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Structural Stability

1.1.Introduction

This course examines the phenomena known as structural stability. While the focus will be on

the theory of these phenomena, part of the course will also examine how the theory is incorporated in

structural design, and how it influences the formulation of design expressions in various standards.

While many of the concepts covered in the course will date from 1757, when Leonhard Euler first

announced his derivation of the modern column buckling expression, some are currently being adapted

into design standards. For all of its age, structural stability is still a field that is developing.

When a structure is stable, the deflections of that structure caused by applied loads increase in

small increments with small increments in load. The ideal condition is that if the structure experiences a

small displacement or perturbation under load, the structure will return to its unperturbed state on

release of the forced displacement. Instability occurs when the increases in deflections are large when

small increments in load are applied. As loads and deflections are related by the term stiffness (or its

inverse, flexibility), an increasing displacement relative to the load increment means that the apparent

stiffness of the system is decreasing. Instability is a physical manifestation of a loss of stiffness in the

structure. Instability implies that a perturbed structure will not return to its original state, but will

experience increased displacements. This is commonly illustrated by the figure below, with a ball in

differing positions acting under the influence of gravity. If the ball is moved away from its position in

the first box, it will roll back. In the second, unstable, case the perturbed ball will roll away from its

initial position. The last box is neutral stability the ball will just sit where it was left, not moving

toward nor away from its original position.

a) Stable

b) Unstable

c) Neutral

While buckling and stability are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing.

Buckling (also known as bifurcation) is a mathematical idealization, usually based on small

displacement theory. This produces a solution where a critical load will produce infinite (or indefinite)

deflections. This is equivalent to the neutral condition above. Attempts to move the structure at its

buckling load should leave the structure in its displaced configuration.

There are different scales of instability: individual elements of a member may experience local

instability, the members themselves will experience global instability, and structures assemblages of

members will experience system instability.

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There is also instability related to insufficient restraint of a structure, or structural model the

structure or its component members do not have enough restraint to keep from falling apart. This

may be a failure to provide adequate structural determinacy. For example, a planar structure with less

than 3 independent reactions (the supports for orthogonal forces, and a moment restraint) would not be

structurally stable.

Elastic stability refers to conditions where the member or element has not reached the yield

point for the material, and members will recover their original shape upon removal of the applied loads.

Inelastic stability occurs when some of the material has yielded but the failure mode is one based on

second order effects. This implies that displacements are permanent, but more importantly, the stiffness

of the material can drop dramatically during inelastic behaviour. Elastic stability is the first topic

covered in the course.

Second order effects are, in the case of stability analysis, the extra loading a structure must

withstand due to the loading coupled with the displacements caused by the loading. A second order

analysis is one where equilibrium is found on the displaced structure1. The first order analyses that are

most often done find equilibrium on the undeformed geometry the structure is the same at the end of

loading as it was before the loading was applied. The stability consideration is that second-order effects

can increase to the point where the structure cannot withstand them, and the structure's deflections will

increase unchecked to the point of collapse. The load at which this rate of displacement can occur is a

point of neutral stability, or a buckling load.

In general, the second order effects we are concerned with are those involving compression.

The second-order effects of tensile loads are such that they produce a stabilizing contribution to the

member or structure. Tensile loads can be considered to stiffen the structure. (Problems exist with

unstable brittle failure modes in tension, such as fracture and fatigue.)

1 Ziemian, R.D. 2010. Guide to Stability Design for Metal Structures, Chapter 16, p. 692.

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The first example we will examine is that of a spring attached to a rigid bar, which is loaded at

its top. This is shown in Figure 2. The spring resists the rotational movement of the bar, attempting

restore the system to its original configuration. A load is applied at the top with the load P and the top

of the bar is moved slightly. The perturbation causes a rotation, and is intended to destabilise the

structure. We will determine if the structure is indeed stable from its behaviour after the top is released.

The bar has length L, and the spring has a spring constant of k, so that if the bar is rotated q

radians, the spring exerts a moment of magnitude kq in the opposite direction.

To take a specific case, we'll choose a configuration with L = 2 m, k = 10 kNm/radian, and

P = 2 kN.

The bar is rotated an arbitrary angle, q radians. The value, as we will see, is not important, but it

must be reasonably small. At the moment the bar is released, we will do a summation of moments

about the spring, counterclockwise positive.

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The overturning moment is caused by the load times its moment arm = P L sin( q) = 4 sin(q)

The restoring moment is the spring moment = kq = 10 q

If the angle is small, we can use the approximation of

4 sin 104 10=6

sin

There is a net restoring moment, and the bar moves toward its original position. After some

oscillation, the bar will return to its original upright position. This is a stable system.

If we repeat with the load increased to 10 kN, the summation of moments is

210sin 10 20 10 =10

and there is a net overturning moment. The bar continues to rotate after release, and falls over.

This is an unstable system.

What if we were to try for the point where the bar does neither? In this case, we want to find the

case which lies between the stable response and the unstable one the neutrally stable position. The

structure will be displaced, but equilibrium can be formed on the deflected shape. As this is a static

equilibrium, the summation of moments has to be zero.

2 P sin 10 2P 10 =0

We now have the case where 102P =0 with two possible solutions: q is 0 and the bar is

vertical; or P is 5. Since we are initially disturbing the bar, we have removed the q = 0 solution as a

possibility. Our answer is 5 kN is required to just balance the bar at any small angle.

This load is the bifurcation load. Any load smaller than this causes the bar to resume its original

position, any greater load causes the system to collapse.

Of course, we could have simply started using the symbolic values of the stiffness, length, load

and rotation to get:

M =0=L P sink LP k =k LP

k LP=0 , or the two solutions

k

from the latter, the bifurcation load is P=

.

L

and the final equation gives

=0

and

k = LP ,

However, this is a trivial solution. These will come up in the stability equations further in the class.

These solutions need to be identified and eliminated, as they are usually not of interest.

We'll consider the same structure from a different perspective, and use energy methods to check

the stability of the system. This process considers two components of the total system energy: strain

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energy; and potential energy. The strain energy (U) is a measure of the energy stored within the system

due to the internal deformation of the member.

The potential energy (V) represents the loss in energy of a force due the work that force has

done by moving through a certain distance. (Or that a moment has done by rotating through a particular

angle.) It is equal in magnitude and opposite in sign the work done by the force.

=U V

(1)

In this case the internal energy is the strain energy of the spring, as the bar itself is rigid and is

assumed to not deform during the process:

U = M s d = k d =

k

2

(2)

U=

k x2

, where k is

2

The work done by the load is equal to its loss of potential energy. As the load is constant, the

work is the product of the force times the distance travelled in the direction of the force. (The load does

no work travelling laterally.) The distance to the top of the bar from the level of the spring hinge is L,

originally. When the bar is rotated at an angle q, this distance is L cos(q).

V =P L L cos =P L cos1

When we complete the expression for the system energy, we get:

(3)

k 2

(4)

=U V =

PL cos 1

2

The principle of virtual work is that when the structure is at equilibrium, there is no change in

energy of the system with small changes in displacement. Here the displacement is q, the angle.

k 2

(5)

=

PL cos 1 =k PL sin 0 =k PLsin

2

For equilibrium, this leads to k PLsin =0 which is the same as we got from statics,

and with small displacements gives the same answers.

2

If the derivative,

, is positive, then the system is stable; if it is negative, the system is

2

unstable; and if it is zero, the system is at the point of neutral stability i.e. the buckling load.

This model includes a number of simplifying assumptions the spring value is constant, the

stick is perfectly vertical, the angle of rotation is small, etc. Are these valid? What if the assumptions

we used are not correct?

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For example, what if the angle of rotation is not small? If we revisit the equation before the

k

approximation was made, the static equilibrium is 0=L P sin k , or P=

. If this

L sin

is plotted, the resulting graph shows an increasing load capacity (Figure 3). Note that the graph is

somewhat misleading, as angles greater than / 2 would have the load moment arm decreasing,

while the spring angle increases.

25

P, in terms of k/L

20

15

10

0

-3

-2

-1

q

Figure 3: Strength as function of rotation, considering large rotations

This type of analysis is called a large displacement analysis, as opposed the small displacements

considered in the first analysis.

1.6.Imperfections

The structure just examined is a perfect structure the spring is always linear, without regard

for the angle subtended; the initial (and rest) position of the stick is perfectly vertical. If the stick was

positioned so that it has an initial out of plumb position (at an angle q0), there would be a moment

created immediately when the force/weight was added. Equilibrium gives the expression:

k

P=

L sin 0

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k

P=

L 0

These are both plotted on Figure 4, for 4 values of 0 . The small displacement theory is

plotted as solid lines. These lines are asymptotic with the buckling load of P=k/L. The large

displacement theory is plotted as dashed lines. They converge on the large displacement figure

previously mentioned. In both cases, they follow approximately the same path for small rotations,

which confirms that the small displacement approximations are valid.

1.2

q0 = 0.001

P, in terms of k/L

q0 = 0.01

0.8

q0 = 0.05

q0 = 0.1

0.6

0.4

0.2

0

0

0.2

0.4

0.6

0.8

q

Figure 4: Strength considering geometric imperfections: solid lines are small displacement theory,

dashed lines are large displacement.

1.7.Post-buckling behaviour

Often, a structure can experience buckling, but still not experience complete instability or

immediate failure. An example is cold formed steel design, where the plates of composing the elements

of a member may buckle locally, but the ultimate strength of the member is calculated assuming this

buckling occurs. The structure, or element can still stand after local buckling has occurred.

Members also experience post buckling behaviour. Figure 4's large displacement graphs

illustrate this behaviour. As the displacement increase, the load capacities also increase.

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Lb

Lb

However, even larger structures can survive the buckling of elements. The simple frame

illustrated in Figure 5, is composed of a continuous beam over three columns, all simply supported.

Each column has a buckling strength of Pe. The frame is braced to prevent lateral motion, and the beam

is considered to be stiff so that the vertical displacement is relatively uniform. The loading is a

uniformly distributed load, w. A simple first order elastic analysis will give column loads of

3/8 w Lb for the exterior columns and 5/4 w Lb for the central column. As the load increases, the

first column that will buckle is the central column. The load on the beam would be:

4 Pe

(6)

5 Lb

The column will continue to carry its buckling load of Pe after the buckling load. If we continue

to neglect the extra deflection of the more heavily loaded column, which may be very large after

buckling, further load increases will be borne by the exterior columns until they reach their buckling

capacities as well and the final load will be 3Pe or the collapse UDL will be:

w=

w=

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2 Lb

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There are a number of reasons why this would not be a suitable design philosophy. This is

meant only to illustrate that buckling need not immediately lead to system instability.

Pcr

Theoretical

Practical

d

Figure 6: Post buckling weakening

However, there are other structures which may not have post-buckling increases in strength. Of

particular concern is that yielding will reduce the stiffness of materials and impose a limit on capacity

that will occur before buckling. As well, structures such as shells can experience a significant

weakening after buckling that will impose a practical limit on the structure's ultimate capacity that is

much lower than the maximum critical load. The practical limit is due to the geometric imperfections in

the structure. Figure 6 illustrates a load-displacement curve for such a structure.

1.8.Limit-load

Another concept of structural stability limits is that of the limit load. This is particularly well

demonstrated by the snap through buckling phenomenon, where there is an abrupt change in the

behaviour of a structure's load-displacement.

The usual demonstration for snap through is a two bar arch loaded at the apex. As the arch is

loaded, the bars deflect laterally, restrained by a spring. The spring provides a force to restore the

original configuration.

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1.2

Initial angle of 45

Load, P / k L

0.8

0.6

0.4

0.2

-0.2

-0.4

0

0.2

0.4

0.6

0.8

1.2

1.4

1.6

1.8

Figure 8: Snap through of arch for rest angle of 45. (After Galambos and Surovek, 2008)

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As the deflection of the system increases, the load required to deflect the arch increases.

However, as the arch flattens, the spring has a smaller moment arm, and the force needed to maintain

the displacement decreases. After the arch flattens, the spring pushes the arch down (requiring a force

to maintain equilibrium). Once the spring starts elongating, the load required increases. The plot above

shows the equilibrium force on an arch with an initial angle of 45 degrees, plotted against the imposed

bar rotation angle. The peak load on the left is the limit load for this structure.

Structural Analysis, and Design.

There are a number of areas that are needed for the background for stability considerations.

These will be covered as they come up, and will be familiar to structural engineers. However, these are

the areas that you should consider reviewing.

The basic concepts of equilibrium, compatibility, and constitutive relationships are required.

You should be familiar with statics, strength of materials and simple structural analysis'

There are several bending relationships that will come up in the discussion of columns and, of

course, beams. The primary ones are:

Elastic moment curvature:

Shear moment: V =

Distributed load: q=

dM

dx

M =E I y ' '

or

M x =x V d x

dV

dx

Mz

, z is distance from neutral axis

I

These will be reviewed when we get to that topic. However, a brief review of St Venant and

warping torsion, and the concept of shear centre would be helpful.

Torque is carried by pure torsion and warping: T =G J E C w

Depending on available time, matrix stiffness methods of analysis will be covered as well.

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1.9.4 Design:

You should be familiar with the Canadian structural design methodology Limit States Design,

based on the National Building Code of Canada, 2010. This concept includes the limit states design

equation:

R ij S j

Design equations will come primarily from CSA/CAN S16-09 Design of steel structures. We

will use other design standards, both Canadian and foreign, for metal structures in general, to illustrate

the application of theory to design.

Many of the techniques used in the class involve linear algebra matrix manipulation. We will

be solving linear systems of equations and doing eigenvalue problems. Some basic familiarity with

these techniques is expected.

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