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Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202

Effects of openings of the buckling of

cylindrical shells subjected to axial compression
J.F. Jullien*, A. Limam
Research Unit of Civil Engineering, Institut National des Sciences Appliquees, Lyon, France

Experimental and numerical methods are used to study the stability problem of cylindrical
shells with cut-outs. The paper presents parametric research of the shape (square, rectangular,
circular), the dimensions (axial and circumferential sizes, diameter) of the hole. The effect of
the location and the number of the holes are also studied. The analysis indicates that the
critical load is sensitive to the opening angle or circumferential size of the hole. The function
(critical load-opening angle) is linear for large openings and independent of the geometrical
imperfections of the shell. However for small openings, it is necessary to take into account
the coupling between the initial geometrical imperfections and the openings. The linear
approach does not fit because of the importance of the evolution of the displacements near
the openings. These results will be used for the development of European rules. 1998
Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Opening; Buckling; Cylindrical shell; Axial compression

1. Introduction
In many industrial applications, shells are equipped with openings of various
shapes, sizes and locations within the lateral surface. The objective of the present
paper is to improve the understanding of the effect of cut-outs on the critical buckling
load of thin cylindrical shells.
Little work has been done in the literature on the subject. Early work dates back
to Tennyson [1], who performed an experimental study on the effect of small circular

* Corresponding author
0263-8231/98/$see front matter 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 2 6 3 - 8 2 3 1 ( 9 8 ) 0 0 0 0 3 - 2


J.F. Jullien, A. Limam / Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202

openings on shells which buckle in the elastic range. This work was followed by
Starnes [2] and Toda [3], who tested shells with a larger range of opening diameters.
Knodel and Schulz [4] were the first to perform tests on steel cylinders with a large
spectrum of imperfections (geometry, loading, material). This gave the possibility for
a statistical evaluation of the buckling strength of shells. At the same time no physical
understanding of the phenomenon was gained.
The first numerical calculations on cylindrical shells with cut-outs were reported
by Almroth and Holmes [5]. Based on the available results, Samuelson and Eggwertz
[6] proposed a simple analytical description of the effect of the diameter of the hole
on the buckling strength of shells.
None of the above-mentioned researches have provided sufficient information to
develop a reliable physical model of the considered problem, or to deduce a general
understanding. Many tests had been carried out with specimens in Mylar, giving a
purely elastic buckling, and the studied parameters did not take into account the
meridional or circumferential size of rectangular openings, or the position of the
opening in relation to the boundaries. Furthermore, the analysis of coupling geometrical imperfections with openings has not been carried out.
In order to achieve this goal, a new study has been performed on steel shells
subjected to uniaxial compressive load. The non-uniform axial stress induced by the
opening induces an internal bending, and is included in this work.
A series of tests have been undertaken with different shapes (square, rectangular,
circular), sizes and positions of openings with respect to the boundaries of the shell.
All tests were of high quality with procedures reproducing all the parameters, like
the initial geometrical imperfections. In fact, it is important to know to what extent
the effect persists in the case of shells with openings. The present paper gives a
clear answer to that question.
In parallel to the physical testing, an extensive parametric numerical study was
performed, in order to develop the know-how for such a complex case, taking into
account the relative influences of all the parameters.
Furthermore, this study gives a guide on developing the design rules.
2. Experimental methods
2.1. Definitions of shells
The notation used is defined in Fig. 1. The upper and lower cross-sections (A and
B) were assumed to remain plane and refrained from warping and/or ovalisation.
The upper cross-section was free to translate and rotate around the axes of the
section, while the lower cross-section was fixed. The loading was applied at the
centre of the upper cross-section by means of a displacement uz.
In the circumferential direction, the opening was defined by the central angle ,
or the curvilinear length 2c r or by the dimensionless length r


J.F. Jullien, A. Limam / Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202

Fig. 1.


Section of a cylindrical shell and notation.

In the axial direction, the height of square and rectangular cut-outs was defined
by h0. The distance from the lower edge of the opening to the lower cross-section
B of the shell was denoted by hb.
hb f

l h0

The experimental study was limited to relatively short shells with approximately
/r 2, with an aspect ratio of r/t 280, diameter 2r 99 mm, thickness t
0.175 mm and length 104 mm.
Different types of square, rectangular and circular openings were made, as shown
in Table 1. Characteristic dimensions of openings and their positions are defined for
the different cases studied (cases 2 to 7), and for comparison the case of a shell
without a cut-out (case 1).


J.F. Jullien, A. Limam / Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202

Table 1
Characteristic dimensions of openings and their positions
Case 1
Case 2

Case 3

Case 4

Case 5

Case 6

Case 7

Without opening
Dimensions of centrally positioned square opening
Fixed parameter h0 = 2c Variable parameter 2c
25.92 38.88





Distance of the lower edge of the square opening from cross-section B.

Fixed parameter r = 4.40
0.50 0.25
Number of equidistanced square openingsnb: number of openings r: 1 opening
Height of centrally positioned rectangular opening
Fixed opening r = 2.94
0.37 0.50 0.75
Dimensionless curvilinear width of centrally positioned rectangular opening
Fixed parameter h0/ = 0.17
6.61 8.81 13.23
Dimensionless diameter of centrally positioned circular opening
0.15 0.28
1.46 2.88
4.34 5.75

2.2. Material and manufacturing

Over 100 specimens were manufactured. Cylindrical shells were made from sheet
metal by means of rolling and electric welding along a generator. These operations
were automated to ensure that the resulting geometric imperfections were the same
for all specimens, which is a necessary condition for the present comparative study.
The opening was always situated on the opposite side of the weld. Great care was
taken so that the process of cutting the opening did not introduce any additional
The tests were carried out on a special device, under displacement control according to the geometrical and boundary conditions defined above (Fig. 1). The boundary
conditions were introduced in the specimens to be tested by means of two rigid
plates, which were connected to cylinders by a sobering technique.
2.3. Initial geometrical imperfections
For each specimen tested the geometrical imperfections were measured by means
of a contactless sensor at 25,000 points. For that purpose a special automated scanning system was mounted on the testing machine.
The geometric imperfections were located mainly in the vicinity of the welded
generator. The imperfections were characterised in the circumferential direction by
the wavelength corresponding to n 7 or 8, with a maximum amplitude of

J.F. Jullien, A. Limam / Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202


(n) 0.9.
There were no imperfections in the meridional direction (m 0) except along the
welded generator which shows two half waves (m 2) with an amplitude
2w(m) 2 98 m
(m) 0.56 (Fig. 2).

2w(m) 2 157 m. The corresponding dimensionless amplitude is

2.4. Reference shell

The results for different cases of openings are compared with those corresponding
to shells without cut-outs. This resulted in a large experimental and numerical study
of shells without cut-outs and with typical geometrical imperfections.
The reproductibility of the present test methodology is verified by comparing
results for eight specimens without an opening. The mean value of buckling load
was P0 11.78 KN, with a standard deviation of 58 N, which corresponds to 5%
of P0. The corresponding stress is cr 216 MPa representing 47% of the theoretical
buckling stress cr.
3. Effect of shape of cut-out
3.1. Square openings
For given dimensions of the square and centred opening under consideration, the
force-displacement characteristic of the shell remains linear up to the first local buckling (LB), which occurs in the vicinity of a contour of the opening. After this point
the behaviour is linear and stable with a reduced slope until a global buckling
(collapse buckling, CB) takes place which involves the entire shell, Fig. 3.
In the pre-buckling range, before the first local buckling, large radial displacements
develop near the edges of the openings, in particular around the rim of the hole.

Fig. 2.

Measured profiles of geometrical imperfections for one case of the opening.


Fig. 3.

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Compression of load-deflection curves for cases 1 and 2 showing the effect of hole size.

These observations are visualised in Fig. 4, which shows radial displacements for
two types of square openings at 50 and 80% of the local buckling, at the first local
buckling and finally at the collapse buckling.
A square cut-out in a cylindrical shell subjected to axial compression reduces the
first local buckling load and the global collapse buckling load as compared to the
reference shell without a hole. The drop of critical loads with the dimensionless
geometrical parameter of the opening r is described by a linear function in the studied
range 1.47 r 8.81. The ratio between these two critical loads is a function of
r, with a mean value of approximately 1.1 (Fig. 5). Beyond the point of approximately r 10, the first local buckling does not develop.
For chosen dimensions of the square cut-out r 4.40 the position of the opening
along the meridional direction (axis of a cylinder) with respect to cross-sections A
or B does not change the critical load. This interesting result indicates that the critical
load is not linked to the direct distribution of stresses above or below the hole. The
above conclusion is valid as long as cross-sections A and B remain plane but could
rotate. In practice, this boundary condition could be satisfied by placing reinforcing
rings of sufficient rigidity at these cross-sections, Fig. 5.
Multiple and equidistanced openings over the circumferential direction produce a
similar type of instability (first local buckling followed by collapse buckling) with
a corresponding loss of rigidity. In the case of multiple openings the reduction in
the critical load is smaller when the comparison is made taking the sum of the
opening angle, as shown in Fig. 6. Because of symmetry, the appearance of critical
loads is not accompanied by the development of internal bending. The above
dependence can be converted to a different co-ordinate system in which the abscissa

J.F. Jullien, A. Limam / Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202


Fig. 4. Evolution of buckling forms (prebuckling, local buckling (LB), global buckling (CB). White
represents peaks and blue represents valleys as viewed from inside.

is not the sum of openings but the width of a single opening. It is interesting to note
that in the above co-ordinate system, the first local buckling load is the same for a
shell with single and multiple openings.


J.F. Jullien, A. Limam / Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202

Fig. 5. Reduction of critical loads with an opening angle, showing weak effect of the height and position
of a hole in the meridional direction.

Fig. 6.

Reduction of the first local buckling load with the size and number of openings (cases 2 and 6).

3.2. Rectangular openings

A cylindrical shell with a rectangular opening carries the same critical buckling
load as an identical shell with a square opening, provided the cut-outs are of an
identical length in the circumferential direction, Fig. 5. The height of the opening
does not intervene in the studied range of parameters. At the same time this conclusion cannot be extended to cut-outs in the form of a slot, without a separate study.

J.F. Jullien, A. Limam / Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202


3.3. Circular openings

A cylindrical shell with a circular opening of a diameter equal to the width of the
square opening develops the same collapse buckling load (Fig. 7). At the same time
the first load buckling is not observed in this case. The above result indicates that
the occurrence of the first local buckling is preceeded by a redistribution of stresses
due to stress concentration at the corners of square or rectangular cut-outs.
For this type of opening the effect of a small hole dimension r 0.15; 0.28; has
also been analysed. It was found that very small holes do not cause any appreciable
change in the critical load.

4. Effect of geometrical parameters

4.1. Opening angle
The present experimental study has determined the effect of the shape of the opening on the critical load of cylinders subjected to axial compression. It was shown that
the key parameter controlling the buckling strength of the shell was the dimension of
a cut-out in the circumferential direction. In the case of multiple openings positioned
equidistantly around the circumference, the control parameter was the sum of hole
dimensions of all openings.

Fig. 7. Dimensionless critical load versus and opening angle for square and circular holes. Note that there
is no local buckling for a circular opening and a generalised buckling load is the same for both shapes.


J.F. Jullien, A. Limam / Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202

The above experimental results are confirmed by finite element calculations. The
calculations were run using the three-dimensional code CASTEM 2000, developed
by the French Atomic Energy Commission. The code is capable of dealing with
various types of singularities. Half of the shell was modelled by 3500 triangular
elements DKT (three displacements and three rotations per node), as shown in Fig.
8. Contrary to previous analysis on buckling of shells, linear analysis (LA) was found
to give a smaller critical load than geometrically non-linear analysis (GNA), as
shown in Fig. 9. This can be explained by an inability of the geometrically linear
model to account for large radial displacements around the opening.
In fact, already at 20% of the critical load, radial displacements exceed by approximately two times the displacements predicted by linear theory. Further refinement
of the model by introducing the non-linear material behaviour (GMNA) brings the
level of stresses even lower.
The result of the linear (LA) and non-linear (GMNA) analyses mentioned above
corresponds to loading case (a) when the cross-sections A and B remain parallel.
This condition does not fully reflect reality because a single opening produces an
asymmetry and so-called internal bending. At the same time, the results of calculations with geometrical and material non-linearities referred to in Fig. 9 as case (b)
correspond to the boundary condition in which cross-section A is free to displace
and rotate in all three directions.
It should be noted that for design purposes one has to consider rather conservatively only the first critical buckling load, even though there could be a stable postcritical range until collapse buckling occurs. Remember that for circular holes there
is no first local buckling. Therefore the design should be made on the basis of global
collapse buckling.

Fig. 8.

Finite element mesh of a cylinder with an opening (3500 elements for one half of the shell).

J.F. Jullien, A. Limam / Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202


Fig. 9. Finite element results for two types of boundary and loading conditions (a) and (b) and linear
(LA) and non-linear (GNA and GMNA) formulations.

4.2. Length to radius ratio

As was mentioned in Section 2.1 all the results presented so far are valid only
for shells with /r 2.
The amount of bending deformation introduced by the presence of non-symmetrically positioned openings will depend on the distance between two cross-sections,
taking into account the second order effect and greater susceptibility for shape distortion in the critical cross-section in the case of longer cylinders. Fig. 10 indicates that
there is an asymptotic limit for the length dependence. A more detailed analysis is
necessary to quantify the above dependence. In the mean time, the existing results
can be used for shells reinforced by two heavy rings at cross-sections A and B
distanced 2r apart. This will ensure that cross-sections remain plane without
warping and ovalisation.
4.3. Geometrical imperfections
The experimental results for different forms of openings correspond to metal cylinders characterised by reproducible geometric imperfections encountered in industrial
practice. These results were compared with earlier results reported by Starnes [2], see
Fig. 11. While the shell material is different (Mylar versus steel) and the geometrical
imperfections in Starness experiments are much smaller compared with the present
ones, the overall behaviour of both types of shells is identical in a certain range of


Fig. 10.

J.F. Jullien, A. Limam / Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202

Effect of dimensionless length /r on critical buckling load (numerical study GMNA (b)).

Fig. 11. Comparison of INSA tests with earlier results by Starnes [2].

the parameter r. The range of interest corresponds to angular openings larger than
a limiting value denoted by r.
In the first approximation, the geometrical imperfections are seen not to have any
significant effect compared with the effect of opening beyond the critical limit r.
It is possible to identify a reduction function for a given opening over the range
r > r. From Fig. 11 it transpires that for small openings up to this limiting value,

J.F. Jullien, A. Limam / Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202


the effect of imperfections must be coupled with that of the cut-out. At the same
time, for very small openings, their size is not important compared with a significant
imperfection sensitivity of cylinders subjected to compressive loads.
As shown in Fig. 12 a comparison between calculations and experimental results
is in full agreement.
The obtained results are limited to the aperture size r 6.61 (i.e.
45) and 212 r/t 400. These limits could be extended in the continuation of
this research.
In Fig. 12, the limits of two distinct zones are clearly identified. In the case of
small openings, it is necessary to include in the analysis a coupling between the
geometrical imperfection and presence of an opening. In the range of moderately
large openings, the existence of geometrical imperfections of any size can be neglected.
A careful examination of post-critical geometry for all cases considered indicates
that the modal geometry is not effected by the presence of openings. This statement
is valid for different dimensions and shapes of shells tested. One can conclude that
the mode numbers n and m are invariants, because they depend on the geometry
of a shell rather than that of an opening.
It should be recalled that the critical load has an asymptote with increasing amplitude of imperfections. It is important to note that the dependence of the critical load
on the hole size has a similar form as the known imperfection sensitivity. There

Fig. 12. Comparison between experimental results and numerical calculations for perfect (GMNA) and
imperfect (GMNIA) shells. Note the existence of two ranges. For small r there is a coupling between
geometrical imperfection and hole size. For medium opening, there is no coupling.


J.F. Jullien, A. Limam / Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202

the reduction factor reaches a maximum (asymptotic) value where the opening size
corresponds to the half-length of the buckling wave [7,8]. It is shown in Fig. 12 that
geometrical imperfections no longer have any effect on cr for r > 2.94, i.e. for an
opening equal or larger than the half-wave of the Yoshimura pattern.
4.4. Principle of the proposed rule
The proposed rule uses a reduction (knock-down) factor to the critical Donnell
stress cr in the same way as is done for a cylindrical shell without an opening. This
rule is developed for the most unfavourable case, i.e. for cut-outs with sharp corners
(squares, rectangles). For the purpose of evolving a European rule [9], the same
notation is used for the reduction factor , as in the classical buckling analysis of
imperfect shells. The reduction factor is a linear piece-wise function of the geometrical parameter of the openings r, (Fig. 13). In the design rule it is proposed that
three distinct regimes be distinguished, denoted respectively by (1), (2) and (3).
Regime (1) corresponds to very small openings in which the size of the hole has
practically no effect on the critical load. The shell response is dominated by the
geometrical imperfections. The reduction factor is constant with respect to the opening parameter r, and its magnitude is equal to the reduction factor of an imperfect
cylinder without an opening subjected to axial compression.
Responses of shells with relatively large openings are dominated by the presence
of cut-outs rather than geometrical imperfections. This function is described by a
linear dependency given by segment (3) in Fig. 13. For intermediate hole sizes there
is a strong coupling effect between the opening parameter r and geometrical imper-

Fig. 13. Conceptual sketch of the opening reduction factor function.

J.F. Jullien, A. Limam / Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202


fections. The reduction factor in this range is approximated by a straight line, designated in Fig. 13 as segment (2).
In order to define the position of the above three lines on the r plane it is
necessary to identify six parameters.

5. Conclusion
The above experimental and numerical work leads to the following conclusions,
while enhancing the European rules relating to shell buckling.
The opening parameter r characterizes the effect of a hole on the critical load of
a cylindrical shell with an opening under axial compression;
The behaviour shows two large zones:
for small openings in which there is a coupling between the geometrical imperfection and the presence of an opening;
for a moderately larger opening the existence of geometrical imperfections of any
size can be neglected;
The limit between these two zones is defined by an opening angle equivalent to
the length of the half-wave of the shell without any opening;
The critical mode is independent of an opening;
For a moderately larger opening the reduction of critical load is linear with the
angle of the opening;
The height and the position of the hole have little influence;
The linear bifurcation theory underestimates the carrying capacity because it predicts buckling of the vertical edge of the cut-out.

The authors wish to thank the CECA-ECSC, which has supported this research
(contract no. 7210-SA/208, part E Enhancement of ECCS design recommendation
and development of Eurocode 3, parts related to shell buckling).

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[3] Toda S. Buckling of cylinders with cutouts under axial compression. Journal of Experimental Mechanics 1983;3:4147.
[4] Knodel P, Schulz U. Stabilite de cheminees dacier a` ouvertures dans les tuyaux. Stahlbau (Der)


J.F. Jullien, A. Limam / Thin-Walled Structures 31 (1998) 187202

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