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Guidance Note

Geometrical tolerances No. 5.03

Scope their equipment, and will also vary with
This Guidance Note presents a brief structural form.
consideration of what can be expected in
terms of the accuracy of a structure's fully In bridge construction, length is one of the
assembled length, width and vertical profile. most important dimensions that needs to be
Reference is made to EN 1090-2 (Ref 1) and controlled. The overall dimensions of smaller
to the special tolerances that were given in the structures, with few fabricated components in
Model Project Specification (MPS) (Ref 2). their length, will be influenced by both random
Many of the special tolerances in the MPS are and systematic errors; longer structures, with
not included in the SHW 1800 (Ref 3) but can many components, will be influenced mainly
be included in the project-specific Appendix by systematic errors.
18/1; these tolerances are included in the
recommendations below. Generally it can be expected that the ratio of
total error to total dimension can be expected
Execution Standard to be better on larger structures where there
EN 1090-2, Clause 11 defines three types of are more components and the random
permitted geometrical deviations (tolerances): elements have a chance to cancel one another
Essential tolerances, which relate to criteria out, than on smaller structures with fewer
that are necessary for mechanical elements where there is less chance of the
resistance and stability, and which are used random errors self compensating.
to support CE marking of components to
EN 1090-1 [Ref 3]; Plan Position at Bearings
The accuracy with which the steelwork can be
Functional tolerances, which relate to other positioned on the substructure is affected by the
criteria such as fit-up and appearance; build-up of fabrication and erection deviations.
Special tolerances, which may be specified Figure 1 shows typical longitudinal and
for project-specific reasons and which need transverse deviations in plan position at datum
to be clearly defined in the execution temperature between the various components,
specification. together with a brief commentary.
The requirements relate to final acceptance When considering the tolerance on movement
testing and thus cover tolerances for both capacity of a sliding bearing, a 10 mm
fabrication and erection. allowance should be made for the sum of
random deviations at the various interfaces
At a cost, and given the time, very high levels shown in Figure 1 plus L/10000 for the
of dimensional accuracy are possible, but the systematic deviation in girder length. See
main issue is what can be justified for the guidance in P406.
particular structure.
Adjustment of errors in length
Types of dimensional imperfection The accumulation of small systematic errors in
As with all manufactured items, fabricated the fabricated length of girders can sometimes
components contain both random and make it necessary to adjust the length of the
systematic dimensional errors. steelwork in order to meet the tolerances on
plan position at the bearings.
On larger structures, where many girders may
be joined end-to-end, there will be a general On long-span bridges, adjustment may be
tendency for the random errors to be self achieved by match marking and trimming
compensating: the statistical probability of all joints in rolling assemblies at ground level,
such errors accumulating in one sense will be taking account of as-built surveys of the
very small. Systematic errors on the other substructure. This approach is slow and
hand, will generally accumulate. expensive, but is essential for long structures
(over about 250 m).
The relationship between the magnitudes of
random and systematic errors varies among In viaduct work, adjustment points are normally
fabricators, depending on their methods and pre-planned, and the main girder joints at those

SCI P185 Guidance notes on best practice in steel bridge construction 5.03/1
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Guidance Note

No. 5.03

positions are not completed until dimensions are Structure width

available from site indicating how the structure is Errors in width will tend to be higher, relatively,
matching the local bearing locations. than those in length. This is because there is
usually a high number of joints (per unit width)
Such adjustments are assessed in relation to and any dimensional errors tend to be
the substructure grid lines, which are dominated by systematic effects.
themselves subject to tolerance, rather than
being absolute overall dimensions. Given a Bridges skewed in plan will tend to have
good standard of fabrication and substructure greater relative error in width than those that
set-out, such adjustment points would typically are square in plan.
be at 150 m intervals.
A general tolerance of width/1000 should be
Between adjustment points, errors achievable. A tolerance of 10 mm on spacing
accumulate. The amount of error that can be of top flanges is practical where permanent
safely accommodated at each support position formwork is to be used.
should consider the following:
The allowable eccentricity in the support, Vertical profile of steelwork
which is a matter of design. The weld shrinkages at the top and bottom
flanges of bridge girders are often different,
The available spare movement capacity in because of differences in weld size and flange
sliding bearings, which is a matter of cross section, and due to the sequence of
bearing selection and design. welding. Such differentials give rise to a
Any implications regarding expansion joint vertical curvature in the girder, and this may
movements. well be in the opposite direction to that of the
vertical profile and the allowance for
The flexing of tall slender piers when fixed
deformation due to permanent actions.
bearings are used
Fabricators use empirical rules to adjust the
The selection of adjustment points in long
shape of the web to allow for such effects as
structures should therefore be a matter of
shrinkage. This is not a precise science, and
discussion and agreement between the
the control of the profile, particularly on
designer, the main contractor and the
slender girders, is a matter that requires
fabricator, and should take place as early as
experienced judgement by the fabricator.
possible in the project.
To complicate the issue further, all as-welded
The assessment of misalignment at each
fabrications have locations adjacent to welds
support as construction proceeds needs
where residual stresses are at or about the
careful observations, and should take into
yield point for the material (the forces are in
account average steel temperature together
equilibrium with other internal forces).
with any rotations and translations that will
Externally applied vibrations or loads can give
occur due to the action of self weight. The
rise to stress relief at these locations, and to a
problems in assessing temperature effects are
resultant overall change in shape of the
discussed in GN 7.02
fabrication as the equilibrium in internal forces
changes. This effect is not significant in the
As bearing locations may have to be adjusted,
majority of bridge girders, but can be an issue
it is recommended that only fixed bearings be
in structures where the span to depth ratio is
fully grouted prior to erection. Pockets for
around 30 or more. Girders of such
bearing fixing dowels should be detailed to
proportions have been known to alter in their
allow such adjustment of bearing base plates.
profile during transportation.
Temporary bearing packing systems should be
planned carefully in terms of capacity and
For the above reasons, relative errors in profile
disposition in order to safely support the steel
tend to be greater in shorter spans. In longer
self weight in all erection conditions
spans, the girders tend to be inherently less
slender, but also, since more individual girder
pieces tend to make up the span and provide

5.03/2 2015 The Steel Construction Institute

GN503R3 Printed 05/10/15
Guidance Note

No. 5.03

an opportunity for vertical rotational regulation of the deck slab and/or the surface
adjustment at each joint, considerably lower thicknesses. In these cases the thickness is
relative errors can be achieved in the overall varied (usually increased at low spots) so that
profile of the span. a better finished profile is achieved. However,
additional thickness means additional self
A tolerance of span/1000 (on midspan level, weight and this will increase design moments
relative to the level at the supports, reducing and forces. Additional thickness and self
proportionately as the distance to the support weight in midspan regions has a much greater
reduces) can be achieved; a tolerance of influence on moments than does an increase
35 mm can be achieved on spans exceeding local to the supports. It may therefore be
35 m. The designer can specify lesser values prudent to over-camber the steelwork in some
in situations which require tighter tolerances. cases to guard against variations (from the
Designers should, however, recognise what intended profile) on the low side. Such
can be readily achieved by the addition would be made to the specified
fabricator/erector and not specify tighter allowance for permanent deformation (see
tolerance except where strictly necessary. GN 4.03). If such a strategy is adopted, it
should be made clear to all parties.
In specifying the required tolerance for any
particular project, the designer should consider In railway bridges, deviations between
carefully what the effects that deviations up to intended and actual profile of the structure will
that tolerance value would have on vertical be accommodated by variations in ballast
profile, drainage, self weight, surfacing thickness but, again, the consequences on
thickness, etc. effects due to self weight and on the level of
the track need to be considered.
Note, however, that the above discussion about
tolerance on level relates to the bridge as a Verticality of girders at supports
whole, not to each individual girder separately. There is no tolerance given in EN 1090-2 for
Where there would be a lack of planarity at top the verticality of stiffened webs at supports but
flange level of a composite bridge, the need to verticality must be controlled in order to limit
maintain a minimum structural thickness of the transverse rotation of the bearings and
slab will usually mean that the slab will be cast secondary effects.
with its nominal depth over the highest girder,
and with a greater depth over the lower The verticality of girders at supports is usually
girders. A tolerance of 20 mm on the level of set by bracing or cross head systems
one main girder relative to another, adjacent, connected with preloaded bolts.Given a good
main girder is appropriate for a slab of about standard of fabrication there is usually
250 mm thickness. If any greater tolerance sufficient clearance in the bolt holes to allow
were to be accepted, the design should be the appropriate degree of adjustment to
checked for the consequent increase in self achieve a tolerance of Depth/300 without
weight due to the thicker slab. resorting to reaming.

Profile of road surface It is emphasised that this check applies to the

The profile of the finished road surface of a web itself, and should not be translated to, or
highway bridge depends on three elements: derived from, the horizontality or otherwise of
the profile of the steelwork the flange plates or bearings.

any variation in the thickness (and weight) If this tolerance is not achieved and
of the deck slab subsequent adjustment of the bracing system
any variation in thickness of the roadway is not readily achievable, a check will be
surfacing. necessary to establish whether the bracing
system is capable of sustaining the resulting
There may be some scope for adjustment of additional horizontal forces. This situation
steelwork during its construction if it is may well be experienced at the abutments of
expected that the deviation from the required skewed composite bridges. See comment on
geometry will be too great. If the steelwork is girder twist in GN 1.02.
not adjusted, the profile can be modified by

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Functional tolerances i) on level, relative to that specified:

As noted above, functional tolerances relate to at the supports: 5 mm.
criteria such as fit-up and appearance, not to at midspan: span/1000, up to a
the limits needed to ensure mechanical maximum of 35 mm.
resistance. Consequently, the functional ii) on level, of one main girder relative to
tolerances are not included in the acceptance another, adjacent, main girder:
criteria (to achieve conformance with the 20 mm
Standard) specified in clause 12.3 of EN iii) on plan position of steelwork at bearings
1090-2. (structure at datum temperature):
Transverse position of bearing top and
Two classes of functional tolerance are given bottom plates relative to substructure:
in EN 1090-2. Class 1, which is the less 15 mm
onerous tolerance, is the default for routine
work. Tolerance class 2 will require special Longitudinal position of bearing top plate
and more expensive measures in fabrication relative to bottom plate:
and erection. (10 mm+Ls/10000)
Longitudinal position of bearing bottom
Attachment of other prefabricated elements plate relative to substructure:
It is necessary to give consideration to the 10 mm
accuracy of location of fittings required to Where Ls is distance from the fixed point.
support or avoid other prefabricated elements, iv) on verticality of main girder webs at
including non-structural items such as supports:
parapets and fascia panels. Depth/300 or 3 mm,
whichever is greater
The EN 1090-2 class 1 functional tolerance for v) on spacing of top flanges where permanent
the location of web stiffeners is 5 mm, which formwork is to be used:
is related to their required location shown as a 10 mm.
simple dimension on the design and/or
fabrication drawings. Whilst this degree of If the steelwork is not within tolerance, it
accuracy is reasonably easy to achieve within should be reported to the designer of the
a single fabricated element, the consequences permanent works and be adjusted, if
of accumulated errors over the joints in a necessary, to maintain the structural adequacy
series of consecutive elements should be in accordance with the design rules.
taken into account in the detailing of the fixings
themselves, and these should be provided with If the level of the bridge soffit at midspan is
some adjustment facility. close to a clearance gauge, the specified
profile should include an allowance for
If structural stiffeners are intended to serve a adverse variation that is at least the
dual purpose (i.e. for attachment of fittings as construction tolerance allowed under this
well as for structural purposes), this should be clause. In some cases, it might be preferable
clearly specified, so that any implications on to specify tolerance on level at positions other
tolerance can be identified. than midspan.

Recommended special tolerances It is essential to ensure that the bearing location

Essential Tolerances relative to the steelwork matches the location
The final profile of the steelwork depends on as designed, and that the bearing is located on
work not covered by the specification for the the support within the design requirements for
steelwork. Nevertheless, the constructor is it. Adjustability should be provided wherever
responsible for the lines and levels in the possible between the three elements.
completed condition.
The tolerance in verticality of main girders
The following tolerances on steelwork applies to the completed (usually composite)
dimensions and levels at completion are as structure. Measures may need to be taken to
recommended in the MPS: ensure that adequate conformity is maintained
throughout the construction. See GN 7.03 and
AD318 (available on

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Guidance Note

No. 5.03

Functional Tolerances References

The tabulated values in D.2 should apply and 1. EN 1090-2:2008+A1:2011, Execution of
the tolerance class should be class 1. Where steel structures and aluminium structures.
there are particular requirements, such as the Part 1, Technical requirements for steel
achievement of a visually good alignment of structures.
fascias, these should be specified. 2. Steel Bridge Group: Model project
specification for the execution of steelwork
It may be noted that that SHW 1811.3.2 in bridge structures, (P382), SCI, 2009.
applies EN 1090 D.2.1(6) at bearing stiffeners, 3. Manual of Contract Documents for Highway
which is tighter than the essential tolerance Works, Volume 1, Specification for Highway
recommended above, but, as noted in this GN, Works, Series 1800, 2014
functional tolerances do not form part of the
acceptance criteria in EN 1090-2.

Bearing Bearing Web

stiffener stiffener


5mm 5mm

Bottom flange Bottom flange

Tapered plate Tapered plate
Distance Bearing 1mm
from fixed
10mm 15mm
Substructure Substructure

Longitudinal Transverse

Ref Deviation
Offset of bearing stiffener relative Stiffeners and tapered plate are set out by hand, or installed to machine-
to tapered plate generated powder-marks on theoretical bearing centreline.
Offset of web relative to tapered The web is located manually or by T&I machine, and the centre of the tapered
plate plate is set manually; both are set to the measured centreline of the flange.
&Offset of fixing holes in tapered Both sets of holes are drilled using CNC machines.
plate and bearing top plate
Overall length, causing offset of This is caused by cumulative small systematic variations in girder lengths and
top plate of bearing relative to splice gaps It should be allowed for in the design translations for the bearings.
bottom plate
Slack in bearing Top and bottom plates are held in position by transit cleats until the steelwork is
erected, or by the guides.
Position of bearing on This is accommodated by clearance in the dowel pockets.
Position of bearing on This is due to offset of overall location and variations in width between girders
substructure arising from variations in positions of holes in bracing members and stiffeners,
widths of stiffeners, gaps in welded joints, clearance in bolt holes, and offsets of
webs and tapered plates.

Figure 1 Geometrical deviations

SCI P185 Guidance notes on best practice in steel bridge construction 5.03/5
GN503R3 Revision 3