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This document is part of the notes written by Terje Haukaas and posted at www.inrisk.ubc.ca.

The notes are revised without notice and they are provided as is without warranty of any kind. You are encouraged to submit comments, suggestions, and questions to terje@civil.ubc.ca. It is unnecessary to print these notes because they will remain available online.

Beams on Elastic Foundation

Beams on elastic foundation, such as that in Figure 1, appear in certain building foundations, floating structures, beams resting on a grid of perpendicular beams, and elsewhere. It also turns out that the governing differential equation is akin to that of cylindrical shells and tapered beams with curved webs. In this document the beam is assumed to be a regular Euler-Bernoulli beam, while the foundation is described by the stiffness, ks, per unit length along the beam.

q ks

Figure 1: Beam on elastic foundation.

Terje Haukaas

University of British Columbia

www.inrisk.ubc.ca

Foundation Stiffness

Suppose the stiffness, ks, is determined from soil testing. In particular, suppose a vertical load, P, is placed on an area with dimensions x and y, and that the vertical displacement, , is measured. The relation ship between the distributed load and the displacement is written in terms of a distributed stiffness, kd:
P = kd ! " x! y # kd = P $ kN ' " ! x ! y & m3 ) % (

(1)

While kd is stiffness per unit area, ks is stiffness per unit length. The sought value is obtained by multiplying kd by the beam width, b:
" kN % ks = b! kd $ 2 ' #m &

(2)

In passing, it is noted that there is no unique relationship between the Youngs modulus, E, of the foundation material and the stiffness ks. However, if one imagines that the soil underneath the beam is linear elastic with depth L to bedrock then the force-deformation relationship of the soil is

P=

EA ! " L
E $ kN ' L & m3 ) % (

(3)

where A=x.y is the area loaded by P. Writing Eq. (3) in the form of Eq. (1) yields
P = kd ! " x! y # kd =

(4)

and the sought stiffness is, in accordance with Eq. (2):


ks = b! kd = b! E " kN % L $ m2 ' # &

(5)

Another situation appears when the beam is resting on a grid of closely spaced perpendicular beams, e.g. joists. Suppose the joists are spaced at x on centre and that their stiffness against vertical deflection at the point of intersection with the beam is kb[kN/m]. Then the sought stiffness is:
ks = kb ! kN $ x # m2 & " %

(6)

Yet another situation is a beam floating on water, such as a ship. Suppose this beam has width equal to b. The change in buoyancy force associated with a unit length of the beam due to a vertical displacement, , equals the weight of the displaced water:

B=

Displaced volume Weight density

l ! b! " (!"#) # $

! # w ! g = ( l ! b! # w ! g ) ! " % !#"#$
kw

% kN ( k w = l ! b! # w ! g ' * & m)

(7)

Beams on Elastic Foundation

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Terje Haukaas

University of British Columbia

www.inrisk.ubc.ca

The sought stiffness per unit length is obtained by dividing by the length:
ks = kw # kN & = b! " w ! g % 2 ( l $m '

(8)

Differential Equation

Compared with the basic Euler-Bernoulli beam theory, it is sufficient to modify the equation for vertical equilibrium to obtain the differential equation for a beam on elastic foundation. As a result, the following conventions from basic beam bending hold valid: 1) Clockwise shear force is positive; 2) Bending moment with tension at the bottom is positive; 3) Tension stress is positive; 4) The z-axis points upwards, so that upwards displacement, w, is positive; 5) The distributed load, q, is positive downwards. Figure 2 shows the forces acting on an infinitesimal beam element. The springs that illustrate the elastic foundation exert a downward force when the beam is subjected to an upward displacement.

q
z, w

x V+dV

M+dM

ks

dx
Figure 2: Infinitesimal beam element.

Vertical equilibrium yields:

q ! dx + ks ! w ! dx + dV = 0 Dividing through by dx and re-arranging yields


q=! dV ! ks " w dx

(9)

(10) Substitution of this equation into the basic beam theory yields the following revised differential equation (11) Another way of deriving this equation is to start with the following basic differential equation for beam bending:
Beams on Elastic Foundation Page 3

d 4 w ks q + !w = " 4 dx EI EI

Terje Haukaas

University of British Columbia

www.inrisk.ubc.ca

(12) From earlier it is understood that the applied load, q, plus the elastic foundation yields a total force on the beam element equal to q+ksw. By substituting this total load in the right-hand side of Eq. (12), Eq. (11) is obtained. In solving Eq. (11), it is useful to define a characteristic length (sometimes called elastic length). To approach the definition it is first noted that EI/ks has dimension [m4]. As a result, the following definition of the characteristic length has the dimension of length:
lc !
4

d 4w q =! 4 dx EI

4 " EI ks

(13)

The convenience of the factor 4 will become apparent later. It is also convenient to work with the normalized coordinate instead of the original coordinate, x, along the beam:

!=

x lc

(14)

To transform the differential equation, differentiation with respect to x is related to differentiation with respect to by the chain rule of differentiation:

d d d! 1 d = " = " dx d! dx lc d!

(15)

This yields the following homogeneous version of the transformed differential equation:

d 4w + 4 " w = 0 d! 4

(16)

Solution

The characteristic equation is 4+4=0 has the four different complex roots (1+i), (1i), (1+i), and (1i). Consequently, the general solution is:

w(! ) = C1 " e# ! cos(! ) + C2 " e# ! sin(! ) + C3 " e! cos(! ) + C4 " e! sin(! ) !#### "##### !####"####$ # $
"Damped terms" "Undamped terms"

(17)

where the phrase damped terms is employed to identify terms that vanish as increases to infinity. This labeling is useful because the solution for a point load must vanish far away from the point of load application. In fact, only the damped terms appear in many practical situations. To shorten the notation under such circumstances, the following auxiliary functions are defined:

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Terje Haukaas

University of British Columbia

www.inrisk.ubc.ca

g1 = e! " cos(" ) g 2 = e! " sin(" )

g3 = g1 + g 2 g 4 = g1 ! g 2

(18)

These functions are plotted in Figure 3, where it is observed that they decay rapidly with . In fact, all functions approach zero once increases beyond 4. g1 g2
1.0 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 1 2 3 4 5 6 0.30 0.25 0.20 0.15 0.10 0.05 1 2 3 4 5 6

g3
1.0 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 1 2 3 4 5 6

g4
1.0 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2

0.2

Figure 3: g-functions.

The auxiliary functions also have the following properties:

dg1 = "g3 d!

dg 2 = g4 d!

dg3 = "2g 2 d!

dg 4 = "2g1 d!

(19)

In short, the general solution to the differential equation, without the un-damped terms read: (20)
w(! ) = C1 " g1 + C2 " g 2

The bending moment associated with the solution is: The shear force is:
V= dM 2EI = 3 ( C1g 4 + C2 g3 ) dx lc
M = EI ! d 2 w 2EI = 2 ( C1g 2 " C2 g1 ) dx 2 lc

(21)

(22)

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Terje Haukaas

University of British Columbia

www.inrisk.ubc.ca

Reference Case 1

Consider the beam in Figure 4, where one end is subjected to the forces Vo and Mo, while the other end is infinitely far away. Both Vo and Mo are positive, i.e., the shear force is clockwise and the bending moment gives tension at the bottom. Because the beam is infinitely long, the solution cannot have contributions from the un-damped terms. As a result, the solution is given by Eq. (20).

Vo Mo
EI

!
Figure 4: Reference Case 1.

ks

From Eqs. (21) and (22) the bending moment and shear force at =0 are:
M (! = 0) = " V (x = 0) = 2EI C lc2 2

(23) (24)

2EI (C1 + C2 ) lc3

Setting these equal to Mo and Vo, respectively, yields:


lc2 (l V ! Mo ) 2EI c o lc2 C2 = ! M 2EI o C1 =

Hence, the solution reads:

(25)

lc2 w= ! ( M o g4 + lcVo g1 ) 2EI

(26) (27) (28) (29)

!=

lc ( 2 M o g1 + lcVo g3 ) 2EI
M = M o g3 + lcVo g 2

V =!

2 M g + Vo g 4 lc o 2

Reference Case 2
Consider the infinitely long beam in Figure 5, with a point load applied at =0. Immediately to the left of the point load the shear force is P/2, while immediately to

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Terje Haukaas

University of British Columbia

www.inrisk.ubc.ca

the right it is P/2. That is, with reference to the previous case, Vo=P/2. Furthermore, the rotation at the point load is zero: Substituting Vo=P/2 and solving for Mo yields

! (0) =

lc ( 2 M o + lcVo ) = 0 2EI lc P 4

(30)

(31) where it is noted that the bending moment at the point load is the same as that of a simply supported beam with length lc loaded at midspan. In summary, the solution from Case 1 is applicable also here, with and

Mo =

Vo = !

P 2

(32)

Mo =

lc P 4

(33)

P EI

!
Figure 5: Reference Case 2.

ks

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