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Journal of Constructional Steel Research 66 (2010) 1112–1117

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Journal of Constructional Steel Research
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Finite element analysis of linear plates buckling under in-plane patch loading
Ghania Ikhenazen a,∗ , Messaoud Saidani b , Abdelkrim Chelghoum a

Faculty of Civil Engineering, University of Science and Technology H. Boumediene, Algeria


Faculty of Engineering and Computing, Coventry University, UK



Article history:
Received 14 August 2009
Accepted 4 March 2010
Linear buckling
Thin plates
Patch compression
Finite element method

The elastic buckling load is physically important in design because it is actually the critical step in the
changing plate configuration that will eventually lead to complete failure. The present work investigates
the problem of linear buckling of simply supported thin plates subjected to patch compression. In order
to satisfy the boundary conditions in a rigorous way, the authors chose the finite element method using
the exact stress distribution throughout the plate.
In the present paper, the stability problem treated using the total energy is briefly outlined. The plate
modelling is made by means of an eight noded rectangular element and a reduction of variable strategy
is applied to estimate the number of degrees of freedom leading to little or no loss in seeking solution
The buckling coefficient is determined for different load cases applied to a range of plate with various
edge ratios. The achieved results are summarised through different graphs representing variation of the
buckling coefficient against the plate ratio for each load case treated. A comparison with previous works
is made. Finally, it is shown that the resolution of the plate buckling problem using true stress distribution
with the finite element method leads to a good agreement with results previously obtained by means of
analytical methods using an exact stress distribution.
© 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
The use of thin panels in many technical fields such as
aerospace, mechanical and civil engineering is nowadays quite
common. Since modern design process requires the evaluation of
appropriate safety levels, many studies have been carried out in
the last decades in order to describe the buckling due to uniform
compression [1–4], tension [5,6] and shear [1] for such structures.
On the other hand, a limited number of studies have been carried
out to evaluate the influence of patch loading on the critical
buckling load in the compressed plates although designers are
always confronted with this issue. Such a problem is encountered
in airframe where the action of the airloading on an aircraft wing
develops an axial loading that gives a non-uniform compression
that can lead to loss of stability. Also, the aerodynamic heating of
panels in supersonic aircraft can be approximated by non-uniform
thermal stresses as the temperature distribution is not uniform
throughout the volume of the restrained plate. In civil engineering
structures, engineers are often confronted with designs involving
partial edge loading, such as the buckling of the web plate of a

Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (G. Ikhenazen).

0143-974X/$ – see front matter © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

crane girder under the action of heavy wheel loads applied to the
In addition, even when this issue has been tackled, the
problem of the influence of the use of exact stress distribution
has not received sufficient attention and still remains open.
Indeed, authors such as [1,7–9] used simplified stress patterns in
investigating this problem, this simplification led to considerable
error. Later on, few authors published their works in which they
applied true stress distribution and consequently obtained reliable
results. Pavlovic and Baker [10] used an analytical method to
investigate thin plate buckling, Rockey [11] used finite element
method to investigate the buckling stiffened plate, and Stephen
and Steven [12] worked on the error estimation for plate buckling
It is worth to point out that since constructional elements are
frequently subjected to in-plane patch loading and often prone
to buckling, it is important that further design data should be
provided to deal with this important stability problem. If such an
issue has so far received relatively little attention from researchers,
the reason for this is undoubtedly due to the additional theoretical
difficulties involved in obtaining rigorous solutions to the buckling
of plate when subjected to non-uniform compression. Undeniably,
the solution of this stability problem is mathematically difficult
to obtain as the stress distribution throughout the plate varies

e. the buckling of thin elastic plates non-uniformly compressed in one direction (see Figs. In respect to one element the strain energy can be written in terms of the stiffness matrix [Se ] of the element and in terms of the nodal generalised element displacements {ue } giving the equation: Fig. [S 0 ] has been computed to unit condition (i. The lowest solution of the above equation corresponds to the smallest buckling load. 1.G. Now. (10) The in-plane stresses distribution that would cause the plate to buckle and in particular the smallest one Nxcr is required to be found. the element total potential energy can be obtained as follows: (1) {u} = 0. To the knowledge of the authors. considerably. which is the minimal critical load Nxcr sought from which the associated minimal buckling coefficient K is deduced. 0 (4) This additional energy can be expressed as: We = −1/2 {ue }T Se0 {ue }   Fig. To solve this problem. 2. Furthermore. Thin plate under uniaxial patch loading. the loading has been attributed the value of one N/ml). Utotal = Ue + We Utotal = 1/2 {ue }T [Se ] − Se0   It happens that nature chooses to arrange for the static equilibrium position of a linear elastic structure to be a position that in which there is a little potential energy stored as possible. (3) When an element is subjected to in-plane stresses. Hook’s law is used to relate the strain vector {ε} to the stress resultant vector {σ } which gives: [D] = Eh 1 − ν2 (7) {ue } = 0 (9) for one element.2. can only be solved by using the energy method. Formulation of the stability problem   {σ } = [D]{ε} (6) hence [Se ] − Se0 2. there is an additional energy term due to the work done by the applied forces. Many problems of plates stability. the in-plane stresses matrix could be defined as: Fig. Plate modelling and problem formulation (5) where [Se0 ] is the geometric stiffness matrix element where are gathered the first derivatives of the nodal displacements. This element can be used for both membrane and bending action. Thin plate under uniaxial point loading. so far no experimental work has been carried out to validate the results of the current numerical investigation. a reduction of variable strategy is applied to estimate the number of degrees of freedom leading to little or no loss in seeking solution accuracy. 1 and 2) is investigated using the finite element method. For a uniformly loaded plate in x direction only. The aim of this paper is to show some representative elastic buckling coefficient results of a simply supported plate. Eight noded quadrilateral element. The analogous problem with a uniformly distributed compressive load applied over the width b of a simply supported thin plate . [σ ] =  σx 0  0 . ∂{ue } (8) In matrix form the above equation leads to: [S] − S 0   In the present work.1. and for the whole plate it can be written as: 2. This yields the principle of minimum potential energy that can be formulated as follows: ∂ Utotal = 0. to carry out the buckling analysis of a plate subjected to non-uniform in-plane stresses an eight noded quadrilateral thin element is used as shown on Fig. The influence of edge ratio and load–breadth ratio on the critical buckling load is investigated. Ikhenazen et al. This involves expressions for the strain energy of bending of plates and the work done by the in-plane forces. h is the plate thickness and ν is Poisson’s ratio. Therefore. (11). 3. using the finite element method. However. (11) The computational problem is then to solve the eigenvalues of Eq. This paper pays a particular attention to the real stress distribution. Total potential energy where [D] is the 6 by 6 matrix written down as follows: {ue } . This numerical analysis is performed with the commercial available software Pafec [13]. The obtained numerical results are graphically summarised through a ‘K -plate aspect ratio curves’ (K is the critical buckling coefficient) and compared with previous works and some interesting conclusions are drawn. the stress matrices and the thickness of the plate. 3. the solution of the stability problem involves finding the minimum of total potential energy Utotal . An intensity factor f has been applied to take account of the magnitude of the applied stress. because of their complexity. one can easily deal with this varying stress system. Thus. the components of the stress tensor will be null except σx . Ue = 1/2 {ue }T [Se ] {ue } . In the present work. The above equation can therefore be written as: [S] − f S 00   {u} = 0. / Journal of Constructional Steel Research 66 (2010) 1112–1117 ν 1 ν 0  × 0 0 0 0 1/2(1 − ν) 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1113 0 0 0 h2 /12 ν h2 /12 0 0 0 0 ν h2 /12 h2 /12 0 0 0 0 0 0      (2)   h2 (1 − ν)/24 where E is Young’s modulus. 2.

j terms (13)   ∗ Sij00 = Sij00 − Sir00 Sjr /Srr − Sjr00 (Sir /Srr ) + Srr00 (Sir /Srr ) Sjr /Srr . whereas {ur } is a vector which includes freedoms that to be reduced out and so called slaves. The strain energy of a system with n degrees of freedom is written as: 1/2 u1  u2 ···   un [S] u1 u2 ··· un T (15) and the work done by the in-plane stresses as: 1/2 u1  u2 ··· un   00   u1 S u2 ··· un T . these areas that are expected to buckle easily should contain masters. Numerical tests In order to find the more appropriate number of masters that is to be used in the present stability problem. suggest that a limited number of modes would suffice to describe correctly the buckling behaviour of plate structures. When the ratio Sii /Sii00 is large then either the in-plane stress at degree of freedom i is small or its stiffness is large and hence it is well connected into the structure. Reduction of variables strategy The solution of the full finite element eigenvalue problems is often computationally expensive in both computer time and in core storage. then Eq.Gj 00∗ Sij = Sij − Gi .18–20]. 2. Eq. (16) The condition that minimizes the strain energy with respect to the slave variable ur is Sr1 u1 + · · · + Srr ur + · · · + Srn un = 0.3. The elimination of the terms in the {ur } vector is part of a frontal process. not the original full system. 2. say ur . (11) becomes after reduction: The reduction of a single variable. The plate ratio is a/b = 5.17]. (17) ∗ Substituting for ur in (15) gives a reduced form [S ] . Reduction of variables strategies represent a convenient alternative in this case because of their ability to solve problems with a number of unknowns less than the actual number of degrees of freedom with little or no loss in seeking solution accuracy [14.Hj − Gj . This has been achieved by monitoring the ratio between Sii and Sii00 . (19) where {um } is the vector containing all the retained degrees of freedom termed ‘masters’. the stiffness matrix is never completely formed when the front solution is used. The tolerance used is 10−3 . The number of degrees of freedom actually considered after reduction (or masters) is varied to determine its relative effect on the value of the buckling coefficient K . thus the frontal solution is used. An important question that arises is how to choose which degrees of freedom are to be reduced out and which are to be kept. the leading diagonal stiffness and geometric stiffness terms of degree of freedom i. the master degrees of freedom should be those which are important in describing the membrane strain energy.1. and is repeated until a specified number of masters remains. . (12) and the proposed method lead to similar results.1114 G. 00 (22) (23) In this way. {ur }} 2. the matrix operations implied by the above equations need a great computer core storage. it has been noticed that the estimate of buckling mode k deteriorates as k approaches the number of masters. it is unwise to keep degree i as a master. the reduction process alternates with the assembly of elements according to input data which tells the program to eliminate certain deflections immediately. . numerical and experimental results for the reduced problem. The generalised displacement vector {u} is partitioned as follows: {u} = {{um } . to turn them into slaves. Thus. can be speeded up considerably by setting up a vector {G} as follows:  00 [Sm ] − f Sm  { um } = 0 (14) 00 where [Sm ] and [Sm ] are respectively the reduced elastic and geometric stiffness matrices.15]. In the case where the loading is uniformly distributed over the entire opposite edges. if this is not the case. In the frontal technique. the search is applied to the reduced problem obtained by eliminating the previous slave. The reduction is carried out using the well-known frontal process [16. The comparison is made in respect to the exact Timoshenko’s value. j terms Sij∗ = Sij − Sir Sjr /Srr . Eq. Ikhenazen et al. On the other hand. After each elimination.  (18) 00 00 ∗ Similarly [S ] becomes [S ] with its i.3 are considered. the storage demand can be very small. Numerical tests are performed for the first three modes for a set of grids that are described in the following. p Gi = Sir / Srr (20) and the back substitution is achieved by forming the vector {H } as follows:  Hi = 1 Gi Sir − Srr00 √ 2 Srr 00  1 √ Srr (21) which will be stored in the backing store. if Sii00 is large and/or Sii is small then the degree of freedom i is likely to give rise to appreciable instability effects. the b/h ratio is equal to 100. However. in some way the geometric aspect of certain degrees of freedom can be eliminated. In the buckling problem. with row and column r deleted and with its i. Young’s modulus E = 209 × 109 N/m2 and Poisson’s ratio ν = 0. Clearly.3. / Journal of Constructional Steel Research 66 (2010) 1112–1117 has been treated analytically and has led to the well-known expression [1]: K = Nxcr b2 for a/b ≥ 1 π 2D (12) where D is the flexural rigidity and can be calculated as follows: D= Eh3 12(1 − ν 2 ) Generally. as in [16.3. The operations required ∗ to obtain the modified Sij∗ and Sij00 become Sij∗ = Sij − Gi . the masters should be concentrated in the regions of high in-plane stresses and low flexural stiffness.3. Problem reduction 2. The selection technique involves keeping as masters (the degrees of freedom that are to be kept after reduction) the degrees of freedom for which the ratio Sii /Sii00 is small. In practical application. which in this case corresponds to four.Hi .3. given by expression (12). This can be achieved by neglecting their stability effect. (12) is not applicable. In the present investigation.2. The area that is used to store the lower triangle of the currently part of the stiffness matrix is used repeatedly to store the coefficients relating to many different equations. the case of a simply supported rectangular plate under uniform stress in the direction of its length is investigated. It happens that almost all the degrees of freedom in a large eigenvalue problem have little effect on the geometric stiffness matrix. Therefore. Frontal solution The reduction is carried out simultaneously in both the elastic and geometric stiffness matrices that occupy the same array in storage. an automatic procedure has been implemented in the program. On this basis.

0. a refined grid. 3. The out of plane displacements uz at master degrees of freedom for the first three buckling loads are considered. it can be noticed that if Yamaki’s results are reasonably accurate for uniformly compressed plate (l/b = 1). Knowing the importance of the plate thickness impact on the buckling load [21–23]. Results and discussion 3. Indeed.8 and 1 where l is the length (or breath) on which the loading is applied and b is the plate width. 4. 0.6.2. a/b plots for l/b = 0. the aim of this investigation is to examine the linear buckling behaviour of a range of mild steel plate. Indeed.6. a very small increase in the aspect ratio leads to a large decrease in the buckling coefficient K . K vs. the b/h ratio is fixed to 100 (thin plate). Ikhenazen et al. has been obtained.2. Conversely. i. This effect is much less apparent when a/b ≥ 1. In the present work it can be seen from the drawn graphs.0317. the total number of elements used. that for short plates. 4 and 5. the ratio of number of masters/total number of degrees of freedom. and elimination of unknowns appears to be of potential use to solve this type of problem. It can be noticed that the well known ‘garland’ K vs. by Yamaki [9] who used a simplified stress distribution. of course. Fig. The plate ratio a/b varies from 0. Moreover. The division of the three meshes is constructed in such a way that too long elements are avoided.8. It appears from the results that it would be better in using 200 master degrees of freedom in a refined grid than in using the same number of masters in a coarser one. Table 1 reports for each discretization. the 200 unknowns’ second idealisation led to a result of 4. the figures are different when the ratio l/b is different from 1. 5. First of all. The buckling coefficient K corresponding to the lowest in-plane load which gives the plate buckling is recorded. if good results have to be achieved. 0. in the one hand. and in the other hand.4. a/b plots for l/b = 1. In all cases the discretization is based on the rectangular eight noded finite element and the division of the meshes is constructed in such a way that too long elements are avoided. The analyses are performed using uniformly refined meshes.1. It can be observed also as a/b increases. It can be concluded that the buckling analysis requires a significant number of nodal points to yield answers of good accuracy. they underestimate K for l/b 6= 1. 0. Analyses are performed for six different loading cases corresponding to various relative load breath l/b = 0. both investigations using an exact stress distribution. As it is expected. 0. 0. Table 2 illustrates the K values obtained. 0. such a tendency characterises the finite element method. 0.e. a ratio of about 17% of the total degrees of freedom as master seems to be the more appropriate to conduct with the present buckling analysis as in the three tests this ratio represents the stating level from which the results become interesting. In all cases the discretization is based on the rectangular eight noded finite element. K vs. the total number of degrees of freedom. in the case of . whereas in the third one the result is definitely better with a value of 4. 1. Consequently.5 to 10. Interpretation and comparison of results for load cases 0 < l/b ≤ 1 The obtained numerical results give important quantitative and qualitative information about the buckling behaviour of thin plates under in-plane compressive patch loading. even though the authors have used different methods of calculation the results are in accordance with each others.3.1. the number of degrees of freedom actually considered after reduction (or masters). a/b curve [1]. the modulus of elasticity E = 209 × 109 N/m2 and Poisson’s ratio ν is taken equal to 0.1. 3 and 4. The buckling coefficient K is displayed against the plate ratio a/b (a is the plate length) for the different load cases in Figs. this value should be used as a minimal ratio associated with.G. simply supported and subjected to in-plane patch loading as depicted in Fig. 3. 1115 Fig. it can be noticed from the figures that the K value is slightly over estimated [14] and as the uniform grid is more refined. the minimal critical buckling coefficient K value and the relative error reached. the edge effect can be neglected and most plates can be considered to be under a uniform state of stress. corresponding to the uniform compression of simply supported plate which can be obtained entirely by translating the particular case where the buckling is in one half wave. it can be seen from this table that in the case of l/b = 1.4. those obtained numerically in the present work and analytically by Pavlovic and Baker [10]. it is immediately apparent that this particular curve shape no longer applies when the compression is not uniform. the results reached are improved. / Journal of Constructional Steel Research 66 (2010) 1112–1117 Three analyses are performed using different uniformly discretized meshes. Introduction As stated previously. These limiting values are shown on the right side of Figs.0023. It can be seen also that the increase in the number of master degrees of freedom from 60 to 100 in both 50 and 100 elements models has little effect on the minimal critical load coefficient K even if the results obtained with 100 elements are slightly improved. Furthermore. for plates with a/b < 1.2. On the other hand. the buckling coefficient K approaches the value: l/4b which correlates with Saint Venant’s principle which states that for large a/b’s.

19 28.49 1. Number of elements Number of degrees of freedom Number of masters Number of masters/number of degrees of freedom in % Minimal critical buckling coefficient K Relative error in % 25 × 2 349 60 100 17.25 4.47 4.00 27. the computed error in the buckling coefficient.4483 4.78 29.00 6. which use the true stress distribution are closely approaching Pavlovic–Baker’s results.47 2. a/b plot for l/b = 0. Comparison of results stemming from the use of true (Pavlovic–Baker and the present work) and approximate (Yamaki) stress distributions. Fig. From Table 3. a/b 0. it appears also that.09 19.42 1.91 1.65 4.28 2. Fig.5 1.66 0. It can be seen from the graphs that the K values tend to 1.34 28.12 19.4 2. A comparison of results stemming from the use of true (Pavlovic–Baker and the present work) and approximate (Leggett and Timoshenko) stress distributions. / Journal of Constructional Steel Research 66 (2010) 1112–1117 Table 1 Minimal critical buckling stress coefficient K for a uniform compressed plate with a/b = 5 ratio. K1 vs.75 1.13 0. Ikhenazen et al.47 4.06 Fig. Indeed. 2) has been investigated in the present work. 7.1116 G. .0 0.31 1.25 4. K1 (or K2 ) vs.59 22.0853 4.45 1.42 1.27 0.28 1.05 Table 2 K values for the problem depicted in Fig.00 0.78 25.38 15.49 4.87 4. the results obtained from the finite element method.00 4.35 7.0051 4. while they approach the value 3 as a/b is greater than 6.54 1. in accordance to the other exact stress distribution is not too large. a/b plot for l/b = 0.2252 4. 6 and 7. a/b > 1 there is a considerable difference in K values when a simplified stress distribution is used.40 0.0506 4.79 20 × 10 1260 60 80 100 130 200 4.50 0. 2. Table 3 compares some of the minimal buckling coefficients corresponding to a/b ≤ 1 obtained from true stress distribution a/b 1. It appears from Table 2 that the finite element analysis has given K values approaching those obtained by the analytic method using an exact stress distribution.46 – 1.00 4.00 4.0 l/b – – – – 1.46 2.1 Yamaki Pavlovic–Baker Present work Yamaki Pavlovic–Baker Present work 6. this type of element fails to accurately model the behaviour of the plate.33 Simplified stress distribution True stress distribution Timoshenko Leggett Pavlovic–Baker Present work 1. the stability under the action of two concentrated forces (see Fig.76 6.27 1.32 15. 6 indicates that.27 4.0802 2. Table 3 K values for the problem depicted in Fig.01 20 × 5 640 60 100 200 9.51 1.25 4.0317 1. 7 for a/b ≤ 1.94 10.63 31.47 1.02 2.0506 4.45 as a/b tends to zero.43 26. the discrepancy varies from 0% up to 16% in respect to Pavlovic–Baker results. The results stemming from the present work are plotted in Figs.0806 4.45 1.34 21.13 0.0 1. Note the change of scale in Fig.47 using the finite element in the present work and the analytical method [10] and their corresponding counterpart obtained by means of the approximate stress pattern employed by Leggett [7] and Timoshenko [24].30 26. Interpretation and comparison of results for load case l/b = 0 It is always interesting to observe the narrow and wide plate behaviour under compression point loading. 6.12 27.13 1.47 1. for the range of square to narrow plate which are compressed symmetrically by a pair of point loads.63 2. as the points load move far away from each other. 1. It can be seen from the table that except for the square plate case. Therefore.0023 11. This latter case is the well-known case of compressed bar to which correspond the K value of 4.21 5. The plausible explanation of such an underestimated result is that the element used in the analysis does not behave well in the case of point loading.3. 3.00 6.68 21.

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