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Engineering Structures 30 (2008) 2677–2686

Numerical simulation of steel pretensioned bolted end-plate connections of

different types and details
Gang Shi a,∗ , Yongjiu Shi a , Yuanqing Wang a , Mark A. Bradford b
a Department of Civil Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, PR China
b Centre for Infrastructure Engineering and Safety, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The University of New South Wales, Sydney,
NSW 2052, Australia

Received 22 June 2007; received in revised form 22 February 2008; accepted 26 February 2008
Available online 22 April 2008


This paper describes the development of a finite element numerical model with the ability to simulate and analyse the mechanical behaviour of
different types of beam–column end-plate connections in which all of the bolts are pretensioned. The general purpose ANSYS software forms the
basis of the modelling and its new functions are used to simulate the interface between the end plate and the column flange, as well as the pretension
force in the bolts. Modelling of this kind has hitherto not been reported. The finite element model is compared with test results, which verify that the
numerical procedure can simulate and analyse the overall and detailed behaviour of a number of types of bolt-pretensioned end-plate connections
and components accurately, including the generation of the moment–rotation (M–φ) relationship, the contact status between the end-plate and the
column flange, the behaviour of the end plate, the panel zone and bolts, and the influences of the bolt pretension force. Moreover, the numerical
model also provides some additional useful results which are difficult to measure during testing, including the distribution of the pressure and
frictional forces between the end plate and column flange induced by the bolt pretension and the moment at the joint, and the principal stress flow
in the connections. This knowledge provides a basis for developing mechanical models consistent with the Eurocode component method of joint
design. The validated numerical model is used for additional parametric finite element analyses of a number of beam-to-column bolt-pretensioned
end-plate connections so as to produce a comprehensive study of their behaviour.
c 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: End plate connection; Finite element analysis; Pretensioned; Semi-rigid; Joints

1. Introduction moment in the connection [1–3,5]. In steel frame analysis

conventional methods of analysis idealise the connections
End-plate connections, which consist of two main types, viz. simplistically in two representations: rigid or pinned. However,
flush and extended end-plate connections, are used widely in the actual behaviour of frame connections lies between these
steel structures, [1–3]. Beam-to-column connections, including
two extremes and is semi-rigid [1–6] and considerable attention
end-plate types, often significantly influence the behaviour
has been directed in recent years towards modelling the
of steel frames, with deformation of the connection in
combination with the P-delta effect contributing to excessive response of semi-rigid connections. The so-called component
lateral drift in unbraced multistorey frames [4]. For most method adopted by the Eurocode [1,7] can quantify the
connections under ambient conditions, the axial and shearing behaviour of semi-rigid connections and claims to be able
deformations are usually small compared to the rotational to establish a predictable degree of interaction between the
deformation and consequently the rotational deformation is the members based on the moment–rotation (M–φ) characteristics
most important characteristic of the connection. This rotational of the joint. Although this somewhat advanced philosophy has
deformation is customarily expressed as a function of the not been adopted universally amongst design standards, the
Chinese steel structures design code [8] requires the M–φ
∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +86 10 6279 2330; fax: +86 10 6278 8623. characteristics of the joint to be first determined for the analysis
E-mail address: (G. Shi). of steel frames with semi-rigid connections.

c 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

0141-0296/$ - see front matter
2678 G. Shi et al. / Engineering Structures 30 (2008) 2677–2686

Notwithstanding the usefulness of the component method curve fitting [23,24]. Choi et al. [25] applied new solid elements
of the Eurocode for quantifying the behaviour of semi-rigid and fine mesh to analyse beam-to-beam and beam-to-column
joints [1,7], the background research on which the M–φ curves end-plate connections extended on both sides. Bose et al. [26]
and the relevant coefficients are based is limited to end-plate used the commercial program LUSAS to analyse unstiffened
connections with unstiffened end plates and snug tightened flush end-plate connections. Bursi et al. [27] produced an
bolts. As a result, the component method is not applicable to overview of the finite element method for the analysis of end-
end-plate joints with either pretensioned bolts or to joints with plate connections and undertook a FEA of one extended end-
a stiffened end plate and research into these types of end-plate plate connection using the commercial ABAQUS code. More
connections is therefore much needed [9]. recently, the present authors [28] carried out a FEA of two types
Many tests on beam-to-column end-plate connections have of end-plate connections in portal frames and used test results
been reported over the years. However, connection types and to verify the numerical results.
details are numerous and innovative with many parameters Over the last decade, some numerical simulation of
that must be accounted for collectively to characterise the the hysteretic behaviour of end-plate connections has been
behaviour; such parameters include whether the end plate is conducted. Kukreti and Biswas [29] developed a computer code
flush or extended, whether the end plate extends beyond one and used it to analyse the moment–rotation behaviour of three
or both of the beam flanges and the length of this extension, eight-bolt end-plate connections subjected to seismic loading
the diameter of the bolt, the number of bolt rows, the vertical and they compared their numerical results with experiments.
and horizontal spacing of the bolts, the grade of the bolts, Deng et al. [30] formulated a hysteretic connection element
the end-plate thickness, stiffening of the end plate or column and implemented it to simulate the hysteretic response of
panel zone, the bolt pretension force, the dimensions of the unstiffened extended end-plate connections. Bursi et al. [31]
beam and column, the yield strength of the steel and the performed a numerical analysis of the low-cycle fracture
coefficient of friction at the contact surface etc. Because of this, behaviour of isolated T-stub connections; these are elemental
it is almost impossible to study the behaviour of these joints components of extended end-plate connections and are
comprehensively except by physical tests [10]. Furthermore, fundamental elements of the Eurocode component method of
such testing can be costly and finite element modelling in lieu design of connections [7]. A shell finite element was applied
of physical modelling is an attractive option for developing a by Ádány et al. [32] to model the cyclic analysis of steel-to-
database of connection characteristics. concrete end-plate joints.
The finite element analysis (FEA) of end-plate connections While the results of these aforementioned studies are
appears to have been first reported by Krishnamurthy [11– valuable, their drawbacks, from a numerical standpoint, are
13]. An exhaustive numerical study of four-bolt, unstiffened, the use of often specifically-developed finite element models
extended end-plate connections, along with the results of a and some questions as to the assumptions made in modelling
series of experimental investigations, led to the development a difficult and complex problem. These formulations were
of the design procedure reported in Ref. [14]. Tarpy often seemingly governed by balancing accuracy with the
and Cardinal [15] carried out an elastic finite element computational prowess of the day and, while providing
study of unstiffened end-plate connections that was verified important results and insight into structural behaviour in
experimentally and they also proposed a design methodology lieu of physical testing, in most cases they do not provide
for these joints. Maxwell et al. [16] developed a prediction an entirely general means of describing quantitatively the
equation for the ultimate moment of connections, as well as behaviour of semi-rigid connections by FEA. Large-scale
their M–φ relationships, based on a FEA and on experimental general purpose finite element software packages such as
tests. Jenkins et al. [17] did FEA on flush end-plate connections ANSYS [33] and ABAQUS [34] have evolved in recent
and those extended on one side, then put forward a bi- years and their functions and capabilities are becoming more
linear M–φ model for flush end-plate connections. Kukreti advanced and easier to implement. Software of this type can
et al. [18] adopted 2-D FEA model to calculate 50 flush be applied to model and simulate accurately the behaviour
end-plate connections and verified the recommended M–φ of different types of bolted end-plate connections in lieu of
relationship for this type of connection based on regression developing specific FEA programs for the simulation, or of
analysis. Chasten et al. [19] studied the contact between the conducting expensive and time-consuming physical testing. In
end-plate and column flange so as to determine the prying particular, the most comprehensive version of ANSYS [33]
force by using the commercial ADINA code. Sherbourne provides many new functions that can simulate and analyse
and Bahaari used firstly 2-D [20] and then 3-D [21] finite the mechanical behaviour of bolted end-plate connections
element models to analyse end-plate connections. In addition accurately, especially the contact between the end-plate and the
to the overall behaviour, the contribution of the bolts, end-plate column flange and the pretension force in the bolts; these have
flexibility and the column flange flexibility to the connection hitherto proven to be difficult to model for computer simulation.
rotation was singled out in their work. Using FEA, Bahaari This paper simulates and analyses eight beam–column end-
and Sherbourne [22] also studied the structural properties plate connections with pretensioned bolts having various types
of an extended end-plate connected to a column flange and and details using ANSYS. Hitherto, such joint types have not
produced a standardised M–φ function for extended end-plate been modelled in this way, the connections are all typical of
connections with or without stiffeners in the tension region by those in multistorey steel frames. In implementing the FEA, the
G. Shi et al. / Engineering Structures 30 (2008) 2677–2686 2679

Table 1
Types and details of specimens

Specimen number Connection type End-plate thickness (mm) Bolt diameter (mm) Number of bolts Column stiffener End-plate stiffener
SC1 Flush 20 20 6 Yes –
SC2 Extended 20 20 8 Yes Yes
SC3 Extended 20 20 8 Yes No
SC4 Extended 20 20 8 No Yes
SC5 Extended 25 20 8 Yes Yes
SC6 Extended 20 24 8 Yes Yes
SC7 Extended 25 24 8 Yes Yes
SC8 Extended 16 20 8 Yes Yes

Table 2
Dimensions of beam and column cross-sections (mm)
Section Web Flange Flange thickness
depth thickness width
Beam 300 8 200 12
Column 300 8 250 12

interaction between the end plate and column flange as well

as geometric and material nonlinearities are taken into account
and the modelling proposes a new and more appropriate method
for applying the pretension force in the bolts instead of the
more conventional use of applied initial strains. These eight
connections have also been tested physically under monotonic
loading in order to validate the FEA model and the results. The
numerical simulations also provide some extra valuable results
which are usually very difficult to measure during physical
testing, including the distribution of the pressure and frictional
force between the end plate and the column flange due to the
bolt pretension force and the moment at the joint, as well as the
principal stresses in the connection.

2. Finite element analysis

As has been noted, the purpose of this paper is not to derive a

new numerical scheme for the analysis of end-plate connections Fig. 1. Details of connections (dimensions in mm).
but rather to illustrate the use of recent advanced features of
ANSYS software for the FEA of these connection types. 2.2. Finite element model

2.1. Geometric details of connections In the modelling herein, all elements of the beams, columns,
end-plates, stiffeners and the high strength bolts were meshed
The details of the eight bolted end-plate connection by the 10-node tetrahedral solid structural elements SOLID92.
specimens used in the FEA are shown in Table 1 and in The important interface between the end-plate and the column
Fig. 1. All of the beams and columns in the joints had the flange was simulated by creating contact pairs with the 3-
same dimensions, as listed in Table 2. In these connection D target surface elements TARGE170 and the 3-D 8-node
specimens, SC2 can be regarded as a reference or control surface-to-surface contact elements CONTA174. The PSMESH
specimen and all the other connections differ from SC2 in only command was used to define pretension sections in the middle
one or two geometric parameters, e.g. whether the joint is a of the bolt shanks and to generate the pretension elements
flush or extended end-plate type, whether the joint has an end- PRETS179 through which the pretension forces in the bolts are
plate stiffener or a column panel zone stiffener, the thickness of applied by the command SLOAD. Because of their geometrical
the end-plate and the bolt diameter. The thickness of the column symmetry about the central plane passing parallel through
flange is taken to be the same as that of the end-plate, within the the beam and column webs, only one half of each of the
length range of 100 mm above the extension of the end-plate connection specimens was modelled for the FEA in order to
and 100 mm below the extension of the end-plate (Fig. 1). The reduce computation time. Fig. 3 shows a typical finite element
thicknesses of the column panel zone stiffener and the end-plate model of a connection and that of a high strength bolt is shown
rib stiffener are 12 mm and 10 mm respectively. in Fig. 4.
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Table 3
Material properties for high strength bolts

Stress (MPa) 0 990 1160 1160

Strain (%) 0 0.483 13.6 15

Fig. 3. Typical finite element model of a connection.

Fig. 2. Typical connection prototype model (dimensions in mm).

2.3. Material properties

The stress–strain relationship for the steel plates was taken

as elastically–perfect plastic with a Poisson’s ratio of 0.3.
The yield strength and elastic modulus of steel plates thicker
than 16 mm were taken as 363 MPa and 204,227 MPa
respectively; those for plates thinner than 16 mm being
391 MPa and 190,707 MPa. The stress–strain relationship
for the high strength bolts (including the bolt heads, shanks
and nuts) was taken as trilinear, with the points defining the
Fig. 4. Finite element model of high strength bolt.
stress–strain relationship being given in Table 3. Von Mises’
yield criterion was adopted as the yield criterion for all steel 3. Results and discussion
components and the flow rule was adopted following yielding.
The coefficient of friction for the contact surface between the 3.1. Comparison of results from FEA and experiments
end plate and column flange was taken as 0.44. All of these
material properties were taken from test data reported by the For post-processing the results of the FEA, the force at the
authors [35]. loading point shown in Fig. 2 was identified and its peak value
was taken as the loading capacity of each of the connection
2.4. Analysis methodology specimens. The joint moment was taken as the product of the
load and its lever arm of 1200 mm (which is the distance from
The implementation of the analysis and solution of the the loading point to the column flange, as shown in Fig. 2).
finite element modelling involved two load steps. Firstly, all Table 4 presents comparisons of the load capacities of all of
displacement restraints were applied at the restraint points that these connections.
are shown in Fig. 2 and the pretension forces were applied to Comparisons of the moment–rotation (M–φ) and moment-
the bolts. The pretension forces were 155 kN and 225 kN for shearing rotation (M–φs ) curves for the FEA and test results
M20 and M24 bolts respectively, which were obtained from for all of the connection specimens are shown in Figs. 5 and
the Chinese design code for pretensioned high strength bolted 6 respectively. In these figures, the rotation φ is the total joint
connections [36]. After solving the first load step, the second rotation of the beam-to-column end-plate connection while φ s
load step implemented consisted of a downward displacement is the shearing rotation, which is that part of φ contributed
load being applied at the loading point identified on the beam in to by the shearing deformation of the column panel zone.
Fig. 2, for which the “Large Displacement Static” analysis type The detailed definition and method of calculating the joint
was chosen to consider the P-delta effect. rotation is given in Ref. [37]. The M–φ curves describe the
G. Shi et al. / Engineering Structures 30 (2008) 2677–2686 2681

Fig. 5. Comparison of moment–rotation (M–φ) curves for all connections.

overall characteristics of the joints, while the M–φ s curves and SC8) are shown in Figs. 7 and 8. The comparison of the
illustrate the detailed behaviour of one of the components of ultimate failure modes for the other connection specimens was
the connection. found to be similar. These two figures also show the detailed
Comparisons of the ultimate failure modes from the FEA deformations of the end-plate, the column flange and the end-
and test results for two typical connection specimens (SC1 plate stiffener.
2682 G. Shi et al. / Engineering Structures 30 (2008) 2677–2686

Fig. 6. Comparison of moment-shearing rotation (M–φs ) curves for all connections.

3.2. Discussion all of the connections are linear and that the agreement
between the FEA curves and the test results is extremely close.
When comparing the moment–rotation (M–φ) and moment- For most of the end-plate connections with bolt pretensions
shearing rotation (M–φs ) curves that are shown in Figs. 5 the agreement between the FEA and test results in the
and 6, it can be seen that the initial stages of loading for nonlinear range of response is very close, with only minor
G. Shi et al. / Engineering Structures 30 (2008) 2677–2686 2683

Fig. 7. Comparison of ultimate failure mode of connection specimen SC1.

Fig. 8. Comparison of ultimate failure mode of connection specimen SC8.

Table 4 small discrepancies between the numerical results and the

Comparison of loading capacities between FEA and tests physical tests need some discussion. Firstly, the stress–strain
Specimen number Test (kN) FEA (kN) FEA/Test relationship for the steel plates used in the FEA was
elastic–perfectly plastic and so strain hardening was neglected.
SC1 155.3 156.2 1.01
SC2 286.4 276.8 0.97
This idealisation is reflected in the FEA results for connections
SC3 256.9 244.2 0.95 whose capacities are governed by steel plates, including the
SC4 256.6 256.5 1.00 panel zone in shear and the end-plate in bending, where
SC5 268.4 289.2 1.08 the discrepancies are larger owing to the post-yield steel
SC6 325.3 294.2 0.90 strength; the discrepancies of specimens SC6 and SC7 in
SC7 342.3 301.9 0.88
SC8 296.1 261.6 0.88
particular are attributable to the neglect of the strength of
the panel zone after yielding, while those of specimens SC3
Average 0.96 and SC8 are attributable to the neglect of the strength of
Standard deviation 0.07
the end-plate in bending after yielding. The load capacities
of the other connections are controlled by the bolts and the
discrepancies. In addition, the comparisons given in Table 4 error is much smaller. Secondly, the values of the applied
of the joint capacities derived by the FEA and tests are pretension force for all of the bolts were determined by the
close, with the numerical predictions of the capacities being design values given in Ref. [36]. In conducting physical tests
slightly conservative (average FEA to test ratio of 96% with it is very difficult to induce a predetermined bolt force by
a coefficient of variation of 7%). It can be concluded that pretensioning techniques because the bolt forces are very
the finite element modelling described here can simulate the high [38] and, as a consequence, this has been identified
response of the connections with acceptable accuracy and, by as a reason for discrepancies between theoretical predictions
corollary, it is able to simulate the contact status between and test results [39,40]. Thirdly, fabrication errors in the test
the end-plate and the column flange as well as the detailed specimens can lead to a geometric deviation between the
characteristics of other components of the connections, viz. the physical and numerical results.
panel zone, end-plate, column flange, end-plate stiffener and 3.3. Additional results from FEA study
pretension forces in the bolts.
Because the FEA modelling herein purports to provide The finite element results can also provide extra valuable
an accurate representation of the joint behaviour, the results for the mechanical behaviour of bolt-pretensioned end-
2684 G. Shi et al. / Engineering Structures 30 (2008) 2677–2686

Fig. 9. Distribution of pressure between the end-plate and column flange caused by bolt pretension force.

Fig. 10. Distribution of friction force between the end-plate and column flange at ultimate load.

plate connections, which are difficult to measure in physical end-plate type, end-plate stiffener and column panel zone
tests. stiffener, on the connection stress status. These results provide
Firstly, Fig. 9 shows the distribution of pressure between the important information for a generic mechanical analysis of the
end-plate and column flange for specimens SC2 and SC6 prior overall behaviour of the end-plate connection and the influences
to loading; the distributions in all of the other specimens are of its components and detailing.
similar. Although the area of force distribution is governed by
many factors, such as the bolt diameter and the end-plate and 4. Concluding remarks
column flange thicknesses, it can be concluded from the FEA This paper has described the development of finite element
results of all of the connections that this distribution region models to simulate and analyse the mechanical behaviour
is about ten times the bolt shank sectional area. This value is of beam–column bolt-pretensioned end-plate connections of
very important in the theoretical analysis of the stiffness and different types and details. From the results of a comprehensive
deformation of pretensioned bolted connections [35]. comparison of the results of the finite element analysis and
The distributions of the friction force between the end- tests, the following conclusions can be made.
plate and the column flange at ultimate loading for joints The finite element modelling that has been developed and
SC1 and SC2 are shown in Fig. 10; the distributions for the the methodology of its implementation can accurately and
other connections are similar to SC2. The FEA results can efficiently simulate and analyse not only the overall behaviour
also provide the friction force distribution for the connection of connections of this type, including the load capacity, the
under any loading, including that at first yield. This observation moment–rotation relationships and the mode of failure, but also
provides full details of the contact and friction forces in the the detailed characteristics of the joint and its components,
connection at any load level and is important in contriving including the mechanical behaviour and deformation of the
a mechanical model for use in practical design, especially panel zone, the end-plate and the bolts.
when studying the behaviour of the end-plate connection under The pretension force in the bolt and the contact between the
combined moment and shear force. This also has potential for end-plate and the column, which have proven to be difficult to
including the large axial forces that are induced in a joint due include in finite element analyses, are simulated well with the
to fire loading but which are not included in the study in this present modelling.
paper. Strain hardening of the steel should be taken into account
Fig. 11 shows the distributions of principal stress flow when the post-yielding behaviour of end-plate connections is
for joints SC1 to SC 4; again the distributions for the other needed.
connections are similar to SC2. This figure makes transparent The finite element results which were validated well against
the influence of the connection details, e.g. flush or extended test results can provide extra valuable results for the mechanical
G. Shi et al. / Engineering Structures 30 (2008) 2677–2686 2685

Fig. 11. Distribution of principal stress flow in connections.

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