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Tension estimation of cables with
different boundary conditions by
means of the added mass technique
A. Bellino, L. Garibaldi, A. Fasana, S. Marchesiello
Dipartimento di Meccanica, Politecnico di Torino, Corso Duca degli Abruzzi 24, 10129 Torino
Abstract
When analyzing cable vibration, both the tension and the bending stiffness must be taken into
account; in fact, the cable can be considered as an intermediate case between the beam (no
tension) and the string (no bending stiffness). Moreover, one of the most important issues for
this approach is the right definition of the boundary conditions, since they can be very different
from one structure to another.
Taking into account the aforementioned issues, the paper presents an overview of all possible
scenarios, especially focusing on the relationships between the cable properties and its boundary
conditions, summarized by the introduction of the modal length concept.
Successively, a method for the estimation of the cable tension has been developed, just based on
two simple measurements: one with the cable in its standard configuration and one with an
added mass on it.
This supplementary information allows to well estimate the modal lengths and consequently the
tension. The procedure is applied both to a numerical example and to an experimental test done
on a staycable bridge.
2
Introduction
The monitoring of cables is becoming one of the most important issues in the field of structural
health monitoring, for example in staycable or suspended bridges as well as in tensile structures
and everywhere steel cables have a structural function.
From a theoretical point of view, the cable can be considered as an intermediate case between
the beam and the string, and therefore its equation of motion includes not only the bending
stiffness but also the tension. Moreover, the cable is affected by the sagextensibility and other
secondary effects that can influence the modal parameters, especially when analyzing complex
structures. For example, Caetano and Cunha [1] studied the cables of the International
Guardiana Bridge and of the Braga stadium. They showed the complexity of the interaction
between the different subsystems (deck, towers, cables) and the presence of internal resonances.
Other aspects like veering, local modes and modal hybridization have been studied by Gattulli
and Lepidi [2]. Lardies and Ta [3], instead, proposed a time domain and a time–frequency
domain approaches for modal parameter identification of stay cables using outputonly
measurements.
Over the last years, mainly two types of techniques have been developed for the estimation of
the cable tension: one based on direct measure of the tension, by adopting preinstalled sensors
in series with the cable, the other based on indirect methods, often adopting vibration techniques
or wave propagation along the cable. This second approach is the kernel of the proposed
technique.
One of the most peculiar aspects of the cables is that it is not possible to obtain an analytical
formula linking the natural frequencies, the tension and the bending stiffness, except for the
simply supported case. This limitation prevents us to directly estimate the tension because, in
real applications, the cable do not have simply supports at the end. For this reason, many works
tried to develop some methods to overcome this problem. One of the first important researches
in the field was conducted by Zui et al. [4]: they proposed some practical formulas for the
estimation of the tension from the identified natural frequencies, taking into account the sag
extensibility. Ren et al. [5] presented a new version of the practical formulas, after having
explained the relative influence of the sagextensibility and of the bending stiffness.
Ni et al. [6] proposed a method for the analysis of a suspended bridge and a staycable bridge,
while Kim and Park [7] developed a method for the simultaneous estimation of the tension,
flexural rigidity and axial rigidity of a cable system. Moreover, in [8], the same authors made an
overview of all the available methods, based on two real bridges.
Ceballos and Prato [9] introduced two rotational springs at the cable ends to represent all the
possible boundary conditions and the stiffness of the springs is extracted from the first mode
that cannot be estimated by the identification procedure. Successively, the axial force of the
cable can be calculated.
In order to take into account all the scenarios, in our previous work [10], the concept of
equivalent length was introduced. It is a length that corresponds to the extracted natural
frequencies and to the known properties of the cable (as the mass per unit of length), based on
3
the formula for simply supported cables. The cable tension is successively estimated by
comparing the natural frequencies of the standard configuration with those of a new
configuration with a mass mounted on the cable.
Even if the concept of equivalent length is a good manner to simplify the relationships for the
cables, actually different theoretical lengths should be defined at each mode, because the length
should be seen as a parameter that quantifies the difference from the simply supported case.
They will be called modal lengths along the paper. For example, a high order mode is not
considerably affected by the boundary conditions and so the modal lengths will be close to the
real length; vice versa for the first modes the boundary conditions significantly influence the
cable dynamics and so the modal length will be quite different from the reference value.
The article presents a method based on two measurements: firstly the cable is monitored in its
standard configuration, by using one or two accelerometers to pick up its free vibration;
secondly, a mass is placed on it and the measure is repeated. The natural frequencies extracted
from the second configuration are compared with the former ones to obtain the modal lengths of
the cable and then both tension and bending stiffness are estimated.
Afterwards, a numerical example about a cable with nonconventional boundary conditions is
proposed to show the potentiality of the method. In particular, since the tension and the bending
stiffness are known, the theoretical modal lengths can be calculated. If compared with those
extracted from the method, it will be clear that they are very similar and the estimation of the
tension is very precise.
Conclusively, the cables of a staycable bridge near Aosta (Italy) have been analyzed to obtain
the tension of both the long and the medium cables.
Cable dynamics
The equation of motion of a cable includes not only the bending stiffness (as happens for a
beam) but also the tension and the sag extensibility:
0
d
) ( d
) (
) , ( ) , ( ) , (
2
2
2
2
2
2
4
4
= −
∂
∂
+
∂
∂
−
∂
∂
x
x y
t h
t
t x w
x
t x w
T
x
t x w
EI µ (1)
where EI is the bending stiffness, ) , ( t x w represents the deflection in the zdirection, T is the
static cable tension, µ is the mass per unit length of the cable, ) (t h is the dynamic tension and
) (x y is the geometric shape of the cable.
It has been verified that the effect due to the sag extensibility slightly affects only the first 34
inplane modes and then it can be neglected when considering higher modes or the outofplane
frequencies [9].
When analyzing cables, two important aspects should be taken into account:
4
• the relative influence of the bending stiffness and the tension, expressed by the bending
stiffness parameter ε [6,7] or by the nondimensional tension parameter β [9], which
is the inverse of ε . L is the cable length.
EI
T
L = ε (2)
• the boundary conditions, because only for the simply supported case an analytical
expression involving the natural frequencies, the tension and the bending stiffness is
known:
EI
L
r
T
L
r
f
r
4
2 2
2
2
4 4
1
µ
π
µ
+ = 
¹

\

(3)
Both the issues must be considered together in order to understand the cable dynamics.
The modal lengths
Consider a cable, of length L and mass per unit of length µ , with two rotational springs at the
ends, with stiffness equal to
A
K and
B
K respectively, as in Figure 1, in order to simulate
different boundary conditions. As done in [9], we consider the normalized stiffness, defined by
EI L K
L K
k
A
A
A
4
π +
=
EI L K
L K
k
B
B
B
4
π +
=
When a stiffness k is equal to zero, then the end is a simple support, when 1 = k it is a
clamping condition.
Figure 1. The cable with two rotational springs at the ends.
A
K
B
K
L
5
By applying the mode superposition, it is possible to write
0 ) (
d
) ( d
d
) ( d
2
2
2
4
4
= − − x
x
x
T
x
x
EI ϕ µω
ϕ ϕ
(4)
and the general mode shape can be written as
( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) x D x D x D x D x γ γ δ δ ϕ cosh sinh cos sin ) (
4 3 2 1
+ + + = (5)
where the different parameters are
g g a + + =
2 4
δ (6)
g g a − + =
2 4
γ (7)
EI
a
2
4
µω
= (8)
EI
T
g
2
− = (9)
After some manipulations and approximations [9], the following relationships are obtained:
( ) ( )( )+ + + − − − − =
2 2 2 2 2 8
1 γ δ γ δ π
B A B A B A
k k k k L k k A
( )( )ε γ δ π
2 2 4
2 + − + −
B A B A
k k k k L (10)
( )( )δ ε δ π δε π
2 2 4 8
2 2 + − + + =
B A B A B A
k k k k L k k B (11)

¹

\

=
−
A
B
n
1
tan ϑ (12)
and finally
2 2
1 2 
¹

\
 −
+ 
¹

\
 −
= =
ε
ϑ π
µ
ϑ π
π ω
n n
n n
n T
L
n
f (13)
6
The value
n
ϑ is dependent on the frequency
n
ω , therefore an iterative process is necessary to
extract the frequencies, by starting from the value of 0 =
n
ϑ , corresponding to the case of
simple supports.
Now, we can introduce the parameter
n
β as

¹

\

− =
−
=
π
ϑ π ϑ π
β
n L
n
L
n
n n
n
1 (14)
Since for a simple supported cable L n
n
/ π β = , then it is possible to imagine that the cable is
simply supported but with a length depending on the mode. This value is called modal length:
π
ϑ
n
L
L
n
n
−
=
1
(15)
Indeed Eq. (13), after basic calculations, becomes of the same form of Eq. (3):
EI
L
r
T
L
r
f
n n
r
4
2 2
2
2
4 4
1
µ
π
µ
+ = 
¹

\

(16)
Let's consider, for example, a cable with length 25 = L m and diameter 05 . 0 = d m. In
Figure 2, the modal lengths for different boundary conditions (it is assumed that k k k
B A
= = )
are depicted for a tension of
5
10 = T N and a bending stiffness of
4
10 8⋅ = EI
2
m N ⋅ .
Figure 2. Modal lengths for the cable proposed, for different boundary conditions.
7
If the cable is simply supported, then modal lengths are equal to the reference length L for all
the modes. In the other cases, the modal lengths are monotonically increasing and the
asymptotic value is given by the reference length. This situation is justified since higher modes
are clearly less affected by the boundary conditions.
Meantime, if the bending stiffness parameter is varying from 5 to ∞, there is a significant
variation of the modal lengths, as it can be seen in Figure 3 by imposing 5 . 0 =
A
k and
7 . 0 =
B
k . If ε is very large, then the behaviour is similar to that of a string and then the effect
of the boundary conditions is almost null. On the contrary, if ε is small, then the boundary
conditions affect notably the cable dynamics and consequently the modal lengths start from a
value quite different from the reference length.
Figure 3. Modal lengths for the cable proposed, for different values of the bending stiffness
parameter.
With the aforementioned procedure, every configuration of boundary conditions can be treated
as the cable would hold simple supports with different modal lengths. This is a huge advantage
because it allows us to use the known relationships among tension, bending stiffness and natural
frequencies of the cable.
Since for a simply supported beam the modal lengths are equal to the real length for all the
modes, also the calculus of ε can be done very quickly, directly from the natural frequencies by
manipulating Eq. (1617) in [10]:
2 2 2 2
2 4 2 4
q p
p q
f p f q
f q f p
−
−
= π ε (17)
8
where p and q are two different modes. For other boundary conditions, this formula can be
considered however a good approximation of the real value.
Moreover, if the modal lengths are known, then, by an iterative process involving Eq. (613), it
is possible to estimate the values of the rotational stiffness to characterize the real boundary
conditions of the cable.
Estimation of the cable tension
The key to well approximate the cable tension and its bending stiffness is to obtain a good
estimation of the modal lengths, in order to perform a classical regression on the identified
natural frequencies.
In this section, a foursteps algorithm is proposed to approximate the modal lengths and to
extract the cable characteristics. The basic idea, as in [10], is to compare the natural frequencies
of the cable in two different acquisitions:
1. the cable in its standard configuration
2. the cable with a mass placed on it
This second test is very important because it allows having additional information on the
system.
Initial regressions
The first step consists of two regressions based on Eq. 3 to obtain a first attempt estimation of
the tension and the bending stiffness of the cable, by using the measured length of the cable.
In the first regression only the low order modes are considered, therefore the tension obtained
can be considered quite close to the real value (based on the ε of the cable). Vice versa, in the
second regression, only the high modes are taken into account and then the bending stiffness is
quite well estimated. In both the processes, the values
in
T and
in
EI overestimates the real
tension and bending stiffness because the length considered is L , and it is larger than the right
values, expressed by the modal lengths.
Even when ε is large, the estimation of the bending stiffness
in
EI with the aforementioned
procedure is usually quite precise because the tension and the boundary conditions do not affect
significantly the higher modes.
Admissible modal lengths
Consider that the first modal length can vary in the interval [ ] L aL, , where a is a constant
parameter that can be chosen from 0 to 1. A good choice is 8 . 0 = a , but if ε is very small
(look at Figure 3), then a should be decreased. Starting from different values of the first modal
length, it is possible to calculate, for each couple of modes q and p (from Eq. 16):
9
¦
¦
¦
¹
¦
¦
¦
´
¦
+ =


¹

\

+ =


¹

\

EI
L
p
T
p
f
L
EI
L
q
T
q
f
L
p
p
p
q
q
q
2
2 2
2
2
2
2 2
2
2
4
4
1
4
4
1
µ
π
µ
µ
π
µ
(18)
Since the term containing the cable tension is equal in both the equations, then
(
(
¸
(
¸
− +


¹

\

=


¹

\

2
2
2
2 2
2
2
2
2
4
q p
q
q
p
p
L
q
L
p
EI
q
f
L
p
f
L
µ
π
(19)
In Eq. 18, the value
in
EI estimated in the previous step must be used. Since
in
EI
overestimates EI , also the modal lengths in the second member of the equations can be
substituted by a larger value, which is L in this case. With this approximation, there is a big
simplification of the equation with only a small error:
( )
2 2
2
2
2
2
2
2 2
4
q p EI
L f
p
f
p
q
f
L L
in
p p
q
q p
− +


¹

\



¹

\

=
µ
π
(20)
Summarizing, the iterative procedure allows to obtain a set of admissible modal lengths for the
case under study.
Calculus of the modal lengths
The third part permits to choose the most appropriate modal lengths, starting from the total set
obtained in the previous algorithm step. The decision is based on the configuration with the
added mass.
As explained in [10], the relationship between the natural frequencies of the case with and
without the mass can be expressed by the following formula:
) , (
,
m r
r
m r
x m g
f
f = (21)
2
sin
2
1 ) , ( 
¹

\

+ =
m m r
x
L
r
L
m
x m g
π
µ
(22)
10
where ) , (
m r
x m g is frequency variation due to the mass for the rth mode,
m r
f
,
is the rth
natural frequency for the configuration with the mass, m is the value of the mass and
m
x is the
mass position. These relationships hold if the added mass is quite small respect to the cable
mass, i.e. it is 1215% of the cable mass at maximum. Indeed, for all the possible cases, the ratio
between the frequencies in both the configurations is given by
m r
r
r
f
f
c
,
= (23)
This value must be compared with the theoretical vale of ) , (
m r
x m g . The modal lengths are
chosen from the total set as the values minimizing the difference between
r
c and
r
g ,
N r ,..., 2 , 1 = .
Final regressions
The final part is similar to the first one, because two regressive processes must be applied to
obtain the tension (only low order modes considered) and the bending stiffness (only high order
modes).
The difference respect to the first part of the algorithm is that now the modal lengths are used in
the regressive procedure, according to Eq. 16, instead of the reference length.
Numerical examples
Let us consider a steel cable with characteristics listed in Table 1. The cable has different
conditions for the two ends, quite far both from the supported condition and the clamping
condition. The bending stiffness parameter is equal to 95 . 27 = ε , therefore it is a case in which
the tension is not very high. The added mass is equal to 1/10 of the total mass of the cable.
The time histories have been created by using a RungeKutta method, according to [10], with
3% of Gaussian noise added to the accelerations. The sampling frequency is equal to 320 Hz.
In Figure 4, the power spectral density of the signal created (the measurement point is at 7 / 2L )
shows the first 20 natural frequencies. As it happens in real applications, not all the modes are
easy to identify.
In Figure 5, a comparison among the modal lengths obtained by means of the described method,
the theoretical modal lengths and the reference length is depicted. As previously said, the
theoretical modal lengths are monotonically increasing and they tend to the reference length L .
The modal lengths extracted are not very similar to the theoretical one for the first modes but
afterwards they become quite close. For this reason, in the third step of the algorithm, it is
advisable to neglect some modes and to start the comparison once modal lengths stabilize.
11
Table 1. Cable characteristics.
Length 25 = L m
Diameter 05 . 0 = d m
Maas per unit of length 32 . 15 = µ m kg /
Rotational stiffness, left
3 . 0 =
A
k
Rotational stiffness, right
5 . 0 =
B
k
Tension 5
10 = T N
Bending stiffness 4
10 8⋅ = EI
2
m N ⋅
Added mass 29 . 38 = m kg
Mass position
94 . 9 =
m
x m
Figure 4. Power spectral density of the signal created numerically.
Figure 5. Comparison between the modal lengths identified with the method, the theoretical
values and the reference length.
12
Table 2. Results extracted by the method.
5
10 149 . 1 ⋅ =
in
T N
90 . 14 =
in
T
er %
First regression
4
10 112 . 8 ⋅ =
in
EI
2
m N ⋅
88 . 18 =
in
EI
er %
5
10 015 . 1 ⋅ =
s
T N
45 . 1 =
s
T
er %
Final regression
4
10 051 . 8 ⋅ =
s
EI
2
m N ⋅
64 . 0
1
=
T
er %
Conclusively, in Table 2, the results of the method are presented. If only the first regression is
applied, then the results obtained overestimate the real value, as previously said. If all the
procedure is applied, then the results are very close to the real values.
Figure 6. The staycable bridge under study and a magnification on one of the long cables.
Figure 7. Different typologies of cable.
Long cable
Medium cable
Short
cable
13
Experimental example
The experimental case is a tensional study on the cables of a pedestrian staycable bridge in
Gressan, near Aosta, in the northern part of Italy. From Figure 6, it evident that the tests were
performed during the winter season, at a mean temperature of 3°C.
As it can be seen in Figure 7, there are three different typologies of cables, but in this paper we
analyze only the long and the medium cables. In Figure 8, a map with the name and the position
of the cables is presented.
Figure 8. Map of the different cables. The red circles indicate the long cables, the blue circles
indicate the medium cables.
A single accelerometer has been placed on each cable. A block of steel (the mass is equal to
8.50 kg) has been placed on each cable to obtain the added mass configuration.
Long cables
The long cables have a nominal length of 02 . 42 =
long
L m. In Figure 9, the power spectral
density of the signal produced by the accelerometer is visualized. Many modes are available, but
in our analysis only the first thirty modes are considered.
Figure 9. Power spectral density of the signal acquired on the first cable.
AOSTA
GRESSAN
C
8
C
1
C
2
C
3
C
4
C
5
C
6
C
7
14
Table 3. Results about the long cables.
Cable Tension Bending stiffness Bending parameter
1
C
5
1
10 455 . 6 ⋅ = T N
4
1
10 570 . 5 ⋅ = EI
2
m N ⋅
05 . 143
1
= ε
2
C
5
2
10 432 . 6 ⋅ = T N
4
2
10 541 . 5 ⋅ = EI
2
m N ⋅
16 . 143
2
= ε
7
C
5
7
10 408 . 6 ⋅ = T N
4
7
10 265 . 5 ⋅ = EI
2
m N ⋅
60 . 146
7
= ε
8
C
5
8
10 480 . 6 ⋅ = T N
4
8
10 332 . 5 ⋅ = EI
2
m N ⋅
49 . 146
8
= ε
In Table 3 the results obtained by the method are presented. Since the bending stiffness
parameter ε is quite large, the method cannot calculate modal lengths different from the
reference value, and then the results obtained are those extracted from the initial regression.
Both the estimated tensions and the estimated bending stiffnesses are very similar for all the
cables. This fact underlines the good health of the bridge.
Medium cables
The medium cables have a nominal length of 41 . 23 =
medium
L m. In Figure 10, the estimation
of the modal lengths for the four cables is depicted, compared with the reference length. The
values increase until approximately the tenth mode, then there is a sort of stabilization and
successively a new increase towards the nominal length.
In Table 4, the tension and the bending stiffness of the cables are listed. The bending stiffness
parameter is around three time inferior respect to the long cables. The results about the first
cable are slightly different from the others and this is due probably to some problems in the
identification of the natural frequencies. Indeed, its modal lengths has a decrease in
correspondence of the ninth mode and therefore its trend deviates more from the results found in
Figure 2.
Figure 10. Modal lengths for the four medium cables.
15
Table 4. Results about the medium cables.
Cable Tension Bending stiffness Bending parameter
3
C
5
3
10 934 . 2 ⋅ = T N
4
3
10 560 . 5 ⋅ = EI
2
m N ⋅
35 . 53
3
= ε
4
C
5
4
10 661 . 2 ⋅ = T N
4
4
10 004 . 6 ⋅ = EI
2
m N ⋅
28 . 49
4
= ε
5
C
5
5
10 309 . 2 ⋅ = T N
4
5
10 201 . 6 ⋅ = EI
2
m N ⋅
17 . 45
5
= ε
6
C
5
6
10 532 . 2 ⋅ = T N
4
6
10 194 . 6 ⋅ = EI
2
m N ⋅
34 . 47
6
= ε
Conclusions
The article deals with a new method for the estimation of the tension and bending stiffness of a
cable. The procedure is based on the manipulation of the extracted natural frequencies. A new
concept is introduced to understand the cable dynamics: the modal lengths. They represents the
theoretical cable lengths, for each mode, corresponding to the boundary conditions of the cable,
in order to use the relationships proper of the simply supported case.
The method proposed allows us to calculate the modal lengths starting from the natural
frequencies available, and finally the tension and the bending stiffness are obtained by means of
a classical regression procedure.
The results are very good both for the numerical example, where a cable with particular
boundary conditions is studied, and for an experimental test on a pedestrian staycable bridge.
In this case two different types of cables are analyzed. The long cables have a large bending
stiffness parameter and the modal lengths can be approximated with the nominal one; the other
cables have a more common value of the bending stiffness parameter and consequently the
modal lengths are significantly different from the nominal length, especially for the first modes.
Acknowledgment
The authors are grateful with the Mayor of Gressan town in Valle d'Aosta, Mr. M. Martinet, and
all the staff of Valle d'Aosta regional administration, with a special thanks to Drs. Clermont,
Clarey and Piazzano, for their support along this project.
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th
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