Bending a Cantilevered Beam

Bram Sadlik 2 Feb. 2005



We look at the idealized case of a mass-less cantilever beam with a point force acting on its far end, and derive an equation for the deflection of such a beam. Although this calculation has been done many times, here I describe it a 1st year level without any assumptions of previous knowledge of mechanics (Calculus is inevitable...).


The Bending Moment

A cantilever beam can be imagined as a series of “springy” hinges, connected tip to tail, with the first hinge fastened to a rigid wall (Fig. 1).
Top view of single hinge


τ r

Direction of bending


Figure 1: Top view of a single spring loaded hinge. A series of
hinges connected head to tail can be used to visualize a beam.

The twisting force acting on a given hinge (otherwise known as ‘the torque’) is given by, τ = r × F, (1) where τ stands for torque, r is the vector pointing from the hinge to the point where F , the force, acts. The ‘×’-symbol stands for ‘cross product’, which may be familiar to you from Linear algebra. It means that τ points in a direction normal to the plane created by r and F and has the magnitude, |τ | = |r| · |F | sin(φ), where φ is the angle subtended between r and F (Fig. 2). 1 (2)

we refer to it as the bending moment (symbol M ). 2 . y in the vertical direction. These approximations lead to. From now on we will call this the ‘ˆ-direction’ (since it is to the z-axis). (4) (3) Here we note that a large r with a small F can produce the same toqrue as a small r with a large F . Next. |M | = |r||F |. We make two approximations that simplify the make it clear that this is bending and not twisting. y z x Horizontal Cantilevered beam Wall Angle aproximately 90o for small deflcections F Figure 3: The orientation of the coordinate system: x along the beam. asserting that τ points along z we get. When torque refers to bending of rigid objects. and z into the page. The magnitude of the bending moment at a given point along a rigid cantilevered beam is given by. if we just look at magnitudes. The tendency to twist is replaced with a tendency to bend at the point of interest. 3). τ = |r||F |ˆ. except that we are dealing with continuous material– it doesn’t bend at specific points (or hinges).r×F =τ r φ F Figure 2: The cross product. First. The angle between a cantilevered beam and vertical force is approximately 90o for small displacements. z Or. we say that since the z beam isn’t deflected much. and therefore the angle between the force vector. ˆ |τ | = |r||F |. So. we say that a bent beam is really only a two dimensional object. so that we can just assume that the torque acts in a direction normal to the page. F and r is approximately 90o (Fig. (5) The bending moment is exactly like a torque. the angle between its tip and the horizontal is small. rather than using τ we use M .

This torque tends to bend the beam back to its horizontal position. x is the position of the “kink” along the beam. imagine that the beam only bends at one point along its length (Fig.3 Mechanical Equilibrium After “loading” the beam we see that it bends. The torque from the external bending moment is balanced by torques from the internal stresses in the beam. and the bending moment is the torque on the crow-bars end. and the further the nail from the axis of rotation the harder it is to pull out. From Eq. A similar thing happens when you try to pull a nail out with a crow bar. 4). The force you apply on the crow bar is perpendicular to the force applied on the nail. Springs near the top of the beam are extended while those near the bottom are compressed. at first we observe small oscillations. −− − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − − −→ −M + {All internal stresses leading to torques} = 0 (6) To understand how the internal stress works. the larger the torque it applies. Between these two types of springs there is a neutral surface which is not extended or contracted. and F is the force. the magnitude of the bending moment at this point is given by M = F (L − x). Kink x l F Enlarged view of kink Neutral surface Figure 4: A beam which has been bent at single point (kink). Each spring applies a torque around the neutral axis. This means that the beam has reached mechanical equilibrium. illustrating the internal stresses at this kink and the bending moment M = F (L − x). (7) where L is the length of the beam. The axis of rotation is around the “neck” of the crow bar. In this analogy the nail is the spring. This moment is balanced by internal stress shown in the diagram as small springs. 5. The further the spring from this axis. 5) 3 . In this way the horizontal forces applied by the springs are translated into vertical forces (opposing the hanging mass).(Fig. but eventually these ‘die-out’ and the beam is stationary.

the layers length becomes l + ∆l. couples forces between neighboring layers and makes the beam rigid to bending.Figure 5: A crow-bar translates a force in the vertical direction into a horizontal force. However if we assume small deflections. The line NN’ is a neutral surface. take a rubber eraser and place it on the table with its large face down. The general form of Hooke’s Law (HL) relates the stress to the strain. l. rather than at a single point. From geometry in Fig. the local shape of the beam can be approximated by a circle. its length doesn’t change when the beam is bent. This extension and contraction of surfaces above and below NN’ is what gives the beam its vertical “springiness”. ξθ = dl. Dividing through we get ∆l ξ = . You can bend individual layers very easily but it is harder to stretch them. 4 . (Fig. Fig. A l (10) 1 If you want to do an experiment. marking the neutral surface (Fig. just like we saw with the springs 1 . Consider an isolated layer of thickness dξ and a distance ξ from the line NN’. 6) We treat the beam like a multilayered sandwich of springy surfaces (Fig. but when the beam is bent. 6 shows an enlarged segment of this beam with an exaggerated bend. 6). 7). When at rest. That is. Now bend it up. 6 we see that. while surfaces below it are contracted. The deflection of the beam is actually quite complicated. Next we will show how the sandwiching of these layers. 4 The Bending Shape and Deflection Usually beams bend uniformly along their entire length. mark a bunch of parallel lines on its side perpendicular to the table. Each layer behaves like a wide ribbon of fabric. (9) R l The layer is stretched by ∆l from its rest length. The lines will no longer be parallel to each other. the length of this layer is equal to the length of NN’. They get closer to each other along the top surface and farther from each other along the bottom. F ∆l =E . at any point along the beam we can draw a tangent circle with radius R. 3 shows a loaded cantilever beam. (8) Rθ = l. Surfaces above NN’ are stretched during bending. Fig.

The line OA BD. l is the length. The radius of curvature is R. Above N N the beam is extended. and represents the length of the segment before bending. which is halfway down the beam. and ∆l is the extension of the material. ∆l is the strain. and is taken to the arc N N . where F is the applied stress. We 5 . with exaggerated bending. Note the orietation shown with the coordinate system. and E is Young’s modulus.A t/2 ∆l ξ l t C B dξ N’ −t/2 R N D θ θ O Figure 6: A small segment of the beam. The small arrows between BD and CO represent the extension and contraction of the beam. below N N it is contracted. the neutral surface. A is A l the cross section. y dξ ξ t x Neutral surface N N w z Figure 7: A ‘cut’ through the beam shows the layered structure used for solving.

12 we get. a torque is balanced by a torque. dF = dAE∆l . Eq. 13 we get. dF = Ewξ dξ. −t/2. 11. 11 we see that the larger the cross section A. R Ewt3 (18) Note that this equation makes intuitive sense. We also see that a longer piece of material stretches by ∆l more easily than a short piece. The magnitude of the torque is given by |r||F | since φ ≈ 90o . R (15) Now that we have the force exerted by a single layer we can calculate the torque due to such a force. 12R (17) From Eq. the curvature decreases as the beam becomes thicker. that’s why we must multiply dF by ξ. t/2 F (L − x) = −t/2 Ewξ 2 Ew ξ 3 dξ = R R 3 t/2 −t/2 = Ewt3 . t/2. dA = wdξ. 1 12F (L − x) = . R cross−section (16) Remember. 10 by A. the more force we need to keep ∆l constant. We can turn this sum into a definite integral with limits given by the top and bottom surface of the beam. R (13) The cross section area dA of a single layer is given by the product of its width with its height (Fig. l (12) where dA is the cross sectional area of a single layer and E is Young’s Modulus. Substituting Eq. F ((L − x) = cross−section dF ξ = Ewξ 2 dξ. 17 we can get the curvature (Defined as 1/R). The slope is the first deriv.[2] l (11) Therefore the magnitude of the force exerted by the layer on each one of its ends due to this stretch is given by Eq. 2 From 6 . the distance between the ξ th layer and the neutral layer. 9 into Eq. Substituting this into the mechanical equilibrium condition we get. dF = dAEξ . We can get the shape and deflection of the beam by recalling that the curvature of a function is given by its second derivative. wider or stiffer (Young’s Modulus) and increases as the force increases and as the wall is approached (the last statement is less obvious). 7). F = EA ∆l. (14) Substituting this into Eq.can derive the more common form by multiplying Eq.

The equation holds in the limit of small deflections. 7 . If you don’t get this.t. y=4 F L3 . (20) dx2 Ewt3 where we have replaced 1/R with the second derivative of y. (Fig. of the slope or second deriv.) 5 Conclusion We found an approximate equation describing the deflection of a cantilever beam with a rectangular cross section when a point mass is hung from its end. (The minus sign accounts for the fact that F is pointing down. y(x) = d2 y = 12F (L − x) 2 12F dx = 3 Ewt Ewt3 x3 Lx2 − 2 6 (21) The deflection at the beam’s end is given by substituting x = L.and the slope of the slope (or curvature) is given by the deriv. x.r. 1 d2 (19) = 2 (f unction) R dx So that we can write: dy 2 12F (L − x) = . you can think of the beam as defining some line on the plane. Although the vector calculus and l=knowledge of mechanics is minimal a solid background in calculus is required to follow the derivation. Ewt3 (22) In our case the force F was supplied by a hanging mass so. This line can be treated like a function where deflections (y-coordinates) are related to position (x-coordinates). the deflection at point x along the beam. order to get the deflection of the beam at a point x we multiply through by dx2 and integrate twice w. y=4 (−mg)L3 Ewt3 (23) where mg is the weight of the mass. 8) In y x y = f (x) Cantilever Figure 8: The shape of the beam can be described as a function on the xy-plane.