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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, 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

Terje Haukaas

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)

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=

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

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

kw

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

(7)

Page 2

Terje Haukaas

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.

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

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:

Page 4

Terje Haukaas

www.inrisk.ubc.ca

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.

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)

Page 5

Terje Haukaas

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)

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

(25)

!=

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

Page 6

Terje Haukaas

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

Page 7

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