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Factors affecting beam strength

Bending strength may be limited by material strength, lateral-torsional buckling or local

As was stated previously the strength of a beam depends on its maximum moment and shear
capacities, and these depend on the relevant allowable stresses.
A beam may fail in one of three ways. The three types of failure are material failure causing
a plastic hinge to form, lateral-torsional buckling along the length of the beam, and local
buckling of the beam cross-section.
A plastic hinge forms when the bending stress reaches the material yield strength.

Strength failure of beams

Collapse by formation of a plastic hinge. Where the stress in the beam reaches the yield
stress, the bending moment cannot be increased and the beam collapses as though a hinge
has been inserted into the beam.
Lateral-torsional buckling is associated with the compression developed in part of the beam
cross-section due to bending.
Bending moments cause a pair of internal horizontal forces, one force is a tension force and
the other a compression force. The tension force stretches one side of the beam. This force,
like pulling a string, tends to keep the tension side of the beam straight between supports.
However, the compression force can buckle the compression side of the beam. Because the
tension force is keeping one side taut, the beam can only buckle sideways and twist the
beam - hence lateral torsional buckling.

Tension and compression due to bending

Effect of tension maintaining straight form of beam

Effect of compression causing lateral-torsional buckling

Lateral-torsional buckling may be resisted by restraining the beam laterally.
This buckling may be prevented by adequate lateral restraint preventing sideways movement
of the beam. If this is at discrete points, the beam may buckle between these points.

Buckling of beams with intermediate restraint

Steel floor beams are often adequately restrained by the floor slab.
In building structures the floor slab is often able to provide effective restraint to the floor
beams, preventing lateral-torsional buckling. In such cases the beams can be designed on the
basis of the full bending strength.
Local buckling can occur if the beam cross-section is very slender.
If some part of the beam is very slender, then this may buckle locally. In practice, standard
steel sections are proportioned so that this is not a critical design consideration.

Local buckling of beams

The dominant failure mode depends on a number of factors.

Which type of failure occurs depends on four factors:

the slenderness ratio of the beam.

the shape of the bending moment diagram.

the proportions of the individual parts (webs, flanges etc.) of the beam cross-section.

the presence of a "high" shear force.

Any of these factors may reduce the allowable stress to below the yield stress to ensure that
the beam is safe against any type of failure.