildings can range from single module structures to multi-module and multi-story, integrally-connected structures, with floor areas over 10,000 ft2 (929 m2) (see Figures 1 and 2). Refer to [Gehring and Summers, 2005] for further details related to construction. This paper examines design issues for modular blast-resistant steel-framed buildings, as presented in the upcoming 2008 edition of the ASCE guideline "Design of Blast Resistant Buildings in Petrochemical Facilities".


Geometric and material nonlinearity effects are normally utilized in such analyses. Nonlinear finite element analysis methods may be used to evaluate the dynamic response of a single building module or a multi-module assembly to blast loads. This global approach can remove some of the conservatisms associated with breaking the building up into its many components when using the SDOF approach.ONE-STORY.FIGURE 2 . Doors and other openings can be explicitly modeled as shown. The strip at the center of the roof (in the building’s long direction across the modules) is due to the stiffening effects provided by the relatively stiffer central transverse tubular framing members. The variation in deformation that can be seen across the roof show the deformation response of the roof plate in between the relatively stiffer roof joists. Figure 3 shows a finite element model for a six-module complex. These analyses are typically carried out using a finite element program capable of modeling nonlinear material and geometric behavior in the time domain. FIVE MODULE COMPLEX DESIGN APPROACH Steel-framed modular buildings may be designed using dynamic structural analyses ranging from the basic single degree of freedom analysis (SDOF) method to nonlinear transient dynamic finite element analysis. . both of which can be more appropriately captured using the FEA approach. including tension membrane effects and plastic strain limitations. modular buildings improve their blast capacity by providing a high level of continuity. This figure shows the deflected shape of the same model subjected to roof blast loading. The designer should account for response/failure modes in the analysis. This steel plate-member construction can be effectively modeled using either an SDOF or a finite element analysis (FEA) approach. With fully-welded connections between the exterior steel cladding crimped wall panels and the structural frame members as well as the frame member-to-member connections.

tight crimp pattern.. Unlike light gage material. (127 mm) for onerous blast conditions.2 mm] thick). it is suggested that the response criteria be generally limited to values between those specified for cold-formed light-gage panels and steel plates. higher values for response limits than those specified for cold-formed light gage panels in ASCE [2008] can be justified for the crimped panel wall plates used in modular buildings. (4. However. often to a depth of 5 in. but are more often 3/16 to 5/16 in.e. a greater resistance against local buckling which allows greater ductility (before tensile membrane action occurs) than conventional light-gage metal panels.8 to 7. the acceptance criteria for steel plates would be appropriate. frame members. including: a higher flexural strength of the panel cross section. the crimped panel walls employed in blast-resistant modular buildings are usually a minimum 10 gage (approximately 1/8 in. roof joists and exterior crimped wall cladding) are designed to meet the acceptance criteria associated with the desired level of protection. a symmetric.9 mm) thick structural steel plate material. and are thicker. Acceptance criteria for structural members. by analysis or test. These wall panels exhibit greater levels of ductility and flexural capacity coupled with a much lower propensity to buckle (both locally and globally) than light gage corrugated metal panels used in conventional metal-clad building construction.FIGURE 3 . can be used for the evaluation of steel frame members used in modular building construction. If the designer accounts for local buckling and other response modes in prediction of deformation. as presented in ASCE [2008]. [3. This is because of a number of factors. Therefore. rather than flat.DEFLECTED SHAPE UNDER ROOF BLAST LOADING ON SIX-MODULE COMPLEX ACCEPTANCE CRITERIA Structural components (i. because the wall panels are crimped. and a relatively large thickness-to-corrugation depth ratio of typical panels. .

If the building is unanchored (free to slide) for blast loading. In this case. simplified numerical integration methods or finite element analysis. it is also recommended that the allowable accumulative plastic strain during the complete analysis be evaluated for the crimped wall panels. including risk. including the propensity to topple over and fall. subject to the local building official’s anchorage requirements for gravity. but not necessarily to predict local stress/strain concentrations at small discontinuities around penetrations. or only anchored for conventional loads with a structural anchorage fuse. to [NORSOK 2004]). Refer to ASCE [2008] for a further discussion on foundation design strategy for blast-resistant buildings. magnitude and probability of blast.Further. the amount of flexibility in the utility connections (power. and acceleration of the building can be estimated using impulse-momentum first principles. some owners have taken the approach that the foundations and anchorages need only be designed for normal design loads (loads other than blast). . gas) and. Attached utilities should also be designed to accommodate expected movements or fail in a safe manner. the maximum sliding displacement. In this case. as well as the possibility of injury to personnel. water. This design approach can result in quite large foundations. SMACNA [1998]). Anchorage and restraint techniques for nonstructural items have long been used for earthquake design (FEMA 412 [2002]. most importantly. fixed equipment and internal moving objects (typically unrestrained and falling objects). in the case of modular blast-resistant steel buildings. Note that the application objectives of finite element analysis methods for this class of building is to predict global and member responses. for example. the owner’s tolerance to risk. Permanent fixtures and equipment should be designed to withstand the calculated local building motions as a result of blast loads. the critical components of motion can be local accelerations. the effects of tension membrane fracture limits should be considered (refer. the building’s anchorages are permitted to ‘break’ during a blast event (they act as anchorage ‘fuses’). However. Refer to ASCE [2008] for further details on response criteria. Whether a building should be anchored for blast. Owners should make this decision on many factors. and therefore there is a high degree of sensitivity of predicted plastic strains to the mesh refinement used. the building can be designed to be completely unanchored (free to slide) for both blast and other loading effects. Continuity of welded connections is critical to the performance of these types of structures and reduced ductility of the welds should be considered. velocity. the structural movement may result in impact/damage to attached utilities and building contents. cost. In such interactions. FEMA 414 [2004]. Alternatively. ANCHORED OR FREE TO SLIDE? Many blast-resistant modular buildings are designed to be permanent installations with their anchorage and foundations designed to resist the total anticipated blast loads. safety. due to interaction with the structure. Specifically. velocities and displacements that govern local forces and energies of impact. wind and earthquake loading. FEMA 413 [2004]. whether or not potential down time is acceptable following a blast event. depends on the anticipated use of the building. anchored for other loads (but not for blast) or completely unanchored (and free to slide). The contents and personnel within the building should be assessed for these actions. wastewater. but are designed to remain intact under other design loads.

and the crimped panel walls and the main framing beams and columns. buildings that are not anchored for blast must have a high margin against overturning and the propensity to uplift should be calculated. skirts may need to be bolted to the buildings. Definitive assessment criteria for interactions with personnel are not available. whether or not potential down time is acceptable following an event. the blast load applied to the underside of the building should be considered. velocities and accelerations are acceptable to an owner depends on the anticipated use of the building. TM 5-1300 provides some guidance on tolerance of mechanical and electrical equipment as well as personnel. application of pressure to the underside of the building should be considered. verification by shock testing with the induced motions consistent with expected structural motions may be needed. connections between adjacent modules are a critical aspect to consider. . joints and connections shall be designed to be capable of developing the full capacities of the connected members. Connection designs at the foundation anchorage points are more critical if the building is designed to be anchored due to the difficulty of achieving significant energy absorption through plastic deformation for the blast loads transferred through these connections. the owner’s tolerance to risk. Since the building will act as an external pressure barrier. The secondary connections typically include those between roof joists and roof perimeter beams. plate and floor joists. In the case of significant uplift. For modular buildings that are free to slide. Accordingly. Note that architectural and nonstructural components may become debris hazards. (300 mm). but as stated above. but criteria do exist (Baker [1983]). The primary connections typically include the joints for the main framing members. at a minimum. Additional criteria for projectile impact (such as falling objects) are also available (TNO [1992]). CONNECTION DESIGN If possible. floor joists and floor perimeter beams. as this further adds to the overturning moment and magnitude of uplift.As stated above. blastresistant skirts can be provided. Such skirts may need to be removable or constructed with access portals in order to service the underside of the building. the roof plate and roof joists. most importantly. Racking of adjacent modules should be avoided. Calculation of pressures on the underside of modular buildings that are slightly raised above grade or in the small gap between stacked modules in multi-story applications can be determined through computational fluid dynamics (CFD) methods. In all cases. and the connections between the base plates and the embedded plates at anchor points. ELEVATED MODULAR BUILDINGS If the modular building is elevated and the ‘gap’ between the building and the foundation is judged to be significant. this is very much an owner decision and is specific to the building being designed. the connections between beams/columns and base plates. the decision as to whether or not these displacements. with capacities in excess of the maximum transferable loads from the members framing into the connection. the connection strength should be designed. the calculated permissible sliding displacement sometimes has been limited to 12 in. flexibility in the utility connections and. where there are often electrical penetrations. Alternatively. If a multi-module building is used. the design of internals need only consider the effects of movement. Otherwise. For sensitive and critical equipment that must function during and after the event.

"Design of Blast Resistant Buildings in Petrochemical Facilities". Refer to Section ASCE [2008] for additional guidance. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT The author would like to acknowledge all his colleagues on the Task Committee on Blast Resistant Design. Explicit finite element analysis is one way to evaluate a BRM’s capability to resist projectile impact at the calculated speeds. Fragment impact and perforation effects can also be evaluated using semi-empirical techniques. TRANSPORTATION AND LIFTING ANALYSIS Interior modules of multi-module complexes can tend to be flexible and. Therefore. FEMA 414. transportation and lifting analyses may be warranted in order to prevent possible damage to interior non-structural components during these phases of the life cycle. 2004 . the results should be carefully reviewed and bounding calculations using empirical methods should be considered. Washington. FEMA 412. if this is the case. DC. Washington. Energy Division of the American Society of Civil Engineers. DC. 2002 Federal Emergency Management Agency. Washington.PROJECTILE RESISTANCE Modular blast-resistant buildings should be evaluated for projectile resistance if they are to provide a safety function for their occupants and if projectile impact is considered a credible scenario. REFERENCES ASCE. If this is case. 2008 edition Federal Emergency Management Agency. 2004 Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA 413. DC. Both Baker [1983]. Temporary bracing may be required during transportation. and TM 5-1300 provide methods of calculating likely impact speeds of projectiles as a function of blast overpressure. TEMPORARY BUILDINGS Blast-resistant modular buildings may be used as temporary structures and may be moved from site to site over their lifetime. routine inspections should be performed to this end. Petrochemical Committee. care should be taken to ensure that accumulated damage due to rugged service conditions and repeated transportation to the building’s main structural components does not result in a compromised blast-resisting system. Installing Seismic Restraints for Electrical Equipment. Also note that if using finite element analysis methods to predict the complex and highly nonlinear interaction between a projectile and its target. refer to Baker [1983]. Installing Seismic Restraints for Mechanical Equipment. Installing Seismic Restraints for Duct and Pipe.

Norway. The Hague. Seismic Restraint Manual: Guidelines for Mechanical Systems. First Edition. Revision 2. Gulf Publishing Company.B. Design of Steel Structures. VA. P. SMACNA 1998.. "Constructing and Designing Blast-Resistant Buildings: New Technology Improves Safety and Reliability for this Critical Plant Structure. TX. 1998 TNO – The Netherlands Organization of Applied Scientific Research. November 2005 NORSOK. CPR 16E." Hydrocarbon Processing. Standards Norway. October 2004 Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractor's National Association. NORSOK Standard N-004. Methods for the Determination of Possible Damage to People and Objects Resulting from Releases of Hazardous Materials. 1992 . Chantilly. Lysaker. and Summers. G. Directorate-General of Labour of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. The Netherlands.Gehring. Houston. 2nd edition.

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