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Statics in Bridges

What is a force?

A force is a push or pull on an object (compression and tension).

Stationary objects are static.

No net forces
No net moments (torques)

Are there forces on you now?

Gravity is pulling you down.

The stool is pushing you up.
Force is compression.
Each leg supports of the weight
Total forces are zero (statics).

What forces are on this girl?

Net force is zero.

Gravity pulls the girl down

Force in the line is

Sample calculation-

Bending is Bad

Bending- Beams have very little bending

Never design a structure that relies on
bending strength to support a load.

Design and construction ideas:

1) Triangles are a construction engineers best friend, i.e.
there are no bending moments in triangular elements.

Good design

Bad design (truss strength depends on bending

strengths of members)

Truss Bridges

Your bridge will be essentially a truss.

In a truss bridge forces are at an

Since the bridge is
stationary the Net force
must be zero.

Beams and loads--compression:

Beam in compression
Failure occurs two ways:
1) When L/d < 10, failure is by crushing
2) When L/d > 10, failure is by buckling
We are almost always concerned with failure by buckling.

Compression- Buckling Strength: F = (k)d4/L2

If a beam of length L and diameter d can support
compressive load of F,
then a beam of length L/2 and diameter d can
support a compressive load of 4F.


Compression- Buckling Strength: F = (k)d4/L2



and a beam of length L and diameter 2d can

support a compressive load of 16F.


Compression- Buckling Strength: F = (k)d4/L2

In compression short and fat members are good.
Bigger beams can be fabricated out of smaller
beams, as in a truss.

The fabricated beam will have the same buckling

strength as a solid beam, provided the buckling/tension
strengths of the component beams are not exceeded.

Tension: F=kR2

Beam under tension

Failure occurs when tensile strength is exceeded.
Maximum load is tensile strength times cross-sectional area.
Load capacity does not depend on length.

Use Bridge Designer to calculate loads:

Tension members are in RED

Compression members are in BLUE

Design and construction ideas:

Taller is better: note loads on these two structures.

Which is the better design and why (cont.)?





Calculate Tension &

Compression Values for the
Balsa Bridge

Balsa wood k=19.9 MPa

F= E3R4
Balsa wood E=1130 MPa
E= youngs modulus (a measure of the
rigidity of a material, the large E is the less
the material will deform when under stress)

Some properties of balsa wood



150 kg/m3

.0054 lb/in2


12.1 MPa

1750 lb/in2

Tensile Strength

19.9 MPa

2890 lbs/in2

Elastic ModulusCompression

460 MPa

66,700 lb/in2

Elastic ModulusTension

1280 MPa

185,300 lb/in2

For comparison, cast aluminum (wet or dry):

1. Ultimate tensile strength ~10,000psi
2. Stiffness E~10,000,000psi

Design and construction ideas:

1. Dont forget about the 3rd dimension. A good design in the x-y
plane, may be a terrible one in the z-direction.
2. Plan the total bridge design. Estimate the weight of each of
the components, so that you will not exceed the weight limit (95
3. Make a full-size pattern of your bridge. Build the bridge on
this pattern. This will ensure that all components will assemble
properly (use wax paper).
4. Rough cut members then sand to the desired length.
5. Common disqualifications:
a. angles must be over 30 degrees.
b. Gluing cannot go beyond 3mm from a joint.
c. Mass of bridge <95 grams

Types of Trusses

Warren/ Neville Truss

Pratt Truss

K Truss

Howe Truss

Use Bridge Builder

Go to


Cantilevered truss--Firth of Forth rail bridge

Suspension--Golden Gate

New River gorge--largest single arched span (1978)