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# Design of steel diaphragms

25/1/06

Chris Hendy

## Design of steel diaphragms

Typical external forces acting on the diaphragm in a rectangular box are shown in
Figure 1. These uneven forces can be split into a torsional case and symmetric shear
case as shown in Figure 2 and 3 respectively. Figures 2 and 3 also show the shear
flows acting on the edges of the diaphragm. These result from the difference in the
shear flows acting in the box walls each side of the diaphragm. The shear flows from
vertical shear in the box walls in Figure 3 can be calculated using the usual
q VA y / I

approach.

The diaphragm can, in principle, be designed from the shear stresses and direct
stresses resulting from the combination of actions applied by the two cases in Figure 2
and 3. In reality, the boundary shear stresses are unlikely to be distributed according
to this elastic theory of the box cross-section because of the sudden discontinuity
which occurs at a diaphragm. Accurate determination of stresses however cannot
be predicted by simple hand methods such as these, which for example wont predict
the high concentration of shear stress that can occur at the bottom of the web and
diaphragm with hard bearings. The difficulty of calculating stresses is the reason for
the extensive guidance given in BS5400 Part 3 2000.
Despite the above, the calculation method in BS5400 Part 3 2000 still uses Figures 2
and 3 as a basis. Direct stresses can be calculated by first determining the moment
acting on a vertical section. Considering such a section at distance x from a web, but
outside a bearing, the moment from the torsional case in Figure 2 is:
M T qD x qx D 2qx D

T
x
B

(1)

## The moment from the shear case in Figure 3 is:

M R q av ,R D x q av ,R x D 2q av ,R x D Rx

(2)

## The factor of 2 in equation (2) corresponds to Kd = 2 in BS5400 Part 3 clause

9.17.5.2.3, which accounts for non-uniform boundary stresses when not assessed
accurately. A factor of 2.0 is conservative as, in this case, it conservatively assumes
that the horizontal shear stress acting on the diaphragm is equal to the average vertical

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## Design of steel diaphragms

25/1/06

Chris Hendy

shear stress (when it is actually less) and that it remains constant at this value along
the top flange (when Figure 3 shows it reduces). For a more normal box, having deck
cantilevers, the shear flow due to vertical shear is as shown in Figure 4 and the value
of 2 therefore becomes even more conservative because of the reverse shear flow in
the cantilever.
The total design moment is then, from (1) and (2):
T

M MT M R R x
B

(3)

This moment corresponds to that in the the first part of clause 9.17.6.2.3 and is
applied to an I section comprising the diaphragm plate (forming the web) and a
width of attached box top and bottom flange (forming the flanges). The direct
stresses are calculated from this moment and cross-section.
B

R1

R2

## Figure 1 Rectangular box with uneven reactions

For vertical sections inside the bearings, the moment will contain a component from
the bearing reaction and this needs to be added into equation (3). Also the effect of
any loadings from traffic applied directly to the diaphragm should be considered in
the moment equilibrium. These lead to other terms in clause 9.17.6.2.3.

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## Design of steel diaphragms

25/1/06

Chris Hendy

Shear stresses between a bearing and the adjacent web can be calculated from the

shear flow

q R ,av D
De t d

## where De is the net depth of the diaphragm allowing for

holes and cut outs and t d is the diaphragm thickness. Elsewhere, the shear can, in
theory, be calculated from vertical equilibrium using Figures 2 and 3. Formulae in
BS5400 Part 3 clause 9.17.6.2.4 however make allowance for uneven seating on the
bearings so the results there cannot be obtained solely from the statics of figures 2 and
3.
If there are access holes in the diaphragm, as in Figure 1, the zones underneath and
above the holes may be need to be designed for secondary bending arising from the
shear passing through the reduced section depth. Guidance on when to consider this
is given in BS5400 Part 3 clause 9.17.2.8 i.e. if the clear distance above or below the
hole (measured to either the flange or a cut out in the diaphragm plate if less) exceeds
0.7 times the hole width.

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## Design of steel diaphragms

25/1/06

Chris Hendy

qT T / 2 A0 T / 2BD
qT T / 2 A0 T / 2BD
x

## Figure 2 Shear flow due to torsional component

Approximation to peak shear flow is

q av ,R R / 2D
x
D

R/2

R/2

R/2

R/2

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25/1/06

Chris Hendy

## Peak shear flow <

x
D

R/2

R/2
R/2

R/2

q av ,R R / 2 D

Figure 4 Shear flow due to uniform shear component in a box with cantilevers

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