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Structures subjected to compressive (and other types of loads) may

become unstable and buckle. In idealized situations, buckling is

the sudden onset of very large displacements at some critical load

(generally transverse to the member) and sometimes with a

corresponding decrease in load-carrying capacity. In other

situations, buckling may occur more gradually; but as the load

approaches the critical load displacements will increase at a rapid

rate. Below are examples of buckling situations:

Consider a column fixed on one end and subjected

to a uniaxial compressive load P. When P is small,

the column shortens axially (is compressed).

When the axial compressive force P reaches a

critical value

cr

P

, the column suddenly experiences

a lateral displacement, i.e., it buckles.

A10 - Introduction to Column Buckling 2

A thin, deep cantilever beam

is subjected to a vertical end

load P. As long as the load P

is below a critical value

cr

P

,

the beam section remains

vertical (motion is downward

only) and resists the bending

action of P.

At the critical value

cr

P

, the beam

will twist and bend sideward (out

of the vertical plane).

The point at which the structure

buckles is called an instability

point. At or just below the critical

value of the load, any small disturbance can cause the structure to

change position as shown in the sketch of P vs. displacement.

sideward displacement, twist

P

cr

P P

idealized

actual

A10 - Introduction to Column Buckling 3

A familiar soda can is shown below. When the applied load P is

sufficiently small, the vertical wall remains cylindrical and is

compressed uniformly in the vertical direction (fig. a).

If P becomes too

large (reaches the

critical value), the

position becomes

unstable. A small

disturbance causes

the vertical walls to

bend in and out in a

complex pattern as

shown in fig. b

(buckling or

crumpling occurs).

The top may even rotate relative to the bottom.

A10 - Introduction to Column Buckling 4

A somewhat different type of instability is shown below for a

shallow curved arch or dome.

As the load P

is increased,

the top of the

arch

displaces

downward in

a somewhat

linear fashion (fig. a).

However, at some critical value of P,

the arch will suddenly snap through to

the configuration shown in fig. b. This

is called snap buckling. At this critical

load, the arch (top) suddenly moves

vertically from displacement A to B

with NO increase in load P.

vertical displacement

P

snap-through

A B

A10 - Introduction to Column Buckling 5

The investigation of structural instability and buckling is a difficult

subject. We shall consider only the case of the cantilevered

column discussed previously. Before considering this stability

problem, it is necessary to derive the equations governing the

bending of a beam subjected to longitudinal as well as transverse

loads. Consider a free-body of a beam with a transverse load q(x)

and a constant axial force P as shown below.

P

P

x

y

( ) v x

M M +

M

P

P P +

V V +

V

x

v

( ) p x

p x

Summing forces vertically and taking moments about the center of

the differential element yields:

A10 - Introduction to Column Buckling 6

2 2

0

( ) 0

x x

V V V p x

M M M V V V P v

+ +

+ + + + +

Divide by x and take the limit 0 x to obtain

0

0

dV

p

dx

dM dv

V P

dx dx

+ +

Assume that the bending moment is responsible for the transverse

deformation of the beam; i.e., we will neglect the effect of shear on

the deformations (same as ENGR 214 and AERO 304). Then,

2

2

d v

EI M

dx

Substituting into the moment equation gives

A10 - Introduction to Column Buckling 7

2

2

0

d d v dv

EI V P

dx dx

dx

| `

+ +

. ,

Solving for V and substituting in the shear equation gives

2 2

2 2

d d v d dv

EI P p

dx dx

dx dx

| `

| `

+

. ,

. ,

Now consider the cantilevered column

with only an axial compressive force P.

Boundary conditions for this problem are

given by:

0

0

0

v

at x

dv

dx

'

0

0

M

at x L

V

'

x

y

L

P

A10 - Introduction to Column Buckling 8

The boundary conditions at x=L may be expressed in terms of

v

by

substituting the boundary conditions into the second of equations ,

and , into to obtain:

2

2

2

2

0

0

d v

M EI

dx

at x L

d d v dv

V P

dx dx

dx

'

| `

+

. ,

For constant EI and P, the governing differential equation

becomes

4 2

4 2

0

d v d v

EI P

dx dx

+

We must now find the solution to the differential equation subject

to the boundary conditions at x=0 [eq. ] and x=L [eq. ]. We note

that v=0 is a solution for any value of P. However, we are not

A10 - Introduction to Column Buckling 9

interested in this trivial solution. The theory of differential

equations states that we must have 4 independent constants in the

general solution to the differential equation (there are 4 boundary

conditions). A possible solution for

( ) v x

is a combination of

polynomial and trigonometric terms:

1 2 3 4

( ) sin cos

P P

v x c c x c x c x

EI EI

+ + +

You can verify that this assumed solution satisfies the differential

equation. Substituting into the 4 boundary conditions [2 boundary

conditons at x=0 in and 2 at x=L in ] gives the following:

A10 - Introduction to Column Buckling 10

1 4

2 3

3 4

2

0

0

sin cos 0

0

c c

P

c c

EI

P P P P

c L c L

EI EI EI EI

c P

+

+

Note that all the right-hand sides are equal to 0; hence, a possible

solution is that

1 2 3 4

0 c c c c

. In this case,

( ) 0 v x

is the

solution for equilibrium of the cantilevered column. This would

correspond to simple compression of the column with no sideways

motion. However, we consider this once again a trivial solution.

We need to find another solution!

Equations are in fact an eigenvalue problem!

A10 - Introduction to Column Buckling 11

1

2

3

4

1 0 0 1

0

0 1 0

0

0

0 0 sin cos

0

0 0 0

c

P

c

EI

c

P P P P

L L

c

EI EI EI EI

P

]

]

]

]

]

]

]

]

]

The solution of the eigenvalue problem requires that the

determinant of the 4x4 coefficient matrix by equal to zero which

will yield the solution for P satisfying this condition. Note that we

will obtain an infinite number of solutions due to the repeating

nature of the sin and cos trigonometric functions. An easier

approach is as follows. Referring to equation , the fourth equation

implies that

2

0 c

is a possible solution (for 0 P ). With

2

0 c

,

the second equation implies that

3

0 c

is a possible solution. The

first equation implies that

4 1

c c

. Hence, the third equation

becomes simply:

A10 - Introduction to Column Buckling 12

1

cos 0

P P

c L

EI EI

The last equation can be satisfied by setting

1

0 c

, which is a

trivial solution again, or by having a value of P such that

cos 0

P

L

EI

The smallest value of P satisfying this condition is

2

2

4

EI

P

L

( ) v x

gives

1

( ) 1 cos

2

x

v x c

L

| `

. ,

A10 - Introduction to Column Buckling 13

Hence, we have found the critical value of P, and the shape that the

beam bends into for this critical load. Note that the value of

1

c

cannot be determined. This is the nature of an eigenvalue problem.

Since the solution of an eigenvalue problem requires that we force

the determinant of the coefficient matrix to be equal to zero, this is

equivalent to making the equations linearly dependent. Linearly

dependent equations can only be solved by assuming a solution for

one (or more) of the unknowns (c's in this case); and the solution

will always be in terms of the assumed c value. Note that when

cr

P P <

, the transverse deflection is zero. Transverse deflection

occurs only when

cr

P P

.

Hence, we have for the cantilevered column the critical value of P:

2

2

( )

4

cr

EI

P for cantilevered column

L

obtain:

A10 - Introduction to Column Buckling 14

A10 - Introduction to Column Buckling 15

For axial loads that are not perfectly centered, we obtain an

entirely different result. Consider the case when P is offset by an

amount

:

The problem may be worked as before, except that we treat the

problem as having a perfectly centered load P plus a moment

o

M P

as shown above. We find that the third boundary

condition in equations is modified so that the right-hand side is

equal to

/

o

M EI

. Following the same procedure, we find that the

transverse deflection is given by:

x

y

L

P

x

y

L

P

=

o

M P

sec 1 sec 1

o

M P P

L L

P EI EI

| ` | `

. , . ,

Plotting P vs. gives the plot on

the right. For small values of P, the

transverse deflection is very nearly

zero. For example, < when

4

9

crit

P P <

where

2

2

4

crit

EI

P

L

is

the value obtained for a perfectly

centered load P on a cantilevered

column. As P approaches the

critical load, the deflection

becomes very large. Because axial

forces are rarely perfectly centered,

one will always find some amount

of transverse deflection occurring before P reaches the critical

load.

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