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Physically and Geometrically Nonlinear
Analysis of Frame Structures
Physically and geometrically nonlinear analysis of frame structures in Scia Engineer
Doc. Ing. Jaroslav Navratil, CSc.
Ing. Petr Foltyn
© 2006
Physically and geometrically nonlinear analysis of frame structures in Scia Engineer...... 6
introduction............................................................................................................................. 7
Calculation method................................................................................................................. 8
Material properties................................................................................................................ 10
Comparative example – verification of the method............................................................. 11
Two-span continuous beam......................................................................................................................................... 11
Collapse of a one-span frame....................................................................................................................................... 13
Conclusion............................................................................................................................ 18
Literature............................................................................................................................... 19
Doc. Ing. Jaroslav Navratil, CSc.
Institute of Concrete and Masonry Structures, Brno University of Technology, Udolni 53, 662 42 Brno, Czech Republic
SCIA CZ, s.r.o. Slavickova 1a, 638 00 Brno, Czech Republic
Ing. Petr Foltyn
SCIA CZ, s.r.o. Slavickova 1a, 638 00 Brno, Czech Republic
A nonlinear analysis of structures is still for many practical civil engineers merely an unpleasant topic that makes them
lose their usual confidence, just a non-standard and thus expensive method that has no place in their professional life
and that should be left to scientists and university teachers.
The problem, however, is that new European standards under certain circumstances explicitly require that the physically
and geometrically nonlinear analysis of a concrete structure be performed [1]. Moreover, this requirement is quite often
legitimate. Therefore, structural engineers will not be able to do anything but look for a software tool suitable for this task.
It is not possible to hide the fact that the problem is complicated and that it is at the centre of attention of many scientific
teams worldwide. When speaking about nonlinear analysis of structures, we will probably never have programs
operating “on a single click of a button”. This results from the diversity of applied models, but also from the imperfect
knowledge of physical-mechanical processes. In addition, as it follows from [9]: “two analysts may well get widely
diverging results when modelling the same structure using the same analytical model and the same software”, the
creation of an accurate analytical model requires a certain level of experience with nonlinear analysis.
Despite these difficulties, we believe that it is feasible to achieve good results in everyday civil engineering practice even
with relatively simple methods based on fundamental theorems of the theory of plasticity that take into account nonlinear
stress-strain diagrams.
Calculation method
An algorithm for the solution of a general physical and geometrical nonlinearity has been implemented in the Scia
Engineer program. This algorithm is therefore grounded on the assumptions of nonlinear behaviour of materials and
makes it possible to work with large deformations. It is intended for the solution of 2D and 3D frame structures. Thanks to
the improvements of the very algorithm for the solution of nonlinear equations, it was not necessary to implement the
option of gradual definition of plastic hinges in the analysed structure, which was the case in the ESA PrimaWin program
The whole load is applied on the structure at one time in one load increment. An iteration method is employed to solve the
system of nonlinear equations. In the first step, a linear analysis of the structure is carried out, i.e. stiffnesses obtained on the
assumption of elastic behaviour of the cross-section are used. In the next steps, stiffnesses reduced due to the effect of cracks,
plasticisation of a part of the cross-section, etc. are applied. New values of the stiffness are always determined through a
nonlinear analysis of the cross-section [10] subjected to the deformation load (rotation and displacement) calculated in the
previous step of the iteration. The obtained stiffness values are assigned to the corresponding finite elements and the full load is
again applied to the structure in one load increment. The solution in the second and all subsequent steps, quite naturally, takes
into account the effect of geometrical nonlinearity. The geometrically nonlinear analysis respects the conditions of equilibrium
on a deformed structure. The Scia Engineer program [8] makes it possible to choose from two methods: Timoshenko and
Newton-Raphson. Both variants represent an algorithm that is implemented in Scia Engineer as a part of the standard FEM
solver. The description of methods for the geometrically nonlinear analysis goes beyond the scope of this article and can be
found, for example, in [6].
The following convergence criteria are verified in each iteration step:
005 , 0
, 1

¿ ¿ ¿
= =
= j
j i
j i
j i
u u u , (1)
uj is displacement (j=1 for x, 2 for y, 3 for z),
i is the i-th step of the physically nonlinear calculation.
If the condition (1) is met, the problem converges, the calculation is stopped and the results are published. If the
convergence criterion (1) is not met even after the specified maximum number of steps of iteration, the problem does not
converge, the calculation is terminated and no results are presented.
If we omit the situations before crack formation when the structure is subjected to a very small load and its response is
linear, the algorithm for the solution of a general physical and geometrical nonlinearity actually allows for three variants of
the analysis of structure response. Each variant then represents a certain state of the structure with regard to its load.
The first one is the state when the load results in the formation and development of cracks, but the internal forces in
individual members of the structure are lower in all points than the bearing capacity of the cross-section. In such a
configuration the calculated internal forces are redistributed according to the actual stiffness of individual elements of the
structure and in accordance with the equilibrium conditions for the deformed structure.
The second variant describes the situation when the ultimate limit state is reached in some (one or more) sections of the
members of the structure. The structure, however, is “ductile”, i.e. individual sections have the capacity for adequate
deformation or rotation and thus subsequent redistribution is possible and internal forces are distributed into less
exposed parts of the structure.
In the third variant, the deformation (e.g. rotation) of a certain cross-section is so big that the strain in one of the fibres
exceeds the limit strain for the given stress-strain diagram. In other words, the strain capacity is insufficient in the given
cross-section. In such a situation, the program tries to find the stiffness of the cross-section using this (unreal) plane of
strain and extends – as required – the plastic branches of the stress-strain diagrams. If the condition (1) is met in the
next step, the internal forces are calculated and result services become accessible. This variant requires a verification of
the magnitude of the calculated strains, which can be performed using diagrams or tables in the branch “PNL
stress/strain” of the Results service, in which strain and stress obtained by the physically and geometrically nonlinear
calculation are presented.
It is clear from the said that the presented method guarantees that both static and cinematic theorem of the theory of
plasticity are met or can be verified. The fact that nonlinear stress-strain diagrams are taken into account during the
calculation of the response of the cross-section actually automatically ensures that not only the equilibrium in the cross-
section is satisfied, but that the capability of the cross-section to deform (rotate) can be checked as well.
Another branch of the Results service is “PNL stiffness” where the following information can be found: axial and bending
stiffness, the height of the concrete under compression and reinforcement areas – all these in the final values that enter
the static analysis (solver) in the last performed iteration of the nonlinear calculation. If the convergence criteria are met
in this iteration, the solver evaluates internal forces that may not necessarily correspond to the stiffnesses that entered
the static calculation before. These internal forces are, however, used in the calculation of the response of the cross-
section in the branch “PNL stress/strain” of the Results service. It means that the results of the determined response,
e.g. the height of the concrete under compression, can slightly differ from the results presented in the branch.
There are certain situations when the equilibrium of the structure is not found and, consequently, the solution of the
problem does not converge. The reason for this may be inadequate dimension of the cross-section, insufficient
reinforcement or not big enough capacity of strain (ductility). However, the reasons such as e.g. inappropriate stress-
strain diagrams or unsuitable method for the solution of a specific problem must also be taken into account.
The physical and geometrical nonlinearity cannot be combined with other types of analysis, e.g. construction stages
analysis, time-dependent analysis (TDA), dynamic analysis, mobile load analysis, etc.
Material properties
The Scia Engineer module for physical and geometrical nonlinearity can be used for the analysis not only of reinforced
concrete frame structures, but also structures containing beam members made of another material, members whose
cross-sections are composed of two different materials, and even non-reinforced concrete beam members. If beam
members made of other material than concrete are present in the analysed structure, the calculation employs the linear
stiffness. It means that even the nonlinear analysis assumes an elastic response of the material. Moreover, the linear
stiffness can be prescribed for selected concrete members a priori. The calculation then uses the linear stiffness
regardless of the stress level that has been reached. By default, however, a nonlinear behaviour is assumed in concrete
beam members and the procedure expects that what is termed practical (or provided) reinforcement (i.e. reinforcement
bars input through reinforcement layers or as separate bars) has been defined. If 2D frames are being analysed, it is
possible, as an alternative, to take into account the required reinforcement area calculated in advance by the program.
For members made of plain concrete and subjected to compression and bending, the stiffness of the part of the cross-
section that is under compression is used. For members subjected to tension, the gradually decreasing stiffness is
employed. If the stiffness of such a member approaches zero value, the calculation is terminated. If members whose
cross-section is made of two materials are analysed, it is possible to prescribe that the behaviour of both materials is
nonlinear or that one or both parts behave linearly. The module for the physically and geometrically nonlinear analysis
implemented in Scia Engineer cannot be used for the analysis of what is termed phased cross-sections (composite
cross-sections analysed with respect to the stages of construction).
The nonlinear behaviour of concrete and reinforcement steel is described by means of stress-strain diagrams. It follows
from the above that the assumptions of the analysis of structures are so general that they can be applied to any
standard. We say that the solution stands “above standards”. Despite this, the module for physical and geometrical
nonlinearity includes – for supported standards (CSN 73 1201, CSN EN 1992-1-1-Eurocode 2, NEN 6720, DIN 1045, Ö-
norm B4700, BS 8110, SIA 262, BAEL 91) – a special support in the form of a selection of stress-strain diagrams defined
by the above-mentioned standards for individual grades of concrete and steel. As a result, it is possible to select for
concrete a stress-strain diagram that is parabolic or bi-linear (elastic-plastic) with a tensile branch or without it. For steel
one can use a bi-linear – elastic-plastic diagram with or without hardening. The stress-strain diagrams can be also input
manually through a set of points (like a polynomial). In that case, a structure made of an arbitrary type of material (stress-
strain diagram) can be analysed.
A frequent topic of professional discussions is whether the nonlinear analysis should be performed (i) with stress-strain
diagrams that express the real or average properties of concrete as accurately as possible or (ii) with stress-strain
diagrams intended for sizing (in standards these are called design or calculation). Certain guidelines can be found in [7]
whose annex A2.1, article P(3) recommends that the average properties should be used for the physically nonlinear
analysis of the effect of design loads and, in the subsequent step, the design values of material characteristics should be
employed for the checking of critical sections. On the other hand, the latest available version of EC [1] disappointed the
authors of this article as it contains merely a vague formulation in article 5.7 about the necessity to choose the material
characteristics in such a way that they realistically represent the stiffness and, at the same time, take into account the
uncertainties of failure.
The procedure recommended in [7] (and [4] as well) is possible, but in the second step of the solution (the check of
critical sections) it usually results in the increase in the amount of reinforcement, which means non-economical design.
Moreover, the procedure is lengthy and leads to corrections in the amount of reinforcement and dimensions of cross-
sections. The direct application of design (calculation) stress-strain diagrams, however, can cause that the found
response of the structure is completely unrealistic! Therefore, it is convenient to pay no attention to the calculated
internal forces and determine the bearing capacity of the structure exclusively from the comparison of obtained strain
values with corresponding limit values. The required safety margins of the structure against failure can be proved
through corresponding increase of load safety factors – see [2]. This approach is capable of checking both the ultimate
and serviceability limit states by means of a single analysis model. More detailed solution to the problem of checking the
required safety margins of the structure with regard to [1] can be found in [3]. Alternatively, a general solution of the
problem can be obtained through probability methods.
Comparative example – verification of the
Two-span continuous beam
The first examples used for debugging and verification of the method were two-span (2*6.0 m) beams of a rectangular
cross-section (depth = 500 mm, width = 300 mm). The beams differed in the reinforcement above the support and in the
span, but the moment resistance above the intermediate support was always lower than the bending moment obtained
through a linear solution and, at the same time, the reinforcement provided in the middle of the span covered the
increase of the bending moment due to the redistribution of internal forces. Only physical nonlinearity was considered in
the calculation. The effect of the geometrical nonlinearity is negligible in this example and, moreover, the aim was to
verify the correctness and convergence of the selected method for the physical nonlinearity. The distribution of moments
always converged to the expected values, i.e. if the reinforcement percentage above the support was low, the moments
were redistributed towards the centres of both spans.
In order to illustrate the examples in question, the variant with a constant reinforcement (3|12 S500 at the top face and
3|14 S500 at the bottom face) along the whole length of the beam with the cover equal to 30 mm is presented here. The
beam is subjected in both spans to a uniformly distributed load of 28.5 kNm
. The bending moment above the
intermediate support obtained through a linear solution (FEM) is according to Fig. 1 (a) equal to 127.6 kNm, which
approaches the exact solution of 128,25 kNm. The change of the stiffness of the cross-section due to formation of cracks
and plasticization of the cross-section resulted in the redistribution of internal forces shown in Fig. 1 (b). The bending
moment in the middle of the span reached the value of 83.9 kNm. The correctness of the distribution of the bending
moments can be verified through a simple calculation: 83.9+88.8/2=128.3 kNm, which almost equals to the exact
solution with 128.25 kNm.
(a) linear solution (b) nonlinear solution
Fig. 1 Distribution of the bending moment in the continuous beam
It is clear from Fig. 2 that the bearing capacity of the cross-section is fully utilised in the section above the intermediate
support. In section 6.0 m, i.e. just above the support, the equilibrium of the cross-section was not even found for the
calculated bending moment of minus 88.8 kNm. This requires that two assumptions of the solution be reminded. Firstly,
the nonlinear analysis assumes a constant stiffness of the cross-section over the length of the finite element. The
stiffness is determined from the section in the middle of the element. The length of the finite element in the analysed
example was selected to be equal to 0.3 m and the stiffness was thus calculated in section 5.85 m. Secondly, we must
understand that the axial and bending stiffnesses entering the static calculation of the structure (the solver) in the last
executed iteration do not have to correspond exactly to the obtained internal forces, and to the response to these forces,
see chapter 0. It is thus possible that the stiffness of the element was determined in the solver despite the fact that the
response of the cross-section to the calculated internal forces is not found.
(a) concrete (b) reinforcement
Fig. 2 Stress and strain of the most loaded fibres in the section 5.85 m
Collapse of a one-span frame
Another analysed example is related to a collapse of an existing structure that happened in the 1960s. The primary aim
of the calculation was to compare the ultimate limit state of the structure with the nonlinear solution described in [4]. The
geometry and cross-sections of the structure are shown in Fig. 3 and Tab. 1.
Due to lack of more accurate data, three variants of stress-strain diagrams were used for the physically nonlinear
calculation. The first one was a parabolic stress-strain diagram with a declining branch for the concrete and bi-linear
stress-strain diagram with hardening for the reinforcement, see Fig. 4. Material characteristics contained in [4] were
taken into account, others were estimated. This variant is in the following text named ESA /1/.
Fig. 3 One-span frame, geometry, cross-
span beam column
L [*mm] H [*mm] h
[*mm] h
[*mm] b [*mm] s [*mm] a [*mm] b [*mm]
12000 1000 800 200 250 600 250 300
column beam concrete C10 [*MPa] steel [*MPa]
] A
] A
] f
3,08 42,41 10,78 14,0 7,0 10,5 380 330
Tab. 1 One-span frame, geometry, cross-sections, materials
With regard to the fact that the cited literature did not give a clear picture of the shape of the stress-strain diagrams,
some calculations were performed also with a parabolic stress-strain diagram for the concrete with a constant plastic
branch and bi-linear stress-strain diagram without hardening for the reinforcement. This calculation variant is in the
following text marked as ESA /2/.
Also problematic was the interpretations of the note that the limit strength of the concrete in column heads was
considered by the value of 7.0 MPa and in other parts of the structure by the mean value of 14.0 MPa. It is probable that
the authors of [4] used the average properties for the physically nonlinear analysis and then applied the design strength
value in the checks of critical sections, see chapter 3. Therefore, the alternative called ESA /3/ analysed the structure
using the stress-strain diagram with a reduced strength in compression (7.0 MPa) in columns with all other
characteristics identical to variant ESA /2/.
(a) concrete (b) reinforcement
Fig. 4 Stress-strain diagrams
According to [4], the anchoring of the column reinforcement into beams was adequate. Therefore, the system acts as a
frame. With regard to the slenderness of the columns it is probable that increasing load results in the formation of plastic
hinges in the column heads and that the beam then acts separately. The bearing capacity of the structure thus
corresponds to the bearing capacity of the beam. This, however, depends directly on the bearing capacity of the cross-
section of the beam in the middle of the span, as we deal with the bearing capacity of a statically determined structure.
Consequently, the ultimate bearing capacity of the beam acting as a simple beam was analysed in the first step. The
obtained ultimate bearing capacity for the variant ESA /1/ was 77.6 kN/m, which corresponds to bending moment
1396.8 kNm that is also the bending resistance of the cross-section, see Fig. 5. It is clear from Tab. 2 that it differs from
the ultimate bearing capacity according to [4] by approximately 4%, which may be due to the numerical error of the
iteration adjusted for this case to 3%, but also due to possible deviations in the input data (for example reinforcement
cover was not mentioned in [4]).
The real redistribution of internal forces and stresses could, however, manifest itself only in the analysis of the whole
frame. Due to the differences in dimensions and reinforcement of the columns and the beam, we can expect early
utilisation of the bearing capacity of the cross-section in the column head. On the other hand, if the capacity of rotation in
the head of the column is sufficient, the load can be increased until the bearing capacity of the cross-section in the
middle of the beam spam is reached. This will be accompanied by enlargement of the plastic zone in the column head.
Tab. 2 compares the results of solution obtained in [4] and by the Scia Engineer program.
(a) strain (b) stress
Fig. 5 Stress and strain in the cross-section in the middle of a simple
beam subjected to the force of 77.6 kN/m
The cited literature also mentions what is termed “bearing capacity obtained through a nonlinear analysis at reaching the
ultimate state of concrete crushing” as equal to 58 kN/m. Other place states the value of 2 ‰ as the limit compressive
strain in concrete. If we take these two pieces of information and consider them to be the obtained strain value in the
column head under the acting load of 58 kN/m, then the variant ESA /3/ gives almost complete concordance with the
cited literature. It must be mentioned here that the strain values marked in Tab. 2 by the asterisk, are the values
calculated in the theoretical joint. Fig. 6 (b) shows that the strain is lower at the face of the connection of the column to
the beam (values exceeding 2 ‰ are drawn in red).
It is clear from the figure that the bearing capacity of the beam is far from being utilised under the load of 58.0 kN/m.
Therefore, it does not represent the real limit load of the structure.. This is in agreement with the data in the cited
literature concerning the ultimate bearing capacity of 79 kN/m that was obtained through a plastic analysis. Tab. 2 gives
a clear picture of a good correspondence between (i) the solutions ESA /1/ and /2/ and (ii) the cited literature. With
regard to the fact that the structure is statically indeterminate, the bearing capacity of the structure as the whole depends
on the strain capacity of the materials – that means on the size of the plastic zones in the heads of the columns and in
the middle of the beam. If the strain capacity is sufficient, the bearing capacity of the structure determined for ESA /1/
equals to 81.0 kN/m. The increase in comparison with the value of ultimate bearing capacity of the beam can be
explained by the bending moments in the plastic hinge in the joint between the columns and beam – see Fig. 7. In this
regard, the statement made in [4] that the bearing capacity of the beam if it acts as a simple beam is bigger than the
bearing capacity of the frame as a whole obtained through a plastic analysis is rather debatable.
calculation [4]
ESA /1/ ESA /2/ ESA /3/
nonlin plast
Bearing capacity of beam
[kN/m] 81.0 - 77.6 75.6
Max c
[*10E-3] -3.61 -2.99
Bearing capacity of frame
[kN/m] 58.0 79.0 77.6 79.0 81.0 79.0 58.0
Max c
[*10E-3] column -2.00 -1.96* -2.16* -2.73* -2.39* -2.3*
Max c
[*10E-3] beam -1.91 -2.33 -3.45 -2.98 -8.9
Tab. 2 Ultimate bearing capacity of the frame and the beam
(a) ESA /2/, load 79 kN/m (b) ESA /3/, load 58 kN/m
Fig. 6 Distribution of strain over the frame
The concordance between the results of the nonlinear and plastic analyses made in [4] and by the Scia Engineer
program is quite good, see Tab. 2, in particular with respect to the uncertainty in the material characteristics, stress-
strain diagrams and other data.
The aim of the carried out calculations made in Scia Engineer was neither to discover the reason for the collapse of the
frame nor to find the actual bearing capacity at the collapse. Nevertheless, let us try to find out the reasons for the
dramatic difference between the calculated bearing capacity and the actual load at the collapse which was 35 kN/m. This
difference is beyond all possible doubt caused by the differences between the input material parameters and the real
ones. As already stated in [4], it is highly probable that there was an extensive degradation of the concrete in top parts of
the columns and that the anchorage of the reinforcement was insufficient. These facts were, however, not taken into
account in the performed analyses and, therefore, these input data were overrated.
The importance of correct input data for results of a nonlinear analysis is clear also from the above-proved important
dependence between the bearing capacity of the structure and the strain capacity in the head of the column. The
magnitude of the limit strain of concrete can significantly reduce the actual total bearing capacity of the structure.
(a) ESA /1/, load 81 kN/m (b) beam as a simple beam, load 77.6 kN/m
Fig. 7 Distribution of bending moments after redistribution
Methods used for a physically and geometrically nonlinear static analysis in Scia Engineer were verified through
calculations published in renowned technical literature. The differences are very small and can result from the
differences in stress-strain diagrams, numerical inaccuracy and, last but not least, from the differences in the applied
methods. To sum up, the Scia Engineer system represents a reliable and simple tool for nonlinear calculations of frame
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