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

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

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

The radius of curvature is R. We 5 . where F is the applied stress. and is taken to the arc N N . l is the length. and represents the length of the segment before bending. the neutral surface.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. Note the orietation shown with the coordinate system. and ∆l is the extension of the material. Above N N the beam is extended. below N N it is contracted. and E is Young’s modulus. 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. which is halfway down the beam. A is A l the cross section. ∆l is the strain. The line OA BD. with exaggerated bending. The small arrows between BD and CO represent the extension and contraction of the beam.

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

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

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