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Saikat Basak

Tips and Tricks for

Computer Aided
Structural Analysis

Saikat Basak
M.Eng (Structural), BCE, CIC, AIE (Ind.), A.ASCE
Structural Engineer


© Saikat Basak

The author and publisher of this book have used their best efforts in preparing
this book. These efforts include the development, research and testing of the
theories and programs to determine their effectiveness. The author and publisher
shall not be liable in any event for the incidental or consequential damages in
connection with, or arising out of, the furnishing, performance, or use of these

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, in any form or by
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1st Edition 2001

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis


ABBREVIATION .................................................................................................................................................... 6
1. INTRODUCTION (BEFORE YOU BEGIN…)......................................................................................... 7

2. WHAT IS COMPUTER AIDED STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS? ............................................................. 9

3. ANALYSIS TYPES .................................................................................................................................... 10

LINEAR STATIC STRESS ANALYSIS .................................................................................................................... 10
DYNAMIC ANALYSIS .......................................................................................................................................... 11
RANDOM VIBRATION......................................................................................................................................... 12
RESPONSE SPECTRUM ANALYSIS....................................................................................................................... 12
TIME HISTORY ANALYSIS.................................................................................................................................. 13
TRANSIENT VIBRATION ANALYSIS .................................................................................................................... 13
VIBRATION ANALYSIS (MODAL ANALYSIS) ...................................................................................................... 14
BUCKLING ANALYSIS......................................................................................................................................... 15
THERMAL ANALYSIS .......................................................................................................................................... 16
BOUNDARY ELEMENT ....................................................................................................................................... 17
4. SIGN CONVENTION (MIND YOUR SIGNS)........................................................................................ 19

5. NUMBERING OF JOINTS AND MEMBERS ........................................................................................ 23

6. SPECIFYING MOMENT OF INERTIA ................................................................................................. 24

7. SPECIFYING LOADS............................................................................................................................... 27

8. COLUMN BUCKLING TEST .................................................................................................................. 31

9. PORTAL AND CANTILEVER METHOD ............................................................................................. 33

10. DEFLECTION OF REINFORCED CONCRETE MEMBER........................................................... 34

11. SHEAR DEFORMATION..................................................................................................................... 36

12. INCLINED SUPPORT........................................................................................................................... 37

SUBSTITUTE (EQUIVALENT) FRAME ....................................................................................................... 38

14. SUPPORT SETTLEMENT ................................................................................................................... 40

15. 2D VERSUS 3D....................................................................................................................................... 41

16. CURVED MEMBER.............................................................................................................................. 43

17. TAPERED SECTION ............................................................................................................................ 44

18. NODES CONNECTED BY A SPRING................................................................................................ 45


20. STAIRCASE ANALYSIS ...................................................................................................................... 51

21. CABLES .................................................................................................................................................. 54

22. PRE-STRESSED CABLE PROFILE ................................................................................................... 57

Computer Aided Structural Analysis

23. FINITE ELEMENT ANALYSIS (FEA) METHOD IS APPROACHING… .................................... 60

24. A TYPICAL WORKED OUT PROBLEM OF FEA........................................................................... 69

25. PLATES BY FEM .................................................................................................................................. 76

26. INTERPRETING FEA RESULT.......................................................................................................... 79

27. TIPS FOR CREATING BETTER MESH............................................................................................ 83

ANALYSIS .......................................................................................................................................................... 89

29. SHEAR WALL ....................................................................................................................................... 92

30. FOLDED PLATE ................................................................................................................................... 94

31. SHELLS................................................................................................................................................. 102

32. A FIRST STEP IN STRUCTURAL DYNAMICS ............................................................................. 105

33. AN EXAMPLE OF A SINGLE DEGREE OF FREEDOM PROBLEM......................................... 108

34. WHAT DYNAMIC ANALYSIS YOU SHOULD PERFORM? ....................................................... 112


MATERIAL NON-LINEARITY ............................................................................................................................ 115
GEOMETRIC NON-LINEARITY .......................................................................................................................... 116
36. MECHANICAL EVENT SIMULATION .......................................................................................... 119

37. IMPORTING MODEL FROM CAD PROGRAMS ......................................................................... 121

38. VIRTUAL REALITY IN ENGINEERING (VRML)........................................................................ 123

39. LINEAR PROGRAMMING IN SPREADSHEET ............................................................................ 124

40. REINFORCEMENT DETAILING IN CONTINUOUS BEAMS .................................................... 128


PROGRAMS..................................................................................................................................................... 130
CIVIL ENGINEERING PROGRAMS ...................................................................................................................... 131
MECHANICAL ENGINEERING PROGRAMS ......................................................................................................... 134
SOME CAD PROGRAMS… ............................................................................................................................... 137

43. HOW TO CHECK THE RESULT FOR ACCURACY? .................................................................. 142

44. FILE NAME EXTENSION GUIDE (FOR SOME CAD/CAE PROGRAMS) ............................... 143

45. COMMON ERROR MESSAGES AND SOLUTIONS ..................................................................... 144

OPERATING SYSTEM RELATED ......................................................................................................................... 144
ANALYSIS PROGRAM RELATED ........................................................................................................................ 145
46. REFERENCES ..................................................................................................................................... 148

Computer Aided Structural Analysis


Several abbreviations have been used throughout this book. They have been
defined in respective sections, but here is a list of them at a glance.

[k] – Stiffness
BM – bending moment
C - damping
CAD – computer aided design/drawing
CAE – computer aided engineering
CAM – computer aided manufacturing
E – modulus of elasticity
FE – finite element
FEA – finite element analysis
FEM – finite element method
fy – yield strength of steel
G – shear modulus
I – 2nd moment of inertia
IS – Indian Standard code
LRFD – load and resistance factor design
LSSA – linear static stress analysis
M, m – mass
MDF – multi degree freedom
MES – mechanical event simulation
NLA – non-linear analysis
RSA – response spectra analysis
SDF – single degree freedom
SF – shear force
T – time period of vibration
THA – time history analysis
UDL – uniformly distributed load
VRML – virtual reality markup language
x – displacement
x’ – velocity
x” – acceleration
ε – Strain
µ, ν – Poisson’s ratio
σ – Normal stress
τ – Shear stress
ωn – natural frequency of the structure
ξ – Damping ratio

Computer Aided Structural Analysis

1. Introduction (before you begin…)

In this book I shall tell you some practical tips for structural analysis using
computer. Most structural engineering books are written to tell you how you
will perform the calculation by hand. But even sometimes analysis using
computer can be very tricky. You may need to manipulate computer input to
solve a problem, which may at first appear to be unsolvable by that program.

Finite element programs and structural analysis programs tend to be very

expensive. Most small-scale engineering firms keep only one analysis program.
Even for a large corporate companies it is seldom possible to maintain more
than two standard analysis packages. Therefore it is essential that you use your
present analysis program to its full extent.

This is not a textbook. I make no attempt to teach you theory of structural

analysis to score good marks in the exam! But it can help you to earn more
money by enabling you to analyze some structures more easily and accurately,
which you were previously thought too difficult to deal with your existing
analysis program.

Also, I am not going to teach you any particular structural analysis computer
program. However, the techniques of analysis discussed here are applicable to
most standard analysis packages.

I presented the whole thing in an informative yet informal manner. I confined

the boring theory and calculation to minimum level.

No special knowledge is required to get the most out of this book. Only
Bachelor Degree knowledge in Civil/Mechanical Engineering is assumed.
However some parts of the book do discuss some topics which are normally
covered in Master’s degree level in detail. Also, I expect that you are familiar
with at least one standard structural analysis package otherwise you may
find the contents of this book quite terse!

This book does not contain listing of any computer program; because I know
that most readers will not bother to type them or to even read them.

But remember the most important advice: A structure will not behave as the
computer program tells it should regardless of how accurate the program
seems or how expensive it is! Thus goes the famous proverb “With good
engineering judgement you can produce on the back of an envelop that which

Computer Aided Structural Analysis

otherwise cannot be produced with a ton of computer output”. You should paste
this in front of your computer so that you see it everyday. (I did it!)

Before you accuse me by complaining that my tips do not work with your
program, I like to mention following important points.

• I did not work with all the structural analysis programs available in the
• Some features I discussed here may not be available in your program. It can
even happen that the program you are using has better option to handle a
particular problem compared to what I discussed in this book.
• I am only providing you some “clues” for more effective use of structural
analysis programs. However, every analysis problem is unique depending on
type of project, cost, client’s requirement etc. Those specific criteria you
have to solve yourself.
• Documentation of the program you are using is very important. The program
manuals are the best source of help always.

The sections of this book are arranged in somewhat haphazard manner

deliberately so that you don’t feel bored. The paragraphs are small and to the
point. We have often returned to same topics in several sections from different
viewpoints. Wherever necessary, numerical examples have been presented.
There are also some exercises. Please try to solve them with your structural/FE
analysis programs.

I like to see your comments and suggestions. You can reach me at

www.enselsoftware. com in World Wide Web. I shall be more than happy to
answer your queries. Now sit back, relax and enjoy the book.

Have a nice reading!

Computer Aided Structural Analysis

2. What is Computer Aided Structural Analysis?

This section is a head start for those who are using structural analysis programs
for the first time. As the name suggests, Computer Aided Structural Analysis is
the method of solving your structural analysis problem with the help of
computer software. In earlier generation analysis programs, you had to supply
the programs the nodal co-ordinates, member incidence (i.e. between what
nodal points a particular member is connected), material properties, sectional
properties of the all members and the loads (nodal force/moment/distributed
member loads etc.). You also had to supply how the structure was supported,
fixed, hinged or roller. The program then calculated the member forces, nodal
reactions and joint displacements and presented in a tabular format. This type of
structural analysis programs is still used in junior years in the university as a
first learning tool. However, the commercial structural analysis programs of
modern days are far more powerful and easy to use. Here, you can actually
‘draw’ your model on screen (as if you’re drawing in a paper with a pencil!)
with the mouse and keyboard! Everything is graphical. You draw models
graphically, apply loads and boundary conditions graphically and visualize the
shear force, bending moment and even deflected shape diagram graphically. For
the first time users, it seems rather like a magic! The availability of these
programs has completely changed the way we analyze structures compared to
we did the same just a decade ago! Now it is a child’s play to analyze structures
having more than 10,000 degrees of freedom! However, analyzing structures
using computers has created many other new problems. First, you must be very
familiarize with the programs you are using. You must clearly understand its
limitation and assumptions. All programs can’t be applied for analyzing all
types of structures. Most programs solve the structures by stiffness method,
though solution algorithm may differ from one program to another. What is
most important is that you must interpret the output result accurately. This book
will show you how to perform quickly, accurately and proper interpretation of
data in easiest way. You will also learn to analyze many new kinds of structures
without learning theoretical calculations! Sounds interesting? At the end of this
book, you will also learn about some very recent concepts of structural analysis.
Bon Voyage!

Computer Aided Structural Analysis

3. Analysis types

In this section, you will learn various analysis options those are offered by FEA
programs. You are already familiar with most of the types of analyses, and some
are new to you. (References 8 and 15 were considered for this section.)

Linear Static Stress Analysis

This is the most common type of analysis. When loads are applied to a body, the
body deforms and the effects of the loads are transmitted throughout the body.
To absorb the effect of loads, the body generates internal forces and reactions at
the supports to balance the applied external loads. Linear Static analysis refers
to the calculation of displacements, strains, and stresses under the effect of
external loads, based on some assumptions. They are discussed below.

1. All loads are applied slowly and gradually until they reach their full
magnitudes. After reaching their full magnitudes, load will remain constant (i.e.
load will not vary against time). This assumption lets us disregard insignificant
inertial and damping forces due to negligibly small accelerations and velocities.
Time-variant loads that induce considerable inertial and/or damping forces may
warrant dynamic analysis. Dynamic loads change with time and in many cases
induces considerable inertial and damping forces that cannot be neglected.

2. Linearity assumption: The relationship between loads and resulting responses

is linear. If you double the magnitude of loads, for example, the response of the
model (displacements, strains and stresses) will also double. You can make
linearity assumption if
a. All materials in the model comply with Hooke’s Law that is stress is directly
proportional to strain.
b. The induced displacements are small enough to ignore the change is stiffness
caused by loading.
c. Boundary conditions do not vary during the application of loads. Loads must
be constant in magnitude, direction and distribution. They should not change
while the model is deforming.

If the above assumptions are not valid, then we shall have to treat the problem
as non-linear analysis. I shall devote a few sections on non-linear analysis later.

Some FEA programs offer contact/gap elements. With this option, available
during meshing, contacting mating faces may separate during loading and hence
the load distribution in the model will change based on the gap forces generated.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

This functionality offers a linearized solution to a nonlinear problem. Sounds


Calculation of stresses

Stress results are first calculated at special points, known ‘Gaussian’ or

‘Quadrature’ points, located inside each element. (See you FEA textbook for
details) These points are selected to give optimal results. The program then
calculates stresses at the nodes of each element by extrapolating the results
available at the ‘Gaussian’ points. After a successful run, multiple results are
available at nodes common to two or more elements. These results will not be
identical because the finite element method is an approximate method. For
example, if a node is common to three elements, there can be three slightly
different values for every stress component at that node.

During result visualization, you may ask for element stresses or nodal stresses.
In calculating element stresses, the program averages the corresponding nodal
stresses for each element. In calculating nodal stresses at a node, the program
averages the corresponding results from all elements contributing to the stresses
at that node.

Dynamic analysis

In general, we have to perform dynamic analysis on a structure when the load

applied to it varies with time. The most common case of dynamic analysis is the
evaluation of responses of a building due to earthquake acceleration at its base.
Every structure has a tendency to vibrate at certain frequencies, called natural
frequencies. Each natural frequency is associated with a certain shape, called
mode shape that the model tends to assume when vibrating at that frequency.
When a structure is excited by a dynamic load that coincides with one of its
natural frequencies, the structure undergoes large displacements. This
phenomenon is known as ‘resonance’. Damping prevents the response of the
structures to resonant loads. In reality, a continuous model has an infinite
number of natural frequencies. However, a finite element model has a finite
number of natural frequencies that is equal to the number of degrees of freedom
considered in the model. The first few modes of a model (those with the lowest
natural frequencies), are normally important. The natural frequencies and
corresponding mode shapes depend on the geometry of the structure, its
material properties, as well as its support conditions and static loads. The
computation of natural frequencies and mode shapes is known as modal
analysis. When building the geometry of a model, you usually create it based on
the original (undeformed) shape of the model. Some loading, like a structure’s

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

self-weight, is always present and can cause considerable changes in the

structure’s original geometry. These geometric changes may have, in some
cases, significant impact on the structure’s modal properties. In many cases, this
effect can be ignored because the induced deflections are small.

This is just a prelude to dynamic analysis. You will find several topics on
dynamic analysis later in this book. However, since I shall not discuss theory of
structural dynamics here, I strongly recommend that you read a structural
dynamic textbook if you haven’t done so already.

The following few topics – Random Vibration, Response Spectrum analysis,

Time History analysis, Transient vibration analysis and Vibration modal
analysis are extensions of dynamic analysis.

Random Vibration

Engineers use this type of analysis to find out how a device or structure
responds to steady shaking of the kind you would feel riding in a truck, rail car,
rocket (when the motor is on), and so on. Also, things that are riding in the
vehicle, such as on-board electronics or cargo of any kind, may need Random
Vibration Analysis. The vibration generated in vehicles from the motors, road
conditions, etc. is a combination of a great many frequencies from a variety of
sources and has a certain "random" nature. Random Vibration Analysis is used
by mechanical engineers who design various kinds of transportation equipment.
Engineers provide input to the processor in the form of a ‘Power Spectral
Density’ (PSD), which is a representation of the vibration frequencies and
energy in a statistical form. When an engineer uses Random Vibration he is
looking to determine the maximum stresses resulting from the vibration. These
stresses are important in determining the lifetime of a structure of a
transportation vehicle. Also, it would be important to know if things being
transported in vehicles will survive until they reach the destination.

Response Spectrum Analysis

Engineers use this type of analysis to find out how a device or structure
responds to sudden forces or shocks. It is assumed that these shocks or forces
occur at boundary points, which are normally fixed. An example would be a
building, dam or nuclear reactor when an earthquake strikes. During an
earthquake, violent shaking occurs. This shaking transmits into the structure or
device at the points where they are attached to the ground (boundary points).

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Response spectrum analysis is used extensively by Civil Engineers who must

design structures in earthquake-prone areas of the world. The quantities
describing many of the great earthquakes of the recent past have been captured
with instruments and can now be fed into a response spectrum program to
determine how a structure would react to a past real-world earthquake.
Mechanical engineers who design components for nuclear power plants must
use response spectrum analysis as well. Such components might include nuclear
reactor parts, pumps, valves, piping, condensers, etc. When an engineer uses
response spectrum analysis, he is looking for the maximum stresses or
acceleration, velocity and displacements that occur after the shock. These in
turn lead to maximum stresses. You will find an example of response spectrum
analysis later.

Time History Analysis

This analysis plots response (displacements, velocities, accelerations, internal

forces etc.) of the structure against time due to dynamic excitation applied on
the structure. You will find more stuff on this particular type of analysis in later
Transient Vibration Analysis

When you strike a guitar string or a tuning fork, it goes from a state of inactivity
into a vibration to make a musical tone. This tone seems loudest at first, then
gradually dies out. Conditions are changing from the first moment the note is
struck. When an electric motor is started up, it eventually reaches a steady state
of operation. But to get there, it starts from zero RPM and passes through an
infinite number of speeds until it attains the operating speed. Every time you rev
the motor in your car, you are creating transient vibration. When things vibrate,
internal stresses are created by the vibration. These stresses can be devastating if
resonance occurs between a device producing vibration and a structure
responding to. A bridge may vibrate in the wind or when cars and trucks go
across it. Very complex vibration patters can occur. Because things are
constantly changing, engineers must know what the frequencies and stresses are
at all moments in time. Sometimes transient vibrations are extremely violent
and short-lived. Imagine a torpedo striking the side of a ship and exploding, or a
car slamming into a concrete abutment or dropping a coffeepot on a hard floor.
Such vibrations are called "shock, " which is just what you would imagine. In
real life, shock is rarely a good thing and almost always unplanned. But shocks
occur anyhow. Because of vibration, shock is always more devastating than if
the same force were applied gradually.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Vibration Analysis (Modal Analysis)

All things vibrate. Think of musical instruments, think of riding in a car, think
of the tires being out of balance, think of the rattles in an airplane when they are
revving up the engines, or the vibration under your feet when a train goes by.
Sometimes vibration is good. Our ears enable us to hear because they respond to
the vibrations of sound waves. Many times things are made to vibrate for a
purpose. For example, a special shaking device is used in foundries to loosen a
mold placed in sand. Or, in the food and bulk materials industries, conveyors
frequently work by vibration. Usually, however, vibration is bad and frequently
unavoidable. It may cause gradual weakening of structures and the deterioration
of metals (fatigue) in cars and airplanes. Rotating machines from small electric
motors to giant generators and turbines will self destruct if the parts are not well
balanced. Engineers have to design things to withstand vibration when it cannot
be avoided. For example, tyres and shock absorbers (dampers) help reduce
vibration in automobiles. Similarly, flexible couplings help isolate vibrations
produced by the engines. Vibration is about frequencies. By its very nature,
vibration involves repetitive motion. Each occurrence of a complete motion
sequence is called a "cycle." Frequency is defined as so many cycles in a given
time period. "Cycles per seconds” or "Hertz”.
Individual parts have what engineers call "natural" frequencies. For example, a
violin string at a certain tension will vibrate only at a set number of frequencies,
which is why you can produce specific musical tones. There is a base frequency
in which the entire string is going back and forth in a simple bow shape.
Harmonics and overtones occur because individual sections of the string can
vibrate independently within the larger vibration. These various shapes are
called "modes". The base frequency is said to vibrate in the first mode, and so
on up the ladder. Each mode shape will have an associated frequency. Higher
mode shapes have higher frequencies. The most disastrous kinds of
consequences occur when a power-driven device such as a motor for example,
produces a frequency at which an attached structure naturally vibrates. This
event is called "resonance." If sufficient power is applied, the attached structure
will be destroyed. Note that ancient armies, which normally marched "in step,"
were taken out of step when crossing bridges. Should the beat of the marching
feet align with a natural frequency of the bridge, it could fall down. Engineers
must design so that resonance does not occur during regular operation of
machines. This is a major purpose of Modal Analysis. Ideally, the first mode
has a frequency higher than any potential driving frequency. Frequently,
resonance cannot be avoided, especially for short periods of time. For example,
when a motor comes up to speed it produces a variety of frequencies. So it may
pass through a resonant frequency. Other vibration processes such as Time
History, Response Spectrum, Random Vibration, etc. are used in addition to

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Modal Analysis to deal with this type of more complex situation. These are
called Transient Natural Frequency Processors.

Buckling analysis

If you press down on an empty soft drink can with your hand, not much will
seem to happen. If you put the can on the floor and gradually increase the force
by stepping down on it with your foot, at some point it will suddenly squash.
This sudden scrunching is known as "buckling."

Models with thin parts tend to buckle under axial loading. Buckling can be
defined as the sudden deformation, which occurs when the stored membrane
(axial) energy is converted into bending energy with no change in the externally
applied loads. Mathematically, when buckling occurs, the total stiffness matrix
becomes singular (see section 8).

In the normal use of most products, buckling can be catastrophic if it occurs.

The failure is not one because of stress but geometric stability. Once the
geometry of the part starts to deform, it can no longer support even a fraction of
the force initially applied. The worst part about buckling for engineers is that
buckling usually occurs at relatively low stress values for what the material can
withstand. So they have to make a separate check to see if a product or part
thereof is okay with respect to buckling.

Slender structures and structures with slender parts loaded in the axial direction
buckle under relatively small axial loads. Such structures may fail in buckling
while their stresses are far below critical levels. For such structures, the
buckling load becomes a critical design factor. Stocky structures, on the other
hand, require large loads to buckle, therefore buckling analysis is usually not

Buckling almost always involves compression. In civil engineering, buckling is

to be avoided when designing support columns, load bearing walls and sections
of bridges which may flex under load. For example an I-beam may be perfectly
"safe" when considering only the maximum stress, but fail disastrously if just
one local spot of a flange should buckle! In mechanical engineering, designs
involving thin parts in flexible structures like airplanes and automobiles are
susceptible to buckling. Even though stress can be very low, buckling of local
areas can cause the whole structure to collapse by a rapid series of ‘propagating

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Buckling analysis calculates the smallest (critical) loading required buckling a

model. Buckling loads are associated with buckling modes. Designers are
usually interested in the lowest mode because it is associated with the lowest
critical load. When buckling is the critical design factor, calculating multiple
buckling modes helps in locating the weak areas of the model. This may prevent
the occurrence of lower buckling modes by simple modifications.

Thermal analysis

There are three mechanisms of heat transfer. These mechanisms are

Conduction, Convection and Radiation. Thermal analysis calculates the
temperature distribution in a body due to some or all of these mechanisms. In all
three mechanisms, heat flows from a higher-temperature medium to a lower-
temperature one. Heat transfer by conduction and convection requires the
presence of an intervening medium while heat transfer by radiation does not. I
include a brief discussion on thermal analysis here. You must have read all
these in high school. In this book, I shall not discuss anything more about
thermal analysis.


Thermal energy transfers from one point to another through the interaction
between the atoms or molecules of the matter. Conduction occurs in solids,
liquids, and gasses. For example, a hot cup of coffee on your desk will
eventually cool down to the room-temperature mainly by conduction from the
coffee directly to the air and through the body of the cup. There is no bulk
motion of matter when heat transfers by conduction. The rate of heat conduction
through a plane layer of thickness X is proportional to the heat transfer area and
the temperature gradient, and inversely proportional to the thickness of the

Rate of Heat Conduction = (K) (Area) (Difference in Temperature / Thickness)


Convection is the heat transfer mode in which heat transfers between a solid
face and an adjacent moving fluid (liquid or gas). Convection involves the
combined effects of conduction and the moving fluid. The fluid particles act as
carriers of thermal energy.


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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Thermal radiation is the thermal energy emitted by bodies in the form of

electromagnetic waves because of their temperature. All bodies with
temperatures above the absolute zero emit thermal energy. Because
electromagnetic waves travel in vacuum, no medium is necessary for radiation
to take place. The thermal energy of the sun reaches earth by radiation. Because
electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light, radiation is the fastest heat
transfer mechanism. Generally, heat transfer by radiation becomes significant
only at high temperatures.

Types of Heat Transfer Analysis

There are two modes of heat transfer analysis based on whether or not we are
interested in the time domain.

Steady State Thermal Analysis

In this type of analysis, we are only interested in the thermal conditions of the
body when it reaches thermal equilibrium, but we are not interested in the time
it takes to reach this status. The temperature of each point in the model will
remain unchanged until a change occurs in the system. At equilibrium, the
thermal energy entering the system is equal to the thermal energy leaving it.
Generally, the only material property that is needed for steady state analysis is
the thermal conductivity.

Transient Thermal Analysis

In this type of analysis, we are interested in knowing the thermal status of the
model at different instances of time. A thermos designer, for example, knows
that the temperature of the fluid inside will eventually be equal to the room-
temperature (steady state), but he is interested in finding out the temperature of
the fluid as a function of time. In addition to the thermal conductivity, we also
need to specify density, specific heat, initial temperature profile, and the period
of time for which solutions are desired.

Boundary Element

A type of finite element sometimes used to connect the finite element model to
fixed points in space. Typically this fixity is set with global boundary
conditions, in which the fixity is totally rigid. A boundary element, on the other
hand, allows for a flexible connection to the fixed space. Boundary elements
and boundary points are normally used to simulate the constraints that actually
occur when an object is used in the real world. For example, if a coffee cup is

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

sitting on the table and a weight is placed on top of the coffee cup, then the table
is the boundary. Boundary points would be points on the plane of the table that
are defined as being fixed in space and to which nodes of a finite element model
of the coffee cup are attached. If the table has a spongy surface, you might want
to use boundary elements to account for the flexibility. With many FEA
software, boundary elements have an additional capability of imposing and
enforced displacement upon a model. The force created by this imposed
displacement would be calculated automatically. Additionally, the forces
generated at a boundary by forces on the model can be obtained as output using
boundary elements.

There are another very powerful types of analysis offered by high-end FEA
programs, known as Mechanical Event Simulation or Virtual Prototyping. You
will find this in section 36.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

4. Sign convention (mind your signs)

In structural analysis, sign convention is very important. You must follow same
sign convention throughout your life! Normally, the force towards right is taken
as positive and force acting upwards is considered positive. Anti-clockwise
moment is taken as positive. This has been shown in following figure for 2D


All positive

Figure 4-1

Most standard analysis programs follow this sign convention. Although you can
use any convention of your own, but I strongly advise you against that. You will
always be fine with this convention. Please note that, because of taking y
positive upwards, when specifying gravity loads, you often need to use “minus”
sign to do so.

For 3D structures, the sign convention will be of same type but somewhat
complicate. This is shown below.

My All positive

Fy Mx
Fz Fx
Z Mz

Figure 4-2

When you see bending moment diagrams, remember that some programs draw
them in tension side or some may do the opposite. Also note that the “sign” of
bending moment diagrams indicate the “direction” (as shown in figure 4-1 and
4-2), they do not indicate whether the bending moment is sagging or hogging.

Axial forces are normally considered positive for tensile forces and negative for
compressive forces.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

When dealing with 3D structures, the program will generally consider y-axis as
elevation. This is as expected, because when dealing with 2D structures, you
will normally use x-y plane. But it has exceptions as well. Some programs, by
default use x-z plane for 2D analysis. Of course you can direct every analysis
program to consider z-axis (or even x-axis) as elevation. My main point here to
make you understand that co-ordinate system is very flexible. But you must
follow same sign convention throughout.

Different programs may follow slight different sign conventions. Before using
the program, you should be familiar with that program’s sign convention. Solve
some basic problems with them first and consult the user guide. As an example,
the following figures show how SAP90/2000 describes frame member internal



Positive Axial Force and Torque

Figure 4-3

Compression face


Tension face Compression face


V3 M3
Tension face

Positive Moment and Shear [1-2 plane]

Positive Moment and Shear [1-3 plane]

Figure 4-4

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Now please solve the following problems using your program and check the
result with the answer given.

-3 kN/m (case 2)
5 kN (case 1)
Node 4
Node 3 5m
6m 6m

All members are of 250-mm side square

Cross section made of concrete E=20GPa
Node 1 Node 2

fixed hinged
Figure 4-5

Figure 4-6

The above figure shows the bending moment diagram and the free body
diagram of each member. Now check the result and the sign with your analysis
program. Please note that your program may draw the bending moment diagram
on opposite side compared to what shown here! Observe the sign convention.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Now solve the following truss.

All members are made of
3 kN steel (E=200 GPa) with
100-mm side square section
3m 0.208 -3.642
2.833 2.833

-2 kN
4m 4m

Figure 4-7

The axial forces are shown as italics in the above figure. Note that the left end is
hinged and right end is roller.

It is interesting to know that with some programs, you may need to “tell” the
program that the structure is a ‘truss’ by specifying ‘moment releases’ in the
truss members. Otherwise, you may wonder why the program result shows
bending moment diagram in truss! Different programs have different options for
specifying moment (or axial force, torsion etc.) releases.

Some programs, which allow you to draw plate elements on screen, you should
draw them in counter clockwise fashion. Otherwise you may get awkward

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

5. Numbering of joints and members

Proper node and joint numbering is very important for large models. Those
programs, which allow you to “draw” the model on screen, apply joint and
member numbers automatically. This default scheme may not always be
convenient for you, especially if you are analyzing a multi-story building.
Fortunately, most programs offer re-labeling option and you can even use
alphanumeric labels. Since it is impractical to re-number hundreds of members
manually, you should do it automatically.

Generally, beams, columns and slabs are numbered on the story or floor level
they reside. In that case, you can direct the program to use X-Z-Y re-labeling
pattern (assuming Y-axis is the elevation). You may number all beams in the B-
5-10 or B05010 fashion where “B” indicates beam, next number indicates
“floor” and the last number stands for serial number of beam on that floor.
Similar procedure may be adopted for numbering columns, slabs and other
structural members. You can also create ‘group’ for same type of members
whose design will be same such as all columns in a particular floor.

Improper node numbering may increase bandwidth of global stiffness matrix.

However, most programs automatically re-number nodes internally while
solving and again display the result in user specified numbering.

Wondering what is ‘bandwidth minimization’? It is a technique for assembling

global stiffness matrix so that non-zero terms in the matrix tend to become
‘closer’ rather than getting ‘dispersed’. Generally, the non-zero elements of
global stiffness matrix are limited to a band adjacent to its diagonal. Lower
bandwidth means less time necessary for solving equations. For example, in a
multistory frame (assuming the height is more than the length); if you number
nodes row wise (horizontally or more precisely along smaller dimension),
bandwidth will be less compared to column wise (vertical i.e. larger dimension)
node numbering.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

6. Specifying moment of inertia

New users of structural analysis programs often find it confusing to define

section properties of the members, particularly for 3D structures. You may get
help from the following examples.

Plan of columns

Figure 6-1

In the above figure, the beams are of 200 x 300 mm and columns 200 x 400 mm
oriented as shown in plan. Beams can be specified as 200x300 mm without any
problem. But for columns, you have to be careful. Generally, the programs will
ask you to specify ‘depth’ and ‘width’ of the member. If you specify depth =
400 mm and width = 200 mm then you will get exact section as shown in figure

If you specify the dimension in opposite manner, then you will get wrongly
oriented section for the columns. The above figure is taken from real time view
of SAP2000. If your program does not offer real time view (i.e. the members
should look like in the real structure in 3 dimension) option, you’re out of luck!
Many programs, however, have the option for specifying sectional dimension
using ‘tx’ and ‘ty’ (or it might be ‘ty’ and ‘tz’ or ‘t2’ and ‘t3’) option. I have
tried with various programs this sectional dimension input. In most cases width
= 200 and height (or depth) = 400 worked.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis


Figure 6-2

Sometimes you may need to specify inertia directly especially for irregular
shaped sections. Normally the programs offer only ‘Iz’ and ‘Iy’ options. The
most often used is the ‘Iz’. For the beam discussed above, Iz = 200x3003/12 and
Iy = 300x2003/12. For the column, Iz = 200x4003/12 and Iy = 400x2003/12.

One important thing you must understand is the concept of ‘member local axes’.
In most analysis programs, the ‘local axes’ settings are different from ‘global
axes’. Normally, the ‘local axes’ are defined as shown in figure 6-3.

Figure 6-3

Some programs can display ‘local axes’ for all members. Please explore your
program’s resource files to see how it handles display of local member axes.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis


Figure 6-4

The above figure shows orientation of local axes for the inclined member. Note
that in your program, the orientation for local axes may be slightly different; for
example, direction of Z axis may be in opposite direction. The orientation of
global axes is also shown in blue color. It is clear that, when you are defining
section properties in terms of local axes, even an ‘inclined’ member is
considered as ‘straight’. We shall come to local and global axes story again
when we discuss interpretation of analysis output.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

7. Specifying Loads

All programs have the option for specifying concentrated and uniformly
distributed loads. Some programs allow you to assign a point load on beam
without creating a node at that point (the program itself creates a node there
internally) where as most programs require that you can assign concentrated
loads only at nodes. So, you may need to ‘split’ the member to create
intermediate nodes. If your concentrated load is inclined, you better resolve it
into horizontal and vertical components yourself and then apply them.
Specifying UDL is easy. However, trouble arises, then the load becomes
varying. The most common example of varying load is on the beams coming
from slabs as shown in figure 7-1. The lengths of the beams are ‘L’.
Unfortunately, very few programs will calculate distributed loads form slabs
automatically. More often than not, you’ll have to specify the slab load yourself.
Some programs allow specifying trapezoidal loads on beam members, however,
some allow only triangular load. In that case, you need to ‘split’ each beam into
three segments (not necessarily equal) and apply triangular loads at end
segments and UDL on mid segment.
αL Total Load = W (N) UDL = w (N/m)

Figure 7-1 Figure 7-2

Yes, this is somewhat cumbersome if you have, say 200 beam members! But
you can avoid trapezoidal loads all together with slight loss of accuracy as
shown in figure 7-2. If we equate fixed end moments in two beams (of figure 7-
1 and 7-2), we get

1 – 2α2 + α3 wL2 (1 – 2α2 + α3) x W

-------------- WL = ------ or w = ----------------------- … (7.1)
12 x (1-α) 12 (1 – α) x L

So, the ratio of mid span moment of trapezoidal/uniform r =

[(3-4α2)WL/(24(1-α)] / [(1-2α2+α3)(W/L)(L2/8) / (1-α)] =

(1 - 1.33α2) / (1 - 2α2 + α3)

If we tabulate α vs. r values as shown below

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

α 0 0.2 0.375 0.5

r 1 1.02 1.05 1.068

It is seen that maximum difference of mid span moment for figure 7-1 and 7-2 is
6.8%, which is quite small. So, we can safely replace trapezoidal load with UDL
whose magnitude is given by w as shown in (7.1).

Under some circumstances, you may have non-linearly varying (e.g. parabolic)
type of loads. Except in high-end FEA programs, you can’t input the load
through equation. The only way out is, split your member into several sections,
and specify concentrated loads varying through nodes (or UDL varying through
segments). More number of divisions, better the result is.

You may wonder whether you can model all the slabs in your building frame
using plate elements instead of converting loads to beams as shown in figure 7-
1. Of course you could. But there are several disadvantages! First of all, your
analysis program must have ‘plate’ element to do this. Many frame analysis
programs don’t have plate element! If you use ‘plates’, then you must ‘mesh’ it
before running analysis. If you have, say 100 slabs (i.e. plates) with 10x10
mesh, you’ll have 11x11x100 = 12,100 extra nodes compared to that you’ll
have if you transfer the loads on beams. Not only this takes much more time to
have your analysis done, but also it will swamp you with tons of output (just
count the number of total plate elements – their stress values etc.)! It has been
proved that with the conventional slab load distribution as shown in figure 7-3,
you’re quite correct.

Figure 7-3

Another type of load, which often creates problem, is due to hydrostatic of earth
pressure. If your analysis program has easy method to specify such type of
loads, consider yourself really lucky! If you’re applying hydrostatic load on a
plate element, apply load before meshing the plate. Sometimes the program
allows you to specify separate load at four nodes of the plates (and intermediate
values are interpolated) though this is not really necessary in day to day
analysis. Hydrostatic load normally takes the shape as of figure 7-4.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Figure 7-4

To specify you generally supply fluid height, axis and density. Now the density
may be tricky. For example, in the above figure, the load acts towards the plate.
But what to do if we want make it act in opposite direction (i.e. away from
plate)? Surprisingly, changing the density into negative works! (Argh!) (I don’t
know whether all programs behave in this way, but I found this trick works in
Visual Analysis).

Surcharge or earth pressure load can be specified in the same way as that of
hydrostatic load. If your load needs to be like figure 7-5, then just place the fluid
level at higher level.
Water level

Figure 7-5 Figure 7-6

Figure 7-6 shows another trick where you need to superpose two types of loads
to get the desired resultant load distribution. Uniform pressure on plates can
easily be applied. While you analyze water tanks, these tricks come handy.

When you’re applying distributed load on inclined member, it may act in two
different manners as shown in figures 7-7 and 7-8.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Figure 7-7 Figure 7-8

In figure 7-8, the load is projected on horizontal axis. This is the common case.
In figure 7-7, the load is acting perpendicular to the member. Most analysis
programs can handle both types of loading conditions shown. But it’s your
responsibility to apply correct method.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

8. Column Buckling test

Solve the following problem: A steel (E=200 GPa) column of 100x100 mm

square cross section (I = 8.33E-6 m4) is 5 m long and fixed at bottom end. A
load is applied axially to the column. Find the buckling load.

By calculation, buckling load is given by Pcr = π2EI/4L2 = 165 kN

Figure 8-1

First draw the column, define the column properties and then apply any load,
which you know that is well below Pcr. Now see if the column buckles! No, it
won’t. To get the correct result you must activate the “Frame instability” or “P-
∆” analysis option yourself to force the computer to make iterations! Now
gradually increase the load and re-analyze. At one instant, the computer will
show you a message, which will say that the program has encountered a
negative diagonal term in member stiffness matrix and analysis will terminate.
Note this load. This is the minimum buckling load. You are likely to see that
even when the column buckles, the deflected shape of the column is drawn

You may ask why computer can’t account for buckling in normal analysis.
Well, most analysis programs, by default, perform first order analysis. That is, it
sets stiffness matrix, solves it and then calculates axial forces from it. When you
instruct it to perform P-∆ analysis, it performs iteration to find out actual axial
forces. Remember if you are using a very cheap program or some non-
commercial program, it may not have P-∆ analysis option! Be careful!

You may wonder, why the computer itself does not choose P-∆ analysis always.
Hmm, it would have been nicer. But think of the time required for performing
such analysis. I once analyzed a 20 storied 3D frame in VA, which had 10 bays
in both x and y direction. With 233 MHz, 16 MB RAM computer it took me 20
minutes to perform first order analysis. If you want to perform P-∆ analysis for

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

such structure using a standard PC and inexpensive program, chances are that
your system will crash! Check it!

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

9. Portal and Cantilever method

You may have been taught to use portal and cantilever method for analysis of
effect of lateral loads in frames. Both of these methods assume a point of
contraflexure at mid point of beams and columns, which is often grossly
inaccurate. Just analyze any frame subjected to lateral loading by these methods
and then compare the results with exact analysis by computer. You will find as
much as 50% to 60% difference of moments and shear forces. If computer is
available, you must not use these methods. Even for preliminary analysis, when
you do not know the size of the members in the structure, still these methods are
not useful. You can do the same easily by using computer.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

10. Deflection of Reinforced Concrete member

Consider a simply supported beam made of reinforced concrete. It is loaded by

uniformly distributed load. How do you calculate its deflection at midpoint?
You may, of course, use the familiar equation ∆ = 5wL4/384EI. But remember,
here you must use effective moment of inertia of the section and not the gross
moment of inertia of the section if applied moment (wL2/8 in this example)
exceeds cracking moment capacity. Here w stands for dead + live load. Most
computer programs do not take into account the reduced moment of inertia
because of cracking. Since sometimes Ie comes equal to 50% of Ig, when you do
not calculate Ie, you may just double the deflection as found from computer
analysis which takes Ig. Please note that, for all members you may not need to
use Ie because for all members calculated moments may not exceed cracking
moments. Once you have got Ie, you can use the same analysis program to find
out the deflection of desired members. But you must note following things.

1. To find out deflection at middle of a beam, you must have a node there. You
can achieve this by splitting the beam into two members. Most analysis
programs have the option of doing this.
2. Changing I values of some members does not alter moment and shear values
which you have got previously using Ig.
3. Ie can be calculated only when you have designed the member i.e. you have
specified number and diameter of reinforcement bars.
4. When you are specifying I value explicitly, ensure that you do not define
beam width and depth or radius, otherwise you may get absurd results.
The formulas for calculating cracked moment of inertia are given below (Ref.

For rectangular beam reinforced for tension only:

Icr = b(kd)3/3 + nAs(d-kd)2
Where k = ((2ρn + (ρn)2)0.5 – ρn and ρ = As/bd

For a beam with both tension and compression reinforcement:

Icr = b(kd)3/3 + (2n-1)As’(kd-d’) + nAs(d-kd)2
Where k = ((2n(ρ+2 ρ’d’/d) + n2(ρ +2 ρ’)2)0.5 – n(ρ + 2 ρ’), ρ = As/bd and ρ’ =

For a T-beam with k>hf

Icr = bw(kd)3/3 + (b-bw)hf3/12 + (b-bw)hf(kd-hf/2)2 + nAs(d-kd)2
Where k = (ρ n + 0.5(hf/d)2)/( ρ n + hf/d) and ρ = As/bd

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

For a T-beam with k>hf – use same equation as that for a rectangular beam.
In all cases n = Es/Ec.

Modulus of elasticity of concrete is given by Ec = 5700√fck MPa if fck (MPa) is

measured as cube compressive strength of concrete; and Ec = 4700√fck MPa if
fck is cylinder compressive strength.

What is said above stands for short-term (immediate) deflection. You must add
long term deflection due to creep and shrinkage as well.

This additional deflection can be obtained by multiplying the short-term

deflection (discussed above) due to dead load (+ live load, if live load remains
in place for extended periods of time) by creep factor ξ = ν/(1+50ρ’)
Where ν = 0.787(months) 0.229 but not greater than 2.0 and ρ’ = area of
compression steel/gross cross sectional area of the member.

This simple trick works for 1 dimensional member only i.e. for beams. For 2
way members e.g. slab, things are not as easy. We shall discuss later how to find
the deflection of 2-way slab by using finite element analysis.

Most codes provide you minimum depth of members if you do not calculate
deflection. But these values are always overestimated and thus lead to
uneconomical design for multistory buildings. Don’t be lazy. Always calculate
deflection, you can save money!

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

11. Shear deformation

Most programs do not take into account deformation due to shear force. For
normal beams where depth of beams are much less than their lengths, neglecting
shear deformation does not lead to erroneous result but where length of beam is
very close to depth of beam it can lead to large error. In fact if (Length of
beam/Depth of beam) < 2 then the beam is termed as deep beam. There, shear
deformation must be taken into account.
Consider the following problem. A point load of 1 MN is applied at the free end
of 1-m long steel cantilever beam. The cross section of the beam is 400x600
mm. The total deflection is ∆ = PL3/3EI + 6PL/5GA (the equation comes from
strain energy theorem) = 0.000234 + 0.00007143 = 0.0003029 m. See what
deflection your program shows! Chances are that it will show only 0.000234 m.
So, what do you learn? Now make the beam section 600x400 mm and you will
find that the total deflection is very near to bending deflection. Some programs
offer option for specifying shear area. In that case, they can take into effect of
shear deformation. Check whether your program has this option.

Figure 11-1

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

12. Inclined support

If your program supports specifying inclined local axes for a particular member,
you are lucky. In this case you just need to mention in what angle you want to
rotate the local axes of the selected member; then you will specify the joint
restraints in usual manner and it will be considered as an inclined support. But if
your program does not have this feature, you need to try out something else.

You can achieve this by specifying a “spring” of infinite stiffness. Normally you
can specify a spring at any angle. The spring reaction is the resultant of X and Y
components of reaction. In case of roller support you will get the reaction
automatically from spring reaction.

Think what you have learnt…

How many of following analysis methods you have learnt in the

university? – Moment distribution, Slope deflection, Portal, Cantilever,
Kani’s rotation contribution, Conjugate beam, Graphical – Funicular
polygon & Maxwell diagram – Williot-Mohr diagram, Three moments
theorem, Column analogy, Moment area, Substitute frame, Method of
joints & method of section for trusses. Probably you know all or most of
the above classical methods of analysis. Now be honest, how many of
the above methods you still use to solve structures after you have started
using computer analysis programs? Probably none! Academic people
will argue that all the said methods are to be mastered for a better
understanding of structural response. Do you think so? I don’t. Well,
among the methods listed above, the moment distribution is most
popular. This is quite logical, because this method is easy, does not
involve solution of simultaneous equations and converges rapidly. We
shall discuss substitute frame method later (see section 13) while
considering maximum bending moment, shear force etc. in building
frames. Did you notice that all these methods are used for frame analysis
only? You may like to know that 80% to 90% of all real world structures
analyzed are frame structures. Although you have learnt flexibility and
stiffness approach while studying computer method of analysis, only
stiffness method is used in computer programs. Modern world’s most
powerful analysis method – finite element method is also a stiffness
method in essence.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

13. Maximum bending moment, shear force and reaction in

building frame: Substitute (Equivalent) frame

A frame member will not experience maximum bending moment, shear force
and reaction when it is fully loaded. Here we shall combine classical
approximate substitute frame with computer analysis. But before that note the
following live load distribution criteria.

To get this Do this

Maximum positive bending moment at Load that span and then alternates
center of span spans
Maximum positive bending moment at Load adjacent spans and then alternate
center of span spans
Maximum negative bending moment Load adjacent spans and then alternate
at support spans
Maximum column reaction Load adjacent spans and then alternate
Maximum positive bending moment at Load all spans except adjacent spans

In all cases, dead load must always be applied over all spans.

Some codes say that if live load intensity does not exceed 75% of dead load
intensity, then you can load all spans together with dead and live load without
any combination. But if you have computer, it is always better to perform the
actual combination to get maximum values of force and moment.

In classical substitute frame (see figure 13-1), we isolate one single floor with
the assumption of columns at top and bottom floors are fixed. Then we apply
the combinations described above to get maximum member forces.

In case of computer analysis, though you still need to apply the live load in
same combination as discussed above, yet you need not isolate one particular
floor. Rather, you should just apply the required span load combination in any
floor. In case of regular shaped building elevation, result obtained from one
floor will be same for other floors. For example, in the (figure 13-2) shown, the
load combination stands for maximum negative support moment in first interior
column (actually both interior columns since this structure is symmetric) in 2nd
floor (bottom most floor, i.e. ground floor is normally denoted by “0” in
structural analysis convention). The value obtained for support moment under
this condition will also be the maximum support moment for 1st, 3rd and 4th

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

floor. (Though it is customary to use reduced live load in roof level). Similarly,
other load combinations can be used in same manner.

Figure 13-1

Figure 13-2

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

14. Support settlement

Take any statically determinate structure, for example a simply supported beam
or a simple truss. Apply a settlement in one of its supports. Now analyze the
structure. You will see an interesting phenomenon. Though the program will
correctly say zero member force, still it will draw a bending moment or axial
force diagram! In a statically determinate structure, there should not be any
member force developed due to support settlement. Hooray, you have
discovered a bug in the program!

The reason of this awkward shape can be explained. Although the member force
is zero, the program calculates it as a very small (say 10-100) number. The
graphic code picks up this small but finite number and draws the force diagram.

Now take a statically indeterminate structure. Say a continuous beam. Make one
of its support settle to an amount and perform the analysis. You should find
some member forces in the beam. Well, now take a statically indeterminate
truss. The truss should be externally indeterminate. For example, you can take a
2-support truss whose both supports are hinged (pinned) as shown in figure 14-
1. Now apply a downward settlement in any one of its supports and analyze the
structure. Most likely, you will see zero force in all members after the analysis.
This is not correct!

Figure 14-1

Most standard analysis package use truss stiffness matrix based on ignoring the
support displacement perpendicular to member’s local axis. That’s why you get
the wrong answer. But since the members’ length change, there are strains,
which would create the axial forces. If you want to know the actual member
forces after such support settlement, you need to modify the member stiffness
matrix considering the displacement in perpendicular direction as well.
Unfortunately, you can’t do it with most available programs.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

15. 2D versus 3D

For symmetrical structures, often it is possible to convert the 3D model to 2D

for easier input and analysis. For example, consider the following structure as
shown in figure 15-1.

Figure 15-1

You can easily analyze just one plane frame as shown in fig. 15-2. Whenever
possible, try to convert 3D structures into 2D in this way. 2D structures are not
only easier to model, but also they can be ‘handled’ and analyzed much more
easily compared to 3D structures.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Figure 15-2

Look, in fig. 15-1, the loads are towards X direction. If there were additional
loads of same type towards Z direction, you could adopt similar 2D frame (on
YZ plane) as shown in fig. 15-2. You can then superpose the result as long as it
is a linear structure with material and member section properties are the same.

How about dynamic analysis of the frame shown? Is it possible to convert 3D

into 2D? I shall discuss this when covering dynamic analysis in detail.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

16. Curved member

Most frame analysis programs do not have curve element. You will need to
replace the curved member by a number of straight members. Obviously, more
the number of straight members used better the accuracy is. While drawing
straight members for curve elements, it is a good idea to change grid setting into
“polar” form instead of normal rectangular setting. Another way of doing this is
to figuring the straight members’ nodal co-ordinates in spreadsheet (for
example, Microsoft Excel or Lotus 123). This is useful when the equation of
curve is known as y = f(x) e.g. parabolic arch. By using spreadsheet’s built-in
commands, you can easily find out y co-ordinates of the curve against each x
co-ordinate. Some programs can “copy” and “paste” member and nodal
information to and from spreadsheet file. You may like to know that it is
theoretically possible to create stiffness matrix of a curved member.

Now solve the following two hinged parabolic arch.

-50 kN/m (downward)


4m X

20 m

Figure 16-1

The answer is: left vertical reaction 375 kN ↑, right vertical reaction 125 kN ↑,
horizontal reactions are 312.5 kN inward at both ends. With 20 straight-line
segments, you should get exact answer within 1% accuracy. Note that the
theoretical answer has been obtained by (H = ∫ My dx / ∫ y2 dx) formula.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

17. Tapered section

Many programs have the option of specifying tapered or variable cross sectional
members. If so, you’re lucky. If not, still you’re lucky as you are reading this
book! To specify a tapered section by yourself, you should ‘break’ the members
into a number of parts (more the number, better is the result). Then you should
specify various A (areas) and I (inertia) for each segment. This will become
clear from the following problem.

1.5 -5000 1.5

2 4

15 15

Figure 17-1

The figure shows a tapered beam. Hinged at left end and fixed at right end. A
clockwise moment (hence minus sign) of 5000 has been applied at middle of the
beam. It is required to analyze the beam. The cross sections at both ends have
been shown. Please note that the beam has been ‘divided’ into 8 sections. Width
of the sections is same throughout. But the depth is varied as (from left most
section) 2, 2.25, 2.5, 3, 3.25, 3.5, 3.75, 4. The calculated reaction at left end is –
163 (i.e. downward) and at right end is +163 (i.e. upward) compared to
theoretical answer of 170. The bending moment at just left of mid-point of beam
is – 2443 (theoretically –2549) and that of right is 2557 (theoretically 2451).
You will get more accurate answer if you divide the beam into more number of
elements. Note another interesting point that, in this problem, I didn’t specify
any unit or E value of material! You should get same answer whatever unit you
use. Although some programs do allow you to specify “linearly” tapered
members; you still need to apply this trick for “non-linearly” (e.g. cubic or
parabolic) tapered members.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

18. Nodes connected by a spring

Many programs allow you to define a spring support, but none will allow you to
connect two nodes by a spring. But you can achieve this! Replace the spring by
a member connected between those two nodes where the spring is required.
Choose the properties of that member so that stiffness of spring equals AE/L of
that connected member. E should be same as that of material of the spring.
Choose A and L value properly, keeping L small; because if you choose large L,
the member will buckle easily. Also, do not forget to release moment on this
member i.e. this spring replacement member should carry axial load only. After
analysis, you must check whether axial load in spring replacement member is
below its buckling load (π2EI/L2). This can be automatically checked if you
activate P-∆ analysis (see section 8) option in your program. This trick works!

Figure 18-1

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

19. Sub-structuring technique and symmetry (break them into


In the analysis of large structures, it is often possible to consider only a part of

the structure rather than the whole. This approach is useful to reduce the labor
(cost and time) of preparing the data, of computing and of interpretation of the
results. When an isolated part of a structure is analyzed, it is crucial that the
boundary conditions ‘sub-structures’ accurately represent the conditions in the
actual structure. As a first simple example, consider the following structure as
shown in figure 19-1. You are required to analyze the structure.

10 kN A = 2002 mm²
4m E = Steel
-5 kN/m
20 kN


4m 4m 4m

Figure 19-1

If you separate the upper floor and then analyze only that portion, you will get
the result as shown below.

10 kN

11.44 kNm
11.44 kNm 5 kN 5 kN

4.28 kN 4.28 kN

Figure 19-2

With the result shown above, the applied loads on the bottom floor of the actual
structure will be as shown below.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

11.42 kNm 11.42 kNm -5 kN/m

25 kN
4.28 kN 5 kN 4.28 kN


Figure 19-3

Observe that on leftmost node, 25 kN loads comes from 20 kN applied at that

node and 5 kN reaction from upper floor. The reactions you will get in the lower
floor should be same as that of obtained if you considered the whole structure as
shown in figure 19-1.

For your check, the ultimate results are as given below for problem figure 19-1.

Node Fx kN Fy kN Mz kNm
A -6.223 -14.85 15.58
B -5.99 30.54 15.18
C -11.2 20.64 22.08
D -6.583 3.675 15.81

From the above example, it is clear that; you need to apply opposite of reactions
as loads on lower floor frames.

The procedure described here seems too meager for this particular structure, but
this method is an absolute must for doing a fine meshed finite element analysis.
It may happen that, if you run the whole structure once, it may exceed the
program’s or your computer’s resource limit. That’s why it’s so important to
‘break them into pieces’.

Whenever possible, try to design symmetrical structure as much as possible.

They behave better than unsymmetrical ones. For symmetrical structures, this
sub-structuring technique is a great time saver. When the structure has one or
more planes of symmetry, it is possible to perform the analysis on one-half, one-
quarter or an even smaller part of the structure, provided that the appropriate
boundary conditions are applied at the nodes of the plane(s) of symmetry.
Followings are some examples of exploiting symmetry of structures.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Continuous beams, with even number of spans.

Actual beam

Figure 19-4

Symmetry utilized beam


Figure 19-5

Continuous beams, with odd number of spans.

Actual beam

Figure 19-6

Symmetry utilized beam

Z direction rotation fixed

Figure 19-7

The ‘key’ to utilizing symmetry, is applying proper boundary condition.

Remember, in order to take advantage of symmetry, both the structure
(geometry and material) and the applied load must be symmetric. Although,
you can still take advantage of symmetry even if the loading is ‘anti-symmetric’
(i.e. one half of the loading is similar to other half in magnitude but opposite in
direction), the procedure will be somewhat screwy. In all cases, our sign
convention is same as described in section 4 earlier. Now consider plane frames
with even number of bays as shown in fig. 19-8. This frame can be detached,
after applying proper boundary condition, as shown in fig. 19-9. Plane frame
with odd number of spans has been shown in figure 19-10. Here you will have
to apply boundary condition of X translation and Z rotation prevented in mid
points of the middle beams as shown in fig. 19-11. Symmetrical structures are
not only easier to analyze but also perform better than unsymmetrical structures
in real life!

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Figure 19-8




Figure 19-9

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Figure 19-10

X translation & Z rotation fixed

X translation & Z rotation fixed

X translation & Z rotation fixed

Figure 19-11


Solve some problems yourself on the basis of above example models. Unless
you analyze the models and visualize the results, things will not be crystal clear
to you. If you face any problem, don’t hesitate to send me an e-mail! You will
find advanced info on 3D structures’ symmetry, plate’s symmetry etc. in later

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

20. Staircase analysis

A staircase is actually a folded plate structure. But in our traditional simplified

method of analysis, we consider it as a straight beam. How far is this
assumption justified? Consider the figure of the staircase shown below.

Figure 20-1

The first figure shows exact shape of a flight of a staircase with loads (including
self-weight). The second figure is the approximation of the same staircase as
simple beam. The section of concrete staircase may be taken as 1-m width x
150-mm depth. The length of simple beam equals 1.25 + 2.75 + 1 = 5 m.
Theoretically, loading on landing should be less than that of inclined flight. In
approximate calculation, it is assumed same load is acting through out the span
for conservative result. The results of both analyses are shown in next figure. In
this case we have considered the staircase as simply supported. Depending on
casting, it may be fixed-fixed or fixed-pinned as the case may be. In fact
staircases are more often analyzed as fixed-fixed support condition. From the
analysis it is found that maximum mid span moment is almost same in both
analyses. Shear forces (reactions) are also more or less equal. This proves that
approximate analysis of staircase is not really inaccurate! In hand calculation,
moment was computed using simple M = wL2/8 formula.

We shall venture on folded plate analysis in detail in some later section.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Figure 20-2

This analysis was done in Visual Analysis 3.5. An interesting point is to note
that, both structures were analyzed as a single file. This is applicable to most
analysis programs. You may analyze as many as separate structures in a single
file even they are not connected together. Now think about the following
paradox. Following three beams are all simply supported (left end pinned and
right end roller). Their projected length on plan is same in all cases (say 10 m).
They are all acted by same uniformly distributed load on ‘projected’ length (say
10 kN/m). Find out what will be the bending moment at mid spans.

10 m 10 m

10 m

Figure 20-3

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

What result do you see? The bending moment (and reactions as well) is same in
all cases! If you took w = 10 kN/m and L = 10 m, then Mmax = wL2/8 = 10*102/8
= 125 kNm. It shows that, for the simple beam, bending moment is same
irrespective of beam’s geometry. This happens because all three beams shown
are statically determinate structures. Now make all the beams fixed at both ends.
Now re-analyze them and you will see different bending moments for all cases.
The example problem I presented in this section for staircase, was simply
supported in both ends. That’s why you got same bending moment! Had they
been fixed at ends, the results would not have matched. However, they still
would not differ appreciably from traditional straight beam calculation.

Still in doubt why you got same result for statically determinate beams? Well,
the reason is simple. As the beams were simply supported, horizontal reactions
at supports are zero (since we have only loading acting downward). So, moment
due to ‘eccentricity’ of geometry is also equal to zero. This will be from
following figure.

Internal moment developed

Horizontal reaction H ex = eccentricity

Figure 20-4

This internal moment (= Hex at any section of distance x from end) causes the
bending moment to differ from the value as in case of straight beams (where ex
= 0 at all sections). In case of statically indeterminate beams, both H and ex are
non-zero. So, the internal forces differ depending on geometry of the beam.
When you analyzed two hinged arches as a student you probably used the
equation: Arch moment = Beam moment – He. Didn’t you?

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

21. Cables

It is possible to analyze cables with a mere frame analysis program. A cable

carries ‘tension’ only. So, you should define a cable in the same way as truss
member (which carries axial force only) but additionally you will have to
specify that it can take tension only (no compression). Some analysis programs
may not have the option of defining a tension only member!

Once you have specified cables in this way, the analyses are pretty
straightforward. While viewing the result, you should check whether cables’
axial force diagram shows tension only (generally positive number) and no
bending moments. That’s all.
An example of cable structure is shown in fig 21-1. After performing the
analysis, check your answer with exact result as given.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Figure 21-1

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Vertical reaction at A = 104 kN (down), at B = 250 kN (up). Moments: MAB =

0, MBA = 75, MBE = -117, MEB = 41, MEC = -41, MBD = 41, Mid span of EC = 84

Figure 21-2

It is also possible to analyze the cable shown in figure 21-2. Use suitable values
for span, sags and loads. Then find out the tension in cables. This is given as an
exercise to you! If the loads are all unequal, the tensions in the cables will be
different. Check if equation of static equilibrium is satisfied at each node.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

22. Pre-stressed cable profile

Does your program offer specifying pre-stressed cable profile? If yes, then
good. If not then read the following tricks. Observe sign conventions carefully.

yA θA θB yB PθA PθB

Upward UDL w = 8Pc/L²

θA = (4c + yA – yB)/L
L/2 L/2 θB = (4c – yA + yB)/L

Actual pre-stressed cable Equivalent load

Figure 22-1

yA θA θB yB PθA PθB

P P(θA + θB) P

Total length L

Actual pre-stressed cable Equivalent load

Figure 22-2

Observe the figures very carefully. They are really confusing! Try to
comprehend the following worked out problem. Please note that the θ values are
in radians. Note that the yA and yB indicate eccentricity of the cable at supports
in upward direction from center of gravity of concrete (cgc) line. Upward
distance is positive at supports and downward distance is positive at mid spans
for pre-stressed cable profile (majority of standard analysis programs follow this
sign convention). If the cable distances are of opposite sense compared to what
shown in above figures, then ‘arrows’ of moments will be reversed.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

With reference to the figure 22-3, the calculation is

shown below.

For left span, L = 15 m, yA = 0.5 m, yB = 0.5 m.

So, θA = (0.5+0.5)/10 = 0.1 rad
And θB = (0.5+0.5)/5 = 0.2 rad

So, moments are 500 x 0.5 = 250 kNm on left end

and 500 x 0.5 = 250 kNm on right end of left span.

Concentrated force at 10 m from left span is 500 x

(0.1 + 0.2) = 150 kN.

For right span, L = 15 m, yA = 0.5 m, yB = 0.4 m.

So, θA = (4 x 0.6 + 0.5 – 0.4)/15 = 0.17 rad
And θB = (4 x 0.6 – 0.5 + 0.4)/15 = 0.15 rad
And c = (0.5 + 0.4)/2 + 0.6 = 1.05 m
So, equivalent upward load w = 8 x 500 x 1.05/152 =
18.67 kN/m. Also, support moment at left end of
right span is 250 kNm and on right end is 500 x 0.4
= 200 kNm. So, the equivalent forces on the beam
will be of as shown in figure 22-4 (axial force P is
not shown).

Figure 22-3

250 kNm 250 kNm 200 kNm

250 kN 150 kN 250 kN 18.67 kN/m 250 kN

Figure 22-4

Now the forces shown in blue color will go to support directly. Moments shown
in orange color will cancel each other. So, the remaining forces that will act are
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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

shown in green color. The ultimate equivalent load will be that of as shown in
figure 22-5.

250 kNm 200 kNm

150 kN 18.67 kN/m

Figure 22-5

So, for pre-stressing force, the beam should be analyzed for the loading shown
above. Naturally, the beam will also carry dead load and live load as well.
Analyze the beam for these loads as separate cases and then combine the results
as desired. In actual practice there are always more than one cables. You can
analyze effect of each cable separately and then superpose to get the net result.
Also remember that, there is a uniform compressive stress ‘P/A’ in the concrete
in addition to the bending stress due to pre-stress, dead load and live load. For
more information on this subject, please see any standard textbook on pre-
stressed concrete. I have shown here only linear and parabolic cable profile.
Although parabolic profile is the most common, there are other types of profiles
possible. See your textbook for details.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

23. Finite Element Analysis (FEA) Method is approaching…

We now come to the most outstanding and most versatile method of structural
analysis: the Finite Element Method. It has made possible to analyze virtually
all kinds of structures that human brain ever can imagine! If you have studied
finite element before, you may skip this section. Those who did not, I present a
very very brief introduction of the subject. There exist more than 1001 books in
this subject. But I warn you; the theory of finite element analysis is very

What is meant by finite element? The answer is any element, which is not
infinite. Don’t be exasperated; this is the real definition of finite element.

Did you play with mechano when you were a child? Just think how you built a
model car or house by “Lego” parts? Now consider each part of mechano as
“finite element”. A number of mechano elements were needed to build your
model car or house.

Now consider a frame. It is made of a number of beam/column members or

“bars”. Here the “bars” are “finite elements” of the “frame”.

I hope you have probably realized now that the frame analysis, so far what we
have discussed in preceding sections, is actually finite element analysis in
essence where each finite element is a “bar”.

Figure 23-1

This is the longitudinal section of a beam shown. That is, you are viewing a
beam from its length side. Observe that here we consider the beam as 2-
dimensional “Plane stress” structure. Don’t confuse this with 2D or 3D frame.
By 2D or 3D frame we actually mean “Plane” and “Space” frame. In all
previous cases, we treat all beams as “bars” like a “stick”. But in the above
figure we are treating the beam taking into effect of its length as well as depth.
That’s why it is 2D. Had we considered the width of beam in the analysis, it
would have been termed as 3D solid. Pretty confusing! Look, there is a “cut” in
the beam. The beam is simply supported, left end pinned, right end roller. It is

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

loaded by a uniformly distributed load. We like to find out the stresses at

various points of the beam. Please note that analysis of this problem by classical
method is close to impossible.

So, first we divide the beam into a number of “triangular finite elements”. Then
we shall determine the member stiffness matrix [k] of each individual triangular
element and ultimately we shall have to combine the member stiffness matrices
into “global stiffness matrix” [K]; pretty much the way we did in case of frame
analysis. Then we shall have to apply the boundary condition on [K] matrix.

Figure 23-2

After that we need to construct force matrix [P]. For this, distributed load must
be converted to appropriate nodal loads by applicable equations. So, our
problem can be represented by familiar equation [P] = [K][D]. From this
equation we can solve for [D] and then we can find out nodal stresses form
σ] = [C][εε] where [C] matrix differs in various cases like plane stress,
equation [σ
plane strain etc. We are describing this problem as plane stress because we
considered only 2 dimensions (X and Y) and stress variation along width (Z
direction) has not been taken into account. That means we have taken care of
only σx, σy and τxy. In this problem we considered the beam is made of
“triangular” finite elements, but we could have also considered it is made of
“rectangular” finite elements as shown in figure 23-3.

Figure 23-3

If you analyze the beam with both triangular and rectangular elements as shown
above, you will see that you get accurate answer when you use rectangular
elements. It proves one very fundamental concept of finite element analysis:
You must choose proper element for particular problem. You do get correct
result with triangular finite element but you must use very fine mesh compared
to rectangular element. In general, triangular element is not a good choice. If
you are interested to know why triangular element behaves in such way, you
should consult any standard finite element analysis textbook.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Figure 23-4

As a crude rule, when you use triangular you will normally need much finer
“mesh” than rectangular elements. The assembly of elements in finite element
analysis is called “mesh”. Most powerful finite element programs can generate
mesh automatically if you specify the boundary surfaces of the models. If you
want to analyze the same beam in 3D then your model will look like as shown
in figure 23-5.

Figure 23-5

In this case finite element will be 3D solid element like shown in figure 23-6.

Figure 23-6

This is an 8 noded finite element because it has 8 nodal points. If its each vertex
has one additional point in the middle, then it would have been 20 noded finite
element. Higher is the number of nodal points in an element better is the
accuracy of the solution. But higher noded elements are difficult to calculate
even with a computer since total number of nodes increases the size of global
stiffness matrix. Whatever element you use, it must be compatible.
Compatibility means there must not be any discontinuity or overlapping among
the elements when the analysis model deforms under applied load. You can
combine more than one kind of element in single structure. You should use
more number of elements where you anticipate stress variation is more
irregular. There are a lot more other finite elements in addition to basic
triangular and rectangular elements discussed above.
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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

One distinguishing feature of finite element method is that it does not provide
“closed form” solution. Every problem in finite element analysis is unique. This
probably needs little more explanation. Think of a simple beam. In classical
method of analysis, you can make a program, which takes L, E, I and w as input
and computes deflection at any point by solving the equation of elastic line,
which can be easily formulated. But in case of finite element analysis, if you
change the length of the beam, it becomes another new problem because the
geometry of the model changes. Of course you can change E or w values or
boundary condition without remodeling the whole structure.

Another aspect of Finite element analysis is that it almost always produces an

approximate result. I used the word “almost” because finite element analysis
does produce exact result only when the finite element is “bar” that is in “frame

You may be wondering that if finite element method can solve any structure,
then what is the justification of studying classical methods of analysis. Aha! A
real question indeed! You can realize it yourself. Just think of solving a simple
beam in finite element method (this is presented just after this section). After
you solve this beam by finite element method, you can easily check whether the
result is correct or not by comparing the answer obtained by classical method.
But now imagine the analysis of the fuselage of an airplane or the propeller of a
ship. How do you check the correctness of these analyses? Therefore you must
accept the finite element analysis result as exact result! That’s why it is so
important that finite element analysis models must be created to simulate the
actual structure as much as possible. You must use proper combination of finite
elements, sufficiently accurate mesh, proper load and applicable boundary
conditions. It is often a common practice to analyzing the structure first with a
particular mesh and then repeating the whole analysis after doubling the mesh to
see whether the result converges. But this method has drawbacks! Your
program cannot analyze the structure if your number of mesh nodal points
exceed the program’s capacity. Moreover, it is very difficult to predict
beforehand what particular “finite element” will best simulate the structure. This
is especially a demanding task for very complex structures.

Finite element method is nowadays widely used in all branches of aerospace

engineering, bio-medical engineering, mechanical engineering and structural
engineering etc. Some manufacturing companies spend millions of dollars every
year in finite element analysis!

I am concluding finite element introduction here. But you must realize that it is
not so easy as it seems. Researchers are still developing new finite elements.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Sometimes even the most expensive finite element analysis programs produce
wrong answer to complex problems. If you feel inclined to know more about
this wonderful (?) tool of analysis, I strongly recommend that you to go through
some standard finite element method textbooks.

One word of advice, many engineers tempt to use finite element analysis
everywhere even when it is possible to analyze the particular structure using
classical method of analysis. My main aim is to make you realize that finite
element analysis is required only when it is absolutely necessary. Remember
that finite element analysis programs are very expensive and they also demand
great part of contribution from you for preparing input and interpreting output.

Typically, a finite element analysis consists of following steps.

1. Defining the model (i.e. drawing it either in the finite element program’s
graphical interface or importing it from a CAD program).
2. Creating the mesh (most programs can automatically generate mesh for best
3. Defining the boundary conditions.
4. Defining the loads.
5. Performing analysis (may take hours for complicated models!)
6. Interpreting the result (very important).

The steps are pretty straightforward. But there are many glitches!

In next page you will find an exercise of simply supported beam with uniformly
distribute load analyzed by FEA method. This example is for your
understanding of the basic concept of FEA only. In practice, this problem
should be solved by simple flexure formula of σ = My/I. Remember this!

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis


A 5-m steel (E=200GPa) beam has width 200 mm and depth 500 mm. It is
loaded by 10-kN/m uniformly distributed load. ν = 0.3. Its left end is hinged and
right end is roller. Find deflection at mid point and maximum bending stress in
the beam by finite element analysis. Try following modeling:
1. Plane stress analysis with 20 rectangular elements, each 0.5x0.25 m size.
That means there are 10 elements in X direction and 2 elements in Y
direction. You can convert the uniform load into nodal loads by applying
0.25 kN at extreme nodes and 0.5 kN at intermediate nodes.
2. Solid model analysis. Use standard solid brick or tetrahedral element. Most
finite element analysis programs offer these elements.

For 2D analysis, after modeling your

structure should look similar to this

Figure 23-7

In case of plane stress model formulation, you should use plate finite element
whose thickness will be equal to the depth in Z direction. In this problem, this is
equal to width of the beam. After performing the finite element analysis, you
should get the answer: mid point deflection 1.95x10-4 m maximum stress 3.75
MPa. Your program may display slight different result due to numerical round
off in calculation.

The deflected shape should resemble the following figure. Original shape is
shown by dotted line. This 2D-beam analysis was performed in Visual Analysis.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Figure 23-8

The figure 23-9 shows one of mid plane stresses, local σx distribution.

Your program should have the option to display other stresses e.g. σy , τxy etc.
Interpreting the finite element analysis result is very important. It is expected
that you spend equal or more time in interpreting analysis result compared to
the time previously spent in preparation of the model.
Later we shall see how finite element analysis can produce incompatible result.
There you will realize why it is essential to learn some theory behind the finite
element analysis.

Figure 23-9

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

To analyze the beam as 2D, you should not face any difficulty. However, you
should take into account many other things when you analyze the same beam as
3D solid. Firstly, what will be the load? Look, here we’ve applied a total load of
10 kN/m x 5 m = 50 kN acting on the upper face area of 5 m x 0.2 m = 1 m. So,
the applied load we have to specify as 50 kN/m² pressure normal to the upper
surface. Be careful about the load’s direction. Now, comes the main hurdle, the
meshing. If you are using a high-end FEA program, it will mesh the model
itself. By default, the program will mesh it by using brick elements or
tetrahedral elements. The next figure shows the beam with automatically
generated tetrahedral mesh. You may note that, such high density meshing is
not really required for this very problem. If you manually mesh with 20
numbers (2 elements along depth and 10 elements along length, similar to
shown in fig. 23-7) 8-noded solid elements, (as in SAP2000) you will get exact
result for this problem. Left end boundary condition is X, Y, Z translation fixed
along bottom edge and Z translation fixed along bottom edge on right end.

Figure 23-10

The next figure shows stress (σx) diagram on displaced shape.

Figure 23-11

This 3D analysis was performed in Cosmos/Design Star.

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Did you see that finite element analysis programs normally give you output in
the form of nodal displacements and stresses. It does not show you bending
moment or shear force diagram. Why? Well, why do you need bending moment
and shear force values? To calculate stresses later, isn’t it? Finite element
analysis programs directly give you the stress values!

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

24. A typical worked out problem of FEA

I think by this time you have at least tried to open first few pages of a FEA
textbook and probably bogged down by heavy theory. Well, I am here to rescue
you. Unfortunately, most FEA textbooks do not contain sufficient numerical
examples to make the whole thing transparent to the readers. If you study the
following numerical example along with your FEA textbook, you might find it
easier to comprehend now. So, let’s start…

Figure 24-1

Figure 24-1 shows a plate divided into two triangular shaped finite elements.
This is a plane stress problem. The figure also shows the degrees of freedom
(DOF) of the system. Please note that the value of modulus of elasticity E is
taken as 200x106 N/m². In fact, the values taken in this problem are not realistic.
My main aim is to present various steps of FEA computation through a simple
numerical problem. The division of the plate into a mere two elements is done
just for illustration purpose only. In actual practice, the plate should be divided
into a larger number of elements (triangular or rectangular etc.).

Anyway, we now begin solving the problem. I hope you’ve already familiar
with ‘shape function’. This is the function, which describes displacement of any
point within an element as a function of nodal displacements of the element.
The definition will be clear as we solve the problem. Shape function matrix is
normally denoted by [N].

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

All FEA textbooks describe how to derive shape functions for various elements.
So, we shall assume that we already know the shape function for the triangular

We consider element 1 at first. Its nodal points are 1,2 and 3. The co-ordinates
are (0,0), (4,0) and (4,4) respectively. If the area of the triangle is A, then we

1 x1 y1 1 0 0
1 1
A = 1 x2 y 2 = 1 4 0 = 8...m 2
2 2
1 x3 y3 1 4 4

Where, (x1, y1), (x2, y2) and (x3, y3) are the co-ordinates of node 1, 2 and 3

The shape functions for triangular element 1 are

( x 2. y3 − x3. y 2) + x( y 2 − y3) + y ( x3 − x 2)
N1 = = 1 − 0.25 x
( x3. y1 − x1. y3) + x( y3 − y1) + y ( x1 − x3)
N2 = = 0.25 x − 0.25 y
( x1. y 2 − x 2. y1) + x( y1 − y 2) + y ( x 2 − x1)
N3 = = 0.25 y

Now, the ‘strain displacement’ matrix is

∂N 1 ∂N 2 ∂N 3
0 0 0
∂x ∂x ∂x
∂N 1 ∂N 2 ∂N 3
[ B] = ∂[ N ] = 0 0 0
∂y ∂y ∂y
∂N 1 ∂N 1 ∂N 2 ∂N 2 ∂N 3 ∂N 3
∂y ∂x ∂y ∂x ∂y ∂x

− 0.25 0 0.25 0 0 0
= 0 0 0 − 0.25 0 0.25 ......m −1
0 − 0.25 − 0.25 0.25 0.25 0

Now we set the ‘Constitutive matrix’ [C] as (for plane stress only)

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

1 ν 0 200 0 0
[C ] = ν 1 0 = 0 200 0 .10 6...N / m 2
1 −ν 2
1 −ν
0 0 0 0 100

We have considered E = 200x106 N/m² and Poisson’s ratio as 0.

The stiffness matrix of triangular element is given by

[k ] = ∫ [ B]T [C ][ B]dV = [ B]T [C ][ B] At......( for... plane...stress )


If we perform the calculation, we shall get stiffness matrix for element 1 as:

1 0 −1 0 0 0
0 0 .5 0 .5 − 0 .5 − 0 .5 0
−1 0 .5 1 .5 − 0 .5 − 0 .5 0
[k ]1 = .10 6......N / m
0 − 0 .5 − 0 .5 1 .5 0 .5 −1
0 − 0 .5 − 0 .5 0 .5 0 .5 0
0 0 0 −1 0 1

Note that, it is a 6x6 matrix. Its DOF are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Thickness t = 0.01
m. Following exactly same steps, we can easily find stiffness matrix for element
2. This is given as an exercise for you. Calculation is same. Only you have to
use x1 = 0, y1 = 0 (point 1), x2 = 4, y2 = 4 (point 3), x3 = 0, y3 = 4 (point 4).

0 .5 0 0 − 0 .5 − 0 .5 0 .5
0 1 0 0 0 −1
0 0 1 0 −1 0
[k ] 2 = .10 6......N / m
− .0 .5 0 0 0 .5 0 .5 − 0 .5
− 0 .5 0 −1 0 .5 1 .5 − 0 .5
0 .5 −1 0 − 0 .5 − 0 .5 1 .5

For element 2, DOF are 1, 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8. So, the global stiffness matrix [K]
becomes, [K] = [k]1 + [k]2. In matrix format,

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1 .5 0 −1 0 0 − 0 .5 − 0 .5 0 .5
0 1 .5 0 .5 − 0 .5 − 0 .5 0 0 −1
−1 0 .5 1 .5 − 0 .5 − 0 .5 0 0 0
0 − 0 .5 − 0 .5 1 .5 0 .5 −1 0 0
[K ] = .10 6.......N / m
0 − 0 .5 − 0 .5 0 .5 1 .5 0 −1 0
− 0 .5 0 0 −1 0 1 .5 0 .5 − 0 .5
− 0 .5 0 0 0 −1 0 .5 1 .5 − 0 .5
0 .5 −1 0 0 0 − 0 .5 − 0 .5 1 .5

Observe that it is an 8x8 matrix since we have 8 DOF in the problem.

Our next step is to calculate applied nodal forces. In the problem, we have a
varying distributed force. In FEA, we must transfer distributed loads into
equivalent nodal loads. The formula for converting distributed loads into nodal
loads is:

{re } = ∫ [ N ]T q...dx

For more explanation on this topic, see your favorite (or not so favorite) FEA

q1 q2 L(2q1+q2)/6 L(q1+2q2)/6

Actual distributed load Equivalent nodal load

Figure 20-2

Note that the applied load is in DOF 3 and 5 direction. So, force matrix becomes
an 8x1 matrix. However, still we did not specify the boundary condition. Since,
nodes 1 and 4 are pinned, DOF 1, 2 and 7, 8 will be fixed. Therefore, we have to
adjust both global stiffness and force matrix with DOF 3, 4, 5, 6 only.

The force matrix is

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[F ] = .....N

After applying boundary condition, global [K] takes the form

1 .5 − 0 .5 − 0 .5 0
− 0 .5 1 .5 0 .5 −1
[K ]B = .10 6.........N / m
− 0 .5 0 .5 1 .5 0
0 −1 0 1 .5

Force matrix is (for 3, 4, 5, 6 DOF only)

[F ]D = ..........N

Recall very well known stiffness method formula [F] = [K][d]

Calculated displacement for DOF 3, 4, 5, 6 is

[d]c = [K]B-1.[F]D or

[d ]c = .10 −3..........m

Global displacement matrix [d] becomes 8x1 matrix as shown next.

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[d ] = .10 −3........m

Our main analysis is complete. Now we shall ‘post process’ our result. Suppose,
we like to know the strains and stresses at all three nodes of element 1. The
strain matrix is defined by [ε] = [B][d].

εx − 0.25 0 0.25 0 0 0 1875
[ε ] = ε y = 0 0 0 − 0.25 0 0.25 . .10 = − 143 10 − 6

γ xy 0 − 0.25 − 0.25 0.25 0.25 0 − 286

The stress is defined by [σ] = [C][ε].

σx 371450
[σ ] = σ y = − 28550 . .......N / m 2
τ xy − 28600

What if we want to find out the displacement at point x = 3 and y = 2?

Displacement at any point within the element [u] = [N][d]

ux N1 0 N2 0 N3 0 d3
= . =
uy 0 N1 0 N2 0 N3 d4

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0.25 0 0.25 0 0 .5 0 7.43 4.14
10 −3 = 10 −3........m
0 0.25 0 0.25 0 0 .5 1.71 1 .0

Where, dn indicates nodal displacement of the element.

You should appreciate following interesting points:

1. In this problem, [B] = constant i.e. it does not involve any terms containing x
or y. However, this is the case only for triangular element. That’s why it’s
called Constant Strain Triangle. For rectangular and other elements, [B] is a
function of x and y (and z for 3D cases).
2. Since strain is constant, stresses at any point within element are also
3. Distributed load should be converted to equivalent nodal loads.
4. The commercial FEA programs basically performs the same operation as
described above. They calculate stress/strain at all points inside the elements
and plots as colorful contour diagram as output.
5. Did you realize the labor involved in solving with just 2 elements and 8
DOF. Now imagine what will happen with 100,000 nodes. It vindicates
absolute necessity of computers in FEA.
6. The answer we have got here is not correct. This is as expected because we
have considered only two elements. Use your analysis program to generate a
mesh and see what will be the exact answer. Next try the problem with four
rectangular elements. See your FEA textbook to find out [N] matrix for
rectangular elements. The stiffness matrix for rectangular elements is given

b a
[k ] = ∫ ∫ [ B]
[C ][ B].t...dxdy
−b − a

Here you have to integrate ‘numerically’. (Oops!) I think you are already feeling
bore. Let’s have a snack break!

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25. Plates by FEM

Let’s solve a simple plate by finite element analysis. Our model is 3-m x 2-m
size and 10 mm thick. The plate is made of steel (E = 200 GPa). It is simply
supported. Ignore self-weight of the plate. It is acted by 100-kPa uniformly
distributed load over its surface. Find the deflection at mid point of the plate.
The theoretical answer is 0.65-mm i.e. 0.00065 m. If you get 0.0005 or 0.0007
m deflection using your program, it may be considered sufficiently accurate.

First hurdle is how you should ‘mesh’ the plate. Most programs will allow you
to divide the plate into number of smaller plates within it. So, do it. Expensive
programs can create the optimum mesh for you! If you mesh the plate 15x10
elements, it should be enough for this problem. Now comes the boundary
condition. Specify two adjacent edges as pinned and the other two adjacent
edges as rollers. It will make the plate simply supported. Consider sign
convention as described in section 4.


Pinned Roller

Figure 25-1

When applying surface load, be careful. Different programs have different

options for specifying surface loads. Also make sure the load acts ‘downward’.
If everything goes ok, you should get the answer. The deflected shape should
resemble a saucer. The programs typically show many other stress-components
like Von Mises, S11, Max. Principal etc. I shall discuss about them later.

Now solve the same problem with some different boundary conditions like all
edges fixed and heavier loads etc. Check your answers with theoretical
solutions. Make a ‘cut’ anywhere in the plate and see what happens.

Why it is necessary to ‘mesh’ plates?

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Suppose you have made a model of moment frame with masonry walls and
concrete floor slabs as ‘plates’. Now why you need to ‘mesh’ the plates? The
problem with this is that the plate elements are only connected to the supporting
members at the nodes. In the real world structures, the plates are in continuous
contact with the supporting members. Modeling the structure in this way can
cause larger deflections in some members than if they were modeled with
intermediate connections. The walls may also be too stiff when modeled as a
single element. Another concern involves load path continuity. If a distributed
surface load were applied to the floor plates, the load would be transferred to the
corners of the plate and directly down to the columns. The supporting beams
would receive no load. To fix these problems the single plate will have to be
split into smaller pieces, so that more nodes are provided to allow the real world
connection to be more accurately modeled. The more each plate is split the
more accurate the model becomes. However, more elements require more time
to analyze, this is particularly important with large models. Interpreting the
result also becomes complicated. Finally, it is not clear into how many elements
you should split the plates (Ref. 6). You may wonder that we don’t split frame
(beam/truss) members. Well, as I already stated that for ‘bar’ finite elements, we
can form the exact stiffness matrix. So we don’t need to split them. Although,
occasionally you may need to split frame members too for applying nodal point
loads. For linear structures, even if you split frame members, you still get same
result. But for non-linear structures, you will get different (usually more
accurate) result if you split frame members. More on non-linear structures in
some later sections. So, keep going on!

How do I know whether my meshing is accurate enough?

Why not start with this very plate problem? First, analyze the plate with only
6x4 mesh. Your mid point deflection should come 5.91x10-4 m. Clearly, this is
not equal to theoretical 6.5x10-4 m. So, you need to increase your mesh density
i.e. you have to decrease your mesh size. Let’s apply 15x10 mesh (see fig. 25-
2). As I already mentioned you earlier, in this case you should get exact mid
point deflection. So, this mesh is sufficient. But hey, in actual problem you
won’t know the answer beforehand! So, how do you know that you get exact
answer with 15x10 mesh? What you have to do is that, you analyze the plate
again but with 30x20 mesh. You will observe that you get same displacement as
in case of 15x10 mesh. Now your result is correct. So, we just increased mesh
density and see whether our result converges and we stopped when done. This
trick normally works in most of the FEA problems, however, there may be
situations where increasing mesh density only may not produce good result! We
may need to use more complex elements. For example, instead of 4-noded plate
element we can use 8-noded plate element. I shall discuss more about it later.
Another point, should you rely upon convergence of displacement or of stress?

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In general, stresses in FEA are ‘less’ accurate than displacements (since stresses
are calculated from displacements, see the worked out problem of previous
section). So, you should aim at displacement convergence. Take stress diagrams
of the point when displacements converge (in 30x20 case for this problem).

Figure 25-2

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26. Interpreting FEA result

In this section you will learn how to interpret FEA result. This is one of the
most important tasks. I shall start with very basic beam and truss and then
gradually move to complex stress components.

First consider a simple truss member. When it’s in tension, the force acts on it
as shown below.

Figure 26-1

The tensile stress developed in the member is simply equal to Force/Area. Until
the stress exceeds the value of yield stress of the material of the member, the
member will not fail. On the other hand, consider a member under compressive

Figure 26-2

Here the stress is also Force/Area but in this case, buckling may occur. The
maximum stress that the member can withstand depends on the material and the
‘slenderness ratio’ (= length/side dimension) of the member. Try to avoid
compression member as far as possible. This is current trend in design. All
tension member structures like tents etc. are very efficient and cost effective.

In case of straight beam, the forces we generally do consider are – bending

moment and shear force, although sometimes effect of axial forces may be quite
as much. The next figure shows positive direction of the bending moments and
shear forces acting on a beam.

Figure 26-3

The bending moment causes bending stress (= My/I) on the beam. The reactions
cause shear stress (= VQ/Ib). For beams curved in plan, in addition to these
forces, torsion also comes (see figure 26-4). Things will get really messy if
unsymmetrical bending is considered. This is discussed later.
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Figure 26-4

Now consider a most general case of the stresses acting on a solid element.

Y τzy τzx
Figure 26-5

All stress components are shown in figure 26-5. I’m sure you’ve seen this figure
several times since your first year of university, didn’t you?

In straight beam, we have only σx. Please see figure 26-1 and you will
appreciate the stress component diagram shown there. Note that in that beam,
you will get values for only σx stress components, which is obvious.

Typically, all FEA programs will show you Von Mises stress by default after
analysis is finished. Now what does this mean anyway?

Von Mises stress is a measurement of ‘distortion’ of the element. This is based

on Von Mises – Hencky theory which, predicts that yielding in ductile material
occurs when distortion energy per unit volume of the material equals or exceeds
the distortion energy per unit volume of the same material when it is subjected
to yielding in a tensile test. The theory takes into account the energy associated
with changes in the shape of the material. This criterion is used to analyze
materials that would fail in a ductile manner. In a nutshell, The Von Mises
stress is a measure of stress intensity required for a material (generally a
metallic material), to start yielding and become plastic. Before showing you
mathematical concept of Von Mises stress, please let me introduce Principal

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stresses. Von Mises stress has no implication in brittle materials like concrete
and soil.

Stress components depend on the directions in which they are calculated. At a

point, for certain co-ordinate axis rotations, shear stresses vanish; the remaining
three normal stress components are called principal stresses. The directions
associated with principal stresses are called the principal directions. The three
principal stresses are denoted by σ1, σ2 and σ3.

I apologize for the following boring equations!

The Von Mises stress is computed from the six stress components as follows:
σ VM = [ ((σ x − σ y ) 2 + (σ y − σ z ) 2 + (σ z − σ x ) 2 ) + 3.(τ xy + τ yz + τ zx )] 2
2 2 2

(σ 1 − σ 2 ) 2 + (σ 2 − σ 3 ) 2 + (σ 3 − σ 1 ) 2
σ VM =
Hence, the Factor of Safety = σ limit / σ Von Mises

Then comes Maximum Shear Stress criterion, which is also known as Tresca
yield criterion. According to this theory yielding of material begins when the
absolute maximum shear stress reaches the shear stress that causes the same
material to yield in a tensile test. This criterion is mostly used to analyze
materials that would fail in a ductile manner.

τ max ƒ (σ limit / 2) where τ max is the maximum of τ 1/2, τ 2/3 or τ 3/1.

τ 1/2 = (σ1 – σ2)/2, τ 2/3 = (σ2 – σ3)/2, τ 3/1 = (σ3 – σ1)/2.

Hence, the Factor of Safety = σ limit / 2τ max

There are two other failure criteria mainly for brittle materials – Mohr Coulomb
Stress and Maximum Normal Stress.

Mohr Coulomb theory is also known as Internal Friction theory. According to

theory, failure occurs when:
σ1 >= σ Tensile Limit if σ1 > 0 and σ3 > 0
σ3 >= -σ Compressive Limit if σ1 < 0 and σ3 <0
(σ1/σ Tensile Limit – σ3/σ Compressive Limit) < 1 if σ1 >= 0 and σ3 <= 0
Hence, the Factor of Safety = 1/(σ1/σ Tensile Limit – σ3/σ Compressive Limit)

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This criterion is used for brittle materials whose tensile and compressive
strength properties are different.

According to Maximum Normal Stress criterion, failure of the material occurs

when maximum principal stress reaches the ultimate strength of the material
when subjected to simple tension. That means, failure is predicted to occur
when σ1 >= σ limit where σ1 is the maximum principal stress.

Hence, the Factor of Safety = σ limit/ σ1

This criterion is used for brittle materials whose ultimate strength is same for
both tension and compression. Please remember that brittle materials do not
have specific yield points. (Ref. 15)

What factor of safety you use is entirely your responsibility. In machine design,
it is not uncommon to use a factor of safety value in the range of 10 to 20.

Most frame analysis and design programs show the ratio of (applied stress/
allowable stress) for every member after performing design as per code
specification. If the ratio is less than 1, then design is same. Ratio more than 1
indicates re-design is necessary.

Please see Section the section on Folded Plate for more information on
interpreting FEA result.

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27. Tips for creating better mesh

In this section you will learn some tips for creating a better FE mesh. But the
things are really messy! When your model is quite simple, remember the
following advises.

Use quadrilateral elements – in general, try to use quadrilateral elements instead

of triangular elements as they give more accurate results. Remember that, the
four corners of a quadrilateral element should all lie on the same plane. If this is
not possible, use two triangular elements in place of each quadrilateral.

Element shape – quadrilateral elements – the greatest accuracy is achieved with

a square – 1:1 element. Elements with a base/height ratio up to 1:2 give good
results, but elements with a ratio of 1:5 will be unreliable. However, many FEA
programs have the options, which allow you to specify maximum aspect ratio.
But be careful, if you specify too low aspect ratio, the program may not be able
to generate the mesh successfully at all! Many a times you will be forced to use
1:50 as lowest acceptable aspect ratio value. Yikes! If you do not specify such
upper limit for aspect ratio, the program may occasionally churn out elements
with aspect ratio as high as 1:1,000 even if you are using a $20,000 program!

Try to use rectangular (rather than quadrilateral) shaped elements whenever

possible, If not, the internal angles should not vary greatly from 90°. Angles of
30° or 150° will greatly reduce accuracy. Elements with convex angles should
never be used. However, due to geometry of the model, more often than not you
will have to use quadrilateral elements.

Triangular elements – equilateral triangles will produce the most accurate

results. However, it is always better to avoid triangular elements.

Mesh density – the mesh density need not be constant throughout the model.
The program assumes a linear result distribution through the element. If the
actual result through the elements is not linear but parabolic, for example, it is
obvious that there will be a decrease in the accuracy. In a fine mesh, the result
diagram through any one element will always be approximately linear.

Increase the number of elements where there is a greater rate of change in the
internal forces. For example; around supports (where bending moments increase
sharply), openings and large concentrated loads.

To decrease the number of elements – use a rough mesh in areas where

relatively low results are expected. Remember that the connection to adjacent

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elements is through the element end nodes only and so nodes located along an
edge of an element between end nodes are ineffective. Use triangular or
trapezoidal shaped elements to step between rough and fine quadrilateral

If you have doubts as to the accuracy of the results in a particular area of the
model, rerun the problem with a finer mesh in that area and compare results.
The results converge to the exact solution, as the mesh becomes more refined.

Life will be much troublesome if you need to analyze complex solid models.
Here you need to consider many other parameters. Most FEA programs, by
default, generate ‘tetrahedral’ mesh for solids. Some programs, however, allow
you to specify how you want the mesh to be generated. Figure 27-1 shows how
your model looks with a tetrahedral mesh. Figure 27-2 shows same model with
combination of 8-noded brick, tetrahedral, 5 or 6-noded transition elements.
Some programs (e.g. Algor) offer following types of mesh generations.

Standard – used for most meshes by default. It gives you the highest quality
mesh and the lowest number of elements. Standard solid meshing works from
the surface inward. It will make 8-node brick elements on and near the surface
of the model while making 6, 5 or 4-node transition elements in the center of the
model as needed.

All 8-Node Bricks – this option should be used only for processors that accept
only 8-node bricks. In many cases, these are fluid flow processors (for analysis
of pipe network, this topic is not discussed in this book). This option can make 4
to 5 times the number of elements as the "Standard" option.

No Pyramids – the "No Pyramids" option builds brick meshes with 8, 6 and 4-
node elements, but no 5-node pyramid elements.

Tetrahedral from Quads – the "Tetrahedral from Quads" option is for generating
a tetrahedral solid mesh from a quadrilateral surface mesh.

Enhanced No Pyramids – this option makes brick meshes with predominantly 8-

node elements plus 6-node and 4-node elements, but no 5-node pyramid

Tetrahedral – the all-tetrahedral option is for generating a nearly equilateral

tetrahedral solid mesh from an equilateral triangular surface mesh. This is the
most common type of mesh for a large number of FEA programs.

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Figure 27-2 shows boundary condition (fixed) and pressure load of 1000
lbf/sq.inch (I had to use FPS unit because the YOKE model file was in ‘inch’

If you’re wondering how brick or tetrahedral elements look like, this is

described in just next section.

We shall come to the same ‘yoke’ model later on, when we discuss how to
interpret FEA results.

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Figure 27-1

In the above figure only the mesh has been shown. The boundary condition and
pressure load for this particular analysis has been shown in next figure. You
may use ‘coarser’ or ‘finer’ mesh in your program. Normally, the programs
create the mesh using a default mesh density. If can control the mesh
size/density using a slider in the program.

You may wonder whether the result will change depending on what kind of
mesh you are using. Well, not really in general. However, there are special
cases, where you should use particular type of mesh for best result. See the chart
in next section.

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Figure 27-2

I apologize if the stuffs seem too boring!

Figure 27-3 shows Von-mises stress (described later) diagram of figure 27-1
after analyzing the model in COSMOS/Design Star.

The same model with mesh as of figure 27-2, is analyzed using Algor and
shown in figure 27-4.

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Figure 27-3

Figure 27-4

The stress is shown in ‘psi’ (pound/sq.inch) unit.

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28. Common Finite Elements library for Linear Static and Dynamic
Stress Analysis

Element type Illustration Description

3-D Truss, 2-nodes Truss elements are used to provide
stiffness between two nodes. These
elements transmit compressive and
tensile loads along their axis. They do
not carry any bending load.
3-D Beam, 2-nodes Beam elements are used to provide
elongational, flexural and rotational
stiffness between two nodes. These
elements can possess a wide variety of
cross-sectional geometries including
many standard types
3-D Membrane Membrane plane stress elements are
Plane Stress, 3- used to model "fabric-like" structures,
nodes such as tents, cots, domed stadiums,
etc. They support three translational
degrees of freedom and in-plane
(membrane) loading. Orthotropic
3-D Membrane material properties may be
Plane Stress, 4- temperature dependent. Incompatible
nodes modes are available.
2-D Elasticity, 3- Elasticity elements are used for plane
nodes strain, plane stress and axisymmetric
formulations. They support two
translational degrees of freedom.
2-D Elasticity, 4- Orthotropic material properties may be
nodes temperature dependent. Incompatible
modes are available.

3-D Brick, 4-nodes Brick elements are used to simulate

the behavior of solids. They support
three translational degrees of freedom
as well as incompatible displacement
modes. Applications include solid
objects, such as wheels, turbine
blades, flanges, etc.

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3-D Brick, 5-nodes Same as above

3-D Brick, 6-nodes Same as above

3-D Brick, 8-nodes Same as above

3-D Plate, 3-nodes Plate elements are used in the design

of pressure vessels, automobile body
parts, etc. They support three
translational and two rotational
degrees of freedom as well as
orthotropic material properties. An
optional rotational stiffness around the
perpendicular axis is automatically
3-D Plate, 4-nodes added to the node of each element.
A thin composite plate element is
available for use in models such as
mechanical equipment, bicycle
frames, etc. A thick composite plate
element is also available and can be
used in models such as honeycomb
sandwich structures, aerospace
products, etc. Both thin and thick
composite plate elements have no
limitations regarding orientation or
stacking sequence and support the
Tsai-Wu, maximum stress and
maximum strain failure criteria.
Tetrahedral, 4- Tetrahedral elements are used to
nodes model solid objects, such as gears,
engine blocks and other unusually
shaped objects. They support three
translational degrees of freedom. They
are also available in higher order
formulations (mid-side nodes).

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Boundary, 2-nodes Boundary elements are used in

conjunction with other elements. A
boundary element rigidly or elastically
supports a model and enables the
extraction of support reactions.
Boundary elements are also used to
impose a specified rotation or
Gap/Cable, 2-nodes The gap element simulates
compression, where deflection makes
two nodes touch and transmit force,
such as when a ball bearing moves in a
joint. Using gap elements, stresses,
bending moments and axial forces
where the bearing and joint meet can
be determined.
A cable element simulates tension,
where two nodes moving away from
each other a specified distance cause
the element to become active. It is still
a small-deflection, small-strain
analysis, but with deflection-sensitive

Courtesy: Algor Inc.

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29. Shear Wall

In normal reinforced concrete framed buildings, we know walls are not

designed to carry any load. Beams, columns and slabs carry all loads. However,
in high rise buildings, it is important to ensure adequate ‘lateral stiffness’ to
resist horizontal forces induced by wind or earthquake. For such buildings, if we
solely depend on beams and columns for providing lateral stiffness, then the
sway movement will be quite disturbing, vibration can easily be felt by the
occupants and structural members may develop high stresses in them. Concrete
walls, which have high ‘in-plane’ stiffness, are placed at convenient locations in
the building to provide necessary resistance to horizontal forces are known as
shear walls.

Shear walls are often provided surrounding elevator or staircase. Figure 29-1
shows a typical arrangement of shear walls in a building frame. The exterior
shear walls are shown red and the interior shear walls surrounding central
columns are shown yellow for easy visualization. This is one of the most
common arrangements for shear walls. In the figure only a 5-storied building
has been shown. In practice, shear walls are generally provided in tall buildings.

Shear walls resist bending. So, reinforcement must be provided inside them.
The area and arrangements of steel bars are calculated in usual manner.
However, analysis of shear wall and frame must be done properly. In early days,
when computer was not available, the frame-shear wall interaction was a very
complicated task. It involved lots of assumptions and mind-boggling
calculations. One common classical method was that of MacLeod. If you want
to torment yourself, go and get an Advanced Structural Analysis textbook and
try to solve a shear wall problem using classical methods.

The advent of FEA has made life much easier for us. Just model the building
first. You can do it easily using your analysis program’s graphics editor (or you
can import it from CAD program) and then add ‘plates’ in the place of shear
walls. Specify thickness and material properties of the walls (i.e. plates). Then
‘mesh’ the plates (see Section 25 for how to mesh plates). And your model is
ready for cooking (I mean analyzing)! Run your favorite FEA analyzer, and you
will instantly get displacements, shear forces, bending moments, stresses in the
beams, columns and walls. Isn’t that easy?

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Computer Aided Structural Analysis

Figure 29-1

However, actual difficult part comes after the analysis. Look, I told you already
that if there were no shear walls, the forces in the beams and columns would
have been much higher compared to those of with shear walls present. So, lesser
values of forces mean smaller dimension of members and less amount of
reinforcement. But inclusion of shear walls will raise the expense again. So,
there must a trade off at some point. You must analyze several model structures
with various shear wall arrangements to get the most economical yet practical
structure. Sometimes, it may be necessary to provide shear walls with openings
for windows, doors etc. for architectural reasons. Openings reduce the stiffness
of the shear wall.


Assume suitable dimensions for the building frame shown in figure 29-1. Apply
some realistic horizontal forces at floor levels and analyze the structure with and
without shear walls. See how the result changes with shear walls. Use a
different arrangement for shear walls and analyze again. Which arrangement
comes out to be the best?

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30. Folded Plate

The folded plate is a very complex structure. Classical methods of analyzing

folded plates involve laborious calculations. Moreover, there is no single
classical method available for general analysis of folded plates. They depend on
the shape of folded plates. Some common methods are – Simpson’s,
Whiteney’s, Iterative, Three-shear equations etc. However, if you use FEA, then
the analysis itself is quite simple and the labor involves only preparing the
model correctly and interpreting the result properly. Your analysis programs
must have ‘plate’ elements to successfully analyze folded plates. Modeling the
folded plates sometimes can be really tricky. We shall discuss various aspects of
folded plate analysis with the following example as shown in figure 30-1. The
front view is shown in the figure and the length of the structures is 12 m as
shown in figure 30-2 with mesh for sufficiently accurate result.


Thickness 150 mm 3m

B Thickness 300 mm E 1.5 m

3m 4.5 m 3m
Figure 30-1

The frame is loaded with 1.5 kPa uniformly distributed load in addition to the
self-weight. The folded plate is made of concrete. If you use your analysis
program’s graphics editor for input, the quickest way to create the model is: (1)
draw the model first using frame element so that the shape like as of figure 35-1
(2) then copy the frames over 12 m distance (3) now draw the plates (4) after
the plates are drawn, delete the frame members since they were drawn here only
to ease the model (5) now mesh the plates (6) apply boundary condition, in this
problem, the sides of the plates are fixed (7) apply plate thickness, material
properties etc. (8) apply surface loads on plates BC, CD and DE.

After you apply the loads, visualization should look like as that of figure 30-3.
If you draw the plates in wrong orientation, the load direction may appear
awkward as shown in figure 30-4. If it happens, delete the particular plate and
redraw again in the opposite direction compared to previous case. For this
reason, it is a good practice to mesh the plates, after you have applied the loads
properly. Although, to make your figure change from 30-4 to 30-3, you may be

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tempted to change the load into –1.5 kPa for plate DE, however, it may create
problem while interpreting the output.

Fixed on side
Fixed on side
12 m
Figure 30-2

Figure 30-3

Figure 30-4

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Are you wondering whether we can take advantage of the symmetry? Of course
we do. In fact, only 1/4th of the structure needs to be analyzed. The appropriate
boundary conditions are shown in figure 30-5 with respect to the global axes
shown in the same figure.

all free
Z rotation fixed


all fixed

Figure 30-5

To assign proper boundary conditions accurately, you must visualize the

deflected shape of the structure yourself in your mind before performing the
actual analysis. Of course, you may bypass this mental exercise by analyzing
the whole structure rather than taking advantages of the symmetry. You may
wonder why I did not give you theoretical result the above folded plate analysis.
Well, theoretical calculations are also based on certain simplified assumptions,
which may not completely valid many cases (See Section 3, for example). I
admit that you need some benchmark problems to compare your analysis
output, still you should start relying on your FEA output to gain confidence!

After performing the analysis, you will get following stress components – σx,
σy, σz, τxy, τyz, τzx in global axes direction and σx, σy, τxy in local axes
direction along with maximum principal normal stress σ, minimum principal
normal stress σ and maximum principal shear stress τ. The concept needs

We have already discussed local axes concept. Now, every ‘plate’ element of
the above folded plate may be considered ‘lying’ in a ‘2D plane’ even if it is
actually ‘inclined’ in the real structure. For example, a ‘plate element’ of BC
may be visualized as shown in figure 30-6. This figure is a specific case of
figure 30-5 where stress variation along Z-axis is negligible.

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σy τyx = - τxy

y τxy

Figure 30-6

The visualization will be more apparent from the figure 30-7, where local axes
for the vertical, inclined and horizontal plate elements’ are shown.


Z Global

Figure 30-7

A different situation comes when we speak stress components in terms of global

axes. Here you’ll find all 6-stress components since we now speak in 3D space.

Question: My analysis program doesn’t explicitly show global and local axes
stress components. How do I know which convention it is following?
Answer: Difficult to say. Generally, most programs give output with respect to
local axes. But there are some programs, which show the result with respect to
local axes for some type of ‘elements’ and with respect to global axes for some
other type of ‘elements’! Really confusing! See your programs’ manuals for
details. However, you better solve some benchmark problems (with known
answer) to check.

Question: Shall I provide the reinforcement on the basis of forces on global axes
or local axes?
Answer: Local axes forces.

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Figure 30-8

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Figure 30-9

These analysis outputs are from Visual Analysis.

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As a second example, consider another type of folded plate as shown in figure


Figure 30-10

The span of plate (along X axis) is 10 m and thickness of all four plates is 100
mm. The plates are made of concrete and are acted by 3-kPa downward (i.e.
along –Z direction) load perpendicular to the surface of the plates. Sides
(leftmost and rightmost edges but not middle edge) of the plates are fixed. The
global X stress (σx in N/m2) after analysis (in Algor) is shown in figure 30-11.

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Figure 30-11

Model and analyze the plate yourself and check if you’ve got the same result.

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31. Shells

Analysis of shells involves solving fourth order differential equations. Rest

assured, I’m not going to swamp you with differential equations. Theoretical
background on shell is extensive and if you are interested, you should consult a
textbook on shell theory. Here I shall discuss only what you should know for
shell analysis using FEA.

20 m

Figure 31-1

As a first example consider the translational shell shown above. It is made of

75-mm thick concrete. A uniformly distributed load of 3 kPa inward (i.e.
towards center of the shell, perpendicular to the surface of the plate at every
point, not horizontally projected) is acting over it (including self-weight i.e. you
need not add self-weight load). The sides of the shell are pinned. You are to
analyze the shell. Your first task is to model the shell. Some programs can
generate this kind of shell through a model wizard. Then you are lucky. If your
program does not have this option, you need to start from scratch. First create
the arc. Note that, either you can draw the arc exactly (if your programs graphic
editor permits) or you need to follow the procedure as outlined in Section 5. If
you draw the arc, remember to ‘break’ it into a combination of ‘lines’. Then
copy the ‘lines’ through out the length of the shell (20 m in this example). If you
break the arc into lines before, copying into suitable interval creates the mesh
automatically. The concept may appear garbled if you just are reading, but will
be clear if you try to draw the shell model yourself. A 20x80 mesh is sufficient
for this shell. In most practical cases, your shell will be ‘thin’ i.e. thickness of
the shell is much less compared to width or length. So, there will be only three
stress components σx, σy and τxy and other three stress components will be zero.
Thin shell theory is also known as ‘membrane’ theory. On the other hand,
‘thick’ shells are analyzed using ‘bending’ theory. There are various types of
shells – hemispherical, cycloid, conical, hyperbolic etc. Classical theories of
shells often vary with different geometric shapes, although FEA treatment of

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shells is same for all shell types. The shell theory is extremely complicated and
if you lean too much in that subject you may find a place in lunatic asylum too
soon! One advantage of shell is that, because of its curve shape, less material is
required compared to beam or slab to carry same load. In other words, the ratio
of load carried/ amount of material used is higher for shells. However, because
of constructional difficulties, shells are still of limited use. Yes, like the folded
plate discussed in previous section, you can again take advantage of symmetry
as shown in figure 31-2.

X rotation fixed boundary condition


Figure 31-2

For other types of shells, if the loading and geometry are symmetrical, you can
always take advantage of symmetry. Although you have the right to place the
origin at anywhere, I prefer to keep the origin at the center of the shell. It has
some ‘psychological’ advantages.

The analysis output for σ in local X-axis is shown in figure 31-3. The analysis
was done in Algor. You should note some important points. First of all, all FEA
programs display output in colorful stress contour range. Normally, you can
‘adjust’ the range yourself. It is always advisable to specify a range of your
own. This is because, the highest (and lowest) range generally covers only one
or two elements in extreme ends of the model due to some numerical round of.
In fact, 99% of all elements’ stresses fall within the 80% region of stress range
shown in the display by default. So, keep on adjusting stress range until you are
convinced that your model shows optimum design stress range. In figure 31-3,
the maximum and minimum stresses are respectively 5 kPa and –20 kPa. Check
what answer you get in your program.

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Figure 31-3

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32. A first step in Structural Dynamics

So far our study was confined within static analysis. In this section we shall
learn some aspects of dynamic analysis. The theory and field of structural
dynamics are very large. Even a decent introduction of this subject would
require at least 100 pages. I am just describing some very basic concepts of
structural dynamic useful for practicing engineers. If you’ve already studied the
theory of structural dynamic then it’s great. If not, I advise that you start reading
a textbook of structural dynamic besides this book. It will make you understand
the applications of dynamics discussed in this book in an easily understandable

At the beginning, let me explain the difference between static and dynamic
analysis. In static analysis, the applied force is constant but in dynamic analysis,
the applied force varies with time. It is not necessary that dynamic analysis
always involves application force only, it may be due to shaking of ground due
to earthquake. In civil engineering applications, dynamic analysis mostly
involves determination of maximum response (i.e. displacement etc.) of the
structure due to some applied ground acceleration.

To understand dynamic analysis properly, we need understand the concepts of

some common terms.

Degrees of Freedom – consider the typical spring mass damper system as shown

Mass m Displacement x(t)

Stiffness k

Figure 32-1

It has mass 'm' and stiffness 'k'. It can move in only the direction shown by the
arrow. So, this model has one degree of freedom. We call this single degree of
freedom (SDF) system. We also assume that the mass 'm' is 'lumped' at the top
of model as shown by the filled circle. This means, the mass of the stick, though
distributed though out its length, we assume as if it is concentrated at one place
as shown by the circle. This model may reflect idealization of a single story
building, where the roof mass is concentrated as shown in the figure. If there is
more than one story, then floor mass of each story may be considered as

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'lumped' at the respective floor levels. In that we shall have multi-degree-of-

freedom (MDF) structures. Things may appear little bit terse at the beginning,
but gradually everything will seem comprehensive. I assure you!

In practice most structures are of MDF type. However, that does not imply that
we need not study theory of SDF structures, because many MDF structures can
be 'broken' into separate SDF structures and can be easily analyzed rather than
analyzing the whole structures!

Damping – if a structure is displaced from its equilibrium position by a small

amount of force, it will vibrate (move from this direction to that direction).
Unless there is ‘something’ to prevent vibration, it will go on vibrating forever.
But in actual practice, the ‘amplitude’ of vibration will gradually diminish and
after some time, the model will come to rest. This process by which free
vibration diminishes is known as ‘damping’.

Natural frequency (ωn) – it is the number of cycles per second a structure

vibrates. It’s measured in radian per second. It is related to natural time period
Tn = 2π/ωn. Natural frequency is computed using ωn = (stiffness/mass)0.5. For
damped structures, damped natural frequency ωd = ωn(1- ξ ²)0.5.

Damping ratio (ξ) – it is a measurement of how much damping is there. It has

values in the range of 0 to 1. It is often expressed in %. For example 100%
damping means the structure will not vibrate at all. However, for most practical
structures, this value lies in the range of 5% to 20% i.e. ξ = 0.05 to 0.2.

Why bother studying dynamic analysis?

If a dynamic excitation (force or ground acceleration) is applied to a structure,

the resulting displacement might be much more than that obtained by simple
static analysis. More displacement means higher values of internal forces
(bending moment, shear force etc.) and subsequently higher values of stresses in
the members. If the stress reaches the yield strength of the material the structure
will collapse!

For a time varying applied force, if I apply calculated values of the force at
particular instant of time and then perform static analysis with that force, shall I
get correct displacement etc.?

No, you won’t (even for a linear structure)! The concept of structural dynamics
is different from static analysis theory. You must perform exact dynamic

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Is it mandatory to perform dynamic analysis for all structures?

It depends. Dynamic analysis is especially required for multi-story buildings for

earthquake analysis. Normally, in low height buildings, dynamic analysis does
not produce much different result compared to static analysis. However, for all
structures, where vibration is a major factor in design, dynamic analysis must be
performed. Designing of machine foundations always requires dynamic
analysis. For highly important structures like bridges, dams, nuclear reactors
etc. dynamic analyses are very important. Theory of structural dynamics is
applicable equally to buildings as well as automobiles!

How the programs calculate dynamic response?

Nearly all analysis programs calculate dynamic response by numerical methods.

The main governing equation for dynamic analyses is conventionally written as

[ M ]{ X&
&} + [C ]{ X&} + [ K ]{ X } = F (t )

Where, [M] = mass matrix (kg or Ns²/m), [C] = damping matrix (Ns/m), [K] =
stiffness matrix (N/m), X = displacement (m), X’ = velocity (m/s), X” =
acceleration (m/s²) and F(t) = Force (N).

The F(t) in above equation will be replaced by –[M]{u(t)”g} if there is ground

acceleration instead of nodal forces. Here, u(t)”g denotes ground acceleration
(m/s²). If F(t) = 0, then the situation is known as free vibration. If [C] = 0, then
we call undamped motion. However, in real life, [C] is never equal to zero.

In the subsequent sections, we shall explore various examples of structural

dynamic analyses – simple to complex! By this time I expect that you will also
study a few pages of dynamics textbook. Suggested chapters for reading in your
textbook are – introduction and simple formulation for SDF systems, direct
solution of differential equation of motion, damped and undamped motion,
response to harmonic and periodic excitation, numerical evaluation of dynamic
response, equation of motion for MDF systems, modal and response spectrum
analyses. If you are interested, you may read all the chapters of the book, but
above topics are enough for understanding the calculations presented in this
book. You may read Ref. 5, 16, 17 to start with in dynamics.

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33. An example of a Single Degree of Freedom problem

I hope that by this time you’ve read a few pages of structural dynamics
textbook. Yes? Great, they you can appreciate following calculation.

Consider the following structure. It resembles a water tank over a tower. I shall
show you how to perform accurate dynamic analysis without any computer

1000 kN


0 1
time (s)

Figure 33-1

All the members of the tower shown are made of steel with 200x200 mm square
sides. The base of the tower is given an acceleration of 1-s duration as shown in
the figure. It is desired to calculate the displacement of the structure at t = 0.5 s.
Of course, you can model the entire structure using your analysis program. Then
apply base acceleration input and find out the displacement response curve for
entire duration. However, you will soon discover that you can solve it much
quickly using simple hand calculation and just static analysis program! Anyway,
you need to model the structure first! After all, we need to know the stiffness of
the whole structure.

When you are doing exact time history dynamic analysis, your model should
look like figure 33-2. Apply a lumped mass of (1000/10)/2 = 50 kNs2/m on the
two uppermost nodes as shown (we divide the weight 1000 kN by g = 10 m/s²
to get the mass). Note the direction of applied lumped masses because we are
interested in calculating the displacement in this direction. Next apply the base
acceleration data as shown in the figure 33-1. You may generate the data using
spreadsheet and refer the text file in your analysis program. For linear dynamic

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analysis time interval of one tenth of duration of applied force is sufficient. So,
here we use 0.1 s interval. Since we are considering the structure as SDF, only 1
mode is used in the analysis. After performing the dynamic analysis we get
from the time vs. displacement curve that the displacement at t = 0.5 s is –
7.64E-4 m.

50 kNs²/m 50 kNs²/m


Figure 33-2

Now we are going to see what we get if we perform the analysis using Duhamel
Integral. In this case, after modeling the structure, our first step is to calculate its
stiffness. For this we need to apply a force (say 1 kN) in the upper left nodal
point. Then run a static analysis and note the displacement of any of the
uppermost nodes.

Displacement ∆
1 kN

Figure 33-3

The stiffness of the entire structure is k = F/∆ = 1 kN/3.211E-5 m = 31143

kN/m. We treat the whole structure as a SDF with a lumped mass of 100 kNs²/m
and stiffness k. Let’s determine the natural frequency of the structure as ωn =

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(k/m)0.5 = (31143/100)0.5 = 17.64 rad/s. Time period Tn = 2p/ωn = 0.36 s.

Consider 5% of damping i.e. ζ = 0.05. In Duhamel integral we need to use the
term p(τ) for the applied force. But here we have ‘ground acceleration’ as input
and not the ‘force’. The relationship between the ‘force’ and ‘acceleration’ can
be related by ‘Force = - mass x acceleration’ i.e. p(τ) = - m.a(τ). So, our p(τ)
will equal -100τ2 because in this problem, the acceleration is defined as t² and
mass m = 100 kNs²/m.

The favorite Duhamel’s integral has the well-known form:

1 −ςω n ( t −τ )
u (t ) =
mϖ d ∫ p(τ )e
sin ω d (t − τ )dτ

ωd = ωn (1- ζ2)0.5 = 17.6 rad/s. So, the ultimate equation takes the form as
shown below.

− 100
τ 2 e ( −0.05)(17.64 )( 0.5−τ ) sin 17.6(0.5 − τ )dτ = −7.64 E − 4...m
100 x17.6 ∫0
u (0.5) =

After performing the numerical integration, we get the same answer as that of in
exact dynamic analysis program! However, in dynamic analysis using the
program, you will get the time vs. displacement plot over the entire duration,
wherefrom you can get the maximum displacement at once. But in case of
analysis using Duhamel’s integral, you need to perform the calculation at
several points to get the maximum response. In this particular problem, the
input excitation is defined by simple algebraic function, which makes use of
Duhamel’s integral feasible. In actual practice, the input excitation is often
defined as a set of data at some specified interval (normally at 0.02 s interval for
earthquake ground acceleration data). So, there you must use numerical
methods like what your analysis programs do.

Now probably you have a comprehensive idea of what dynamic analysis

involves. The basic steps of dynamic analyses are:

1. Model the structure as usual (you’ll have to do it yourself).

2. Define the ‘lumped masses’ (normally your duty, however some smart
programs can calculate lumped masses themselves from structure’s
dimension and sectional properties). You also need to specify a suitable
value of damping ratio.
3. Apply an input excitation (time varying ground acceleration or time varying

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4. Specify how many mode shapes you do want (generally you need same
number of mode shapes equal to the number of stories in structure, however
sometimes you may need to venture more or less number of mode shapes
depending on problem type). Normally (but not always) first three mode
shapes are sufficient for subsequent calculations. However, for multi-story
buildings, contribution of higher modes is quite significant.
5. Some programs may ask you what algorithm you want to follow – eigen-
vector or ritz-vector (more about this later).
6. Now it’s time to analyze the structure. Dynamic analysis invariably takes
more time than static analysis because it performs iteration to find out mode
shapes. After finishing it displays the natural time periods (hence frequency
therefrom) of the structure for each modes, mode shapes and time vs.
displacement (and velocity, acceleration etc.). Some programs can also
display other parameters such as base shear etc. One word of caution, the
mode shapes are ‘relative’ displacements and not the actual displacements.
7. Now it’s time to interpret the result. Generally it’s your task to find out the
stresses developed in the members due to dynamic analysis. You can do it by
noting maximum displacement and then calculating the bending moment
developed there from.

I hear and I forget... I see and I remember… I do and I understand. Aha!

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34. What dynamic analysis you should perform?

In this section, we shall discuss the ‘Response Spectra’ and ‘Time History’
dynamic analyses in detail. Of greatest interest in dynamic analysis is the
deformation of the system, or displacement of the mass relative to moving
ground, to which the internal forces are linearly related. Knowing maximum
lateral displacement of the structure would be useful in providing enough
separation between adjacent buildings to prevent their pounding against each
other during an earthquake. Moreover, total acceleration of the structure would
be needed if the structure is supporting sensitive equipment and the motion
imparted to the equipment is to be determined.

Response spectra may be defined as – a plot of the maximum response

(displacement, velocity, acceleration or any other quantity of interest) to a
specified load function for all possible single degree of freedom systems.

Once the deformation response history has been evaluated by dynamic analysis,
the internal forces can be determined by static analysis of the structure at each
time instant (discussed later).

A typical response spectra for 1940 El Centro earthquake has been shown in
figure 34-1. First we need to determine natural period Tn (or frequency f = 1/Tn
in cycles per second) of the structure. Then we’ll have to check the damping
ratio of the structure. Using this, we can directly read the maximum
displacement of the structure from the figure as shown.

One thing to note is that, you must have response spectra chart for the particular
excitation (e.g. El Centro earthquake in this case). If you need to analyze a
structure for another earthquake, you need to use response spectra for that
earthquake. It means that, someone must have prepared the response spectra
chart before you use it in your analysis. The procedure of developing response
spectra is discussed in any standard structural dynamics textbook and not
discussed here. However, you may note that considerable computational effort
is required to generate such charts. So, the modern trend is to perform full time
history analysis, which is more versatile and accurate, for structures.

If your analysis program offers time history analysis option (unfortunately

majority of analysis programs do not), there is no point of going for response
spectra method.

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By now you must have realized that the response spectra analysis is a ‘short cut’
to find out maximum response directly from the chart without performing time
history analysis.

Response spectra for elastic system for the 1940 El Centro earthquake ξ =0, 2, 5, 10, 20%

Figure 34-1

For example, assume our structure has natural frequency of 1 Hz. Also assume
10% of critical damping. From the figure 34-1, we see that the vertical arrow
(shown blue) drawn from Tn = 1 s, intersects the displacement line for 10%
damping at 3.3 inches displacement (shown green). So, the maximum relative
displacement response of our structure is 3.3 inches if it is excited by the 1940
El Centro earthquake ground acceleration. Also seen that horizontal arrow
(shown blue) extends to the pseudo velocity axis at 18.5 inch/s. Please note that
the axes are in logarithmic scale.

Since earthquake can’t be predicted, you may like to analyze your structure for
several past earthquake effects. Instead of using response spectra for each
earthquake, you can use ‘design response spectrum’, which represents a kind of
average response spectrum for design.

The non-linear response spectrum is slightly different (not discussed here).

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During dynamic analysis, the program will calculate the stiffness of the
structure internally. However, you need to supply modal damping ratio yourself.
This method is sufficiently accurate for linear structures with classical damping.
Figure 34-2 recommends damping values (Ref.5).

Stress level Type and condition of the structure Damping

ratio %
Working stress, Welded steel, pre-stressed concrete, well reinforced concrete 2-3
no more than (only slight cracking)
about ½ yield Reinforced concrete with considerable cracking 3-5
point Bolted and/or riveted steel, wood structures with nailed or 5-7
bolted joints
At or just below Welded steel, pre-stressed concrete (without complete loss in 5-7
yield point pre-stress)
Pre-stress concrete with no pre-stress left 7-10
Reinforced concrete 7-10
Bolted and/or riveted steel, wood structures with nailed or 10-15
bolted joints
Wood structures with nailed joints 15-20
Figure 34-2

Since, damping properties of the materials are still not well established; it is
quite a challenging task to determine exact damping of the structures, especially
in non-linear range. In fact, stiffness of the structure also varies with time
(Yikes!) due to deterioration of the structure. The change in stiffness is often
used for ‘retrofitting’ the structure. Determining exact stiffness and damping of
the structure is known as ‘system identification’. There are several techniques
for this purpose, but the most popular is ‘wavelet’ analysis, which has recently
attracted attention of the engineers.

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35. Non-linear analysis (NLA) – an introduction for beginners

Ultimately we come to hottest topic of structural analysis, the non-linear

analysis. Availability of powerful computers and software, more and more non-
linear analyses are being done than ever before. But what is NLA all about?
Why there is so much hype about it? Let’s the adventure starts!

Recall that the main assumption in linear analysis (LSSA), is that the stress-
strain curve is linear and deformation is small. Right? But we have to consider
NLA if any or both of the above assumptions are violated. There are mainly two
types of non-linearity. The first is ‘Material Non-linearity’ and the second is
‘Geometric Non-linearity’. We shall study them in detail.

Material Non-linearity

Consider the following three stress-strain curves of any material.

σ σ σ
Yield point

ε ε ε
(a) (b) (c)

Figure 35-1

The figure (a) shows stress-strain curve for perfectly linear material. Figure (b)
shows stress-strain curve for ‘bi-linear’ material (typical for carbon steel). The
curve is linear (slope E) up to yield point, where from it changes its slope to Et
though remain linear again. E is our familiar modulus of elasticity or Young’s
modulus. Et is known as ‘strain hardening modulus’. In the range of ‘E’ the
material remains elastic, but in the range of ‘Et’ it becomes ‘plastic’. This
material behavior is known as material non-linearity. Now consider figure (c).
Here the curve is entirely non-linear. E value changes at every point of the
curve. This is also a typical example of material non-linearity.

Now how do we incorporate material non-linearity in analysis program? The

steps are given below.

1. Divide the total load incrementally i.e. F = Σ(∆Fi)

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2. Apply load ∆Fi at each time instant.

3. Find deflection at that instant of time as ∆Di = ∆Fi/[K]i, where [K]i is global
stiffness matrix of the structure at that instant of time.
4. Find strain ε = ∆L/L. There from, find Ei as shown in figure 35-1 (c). You
will have to find ε and corresponding Ei for every member of the structure
using above equation.
5. Update each element stiffness matrix [k] using this new value of Ei.
6. Update global [K]i as [K]i+1.
7. Go to step 2 and apply load ∆Fi+1.
8. Find deflection ∆Di+1 = ∆Fi+1/[K]i+1 as in step 3 and repeat through step 6.
9. Total deflection D = Σ(∆Di).

Did you realize the labor involved in the calculation for a large structure?

Geometric Non-linearity

In conventional linear analysis, the stiffness matrix for each element (and thus
global stiffness matrix) remains constant throughout analysis. This stiffness
matrix is formed on the basis of co-ordinates of the nodes of the structure. If the
deformation of the structure is small, then co-ordinates of the deflected nodes of
the structures will not move too much from its original configuration. In that
case, stiffness matrix formed on the basis of original nodal co-ordinates and
deflected nodal co-ordinates will be almost same.

Let’s consider the truss shown in figure 35-2.

Figure 35-2

Its deflected shape will look like as shown in next figure.

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Figure 35-3

Now, the stiffness matrix [K] depends on nodal co-ordinates of nodes N1, N2,
N3 and N4 of the truss. Original geometry is shown by dotted line, solid line
shows deflected shape. Now if the co-ordinates of deflected truss be ND1, ND2,
ND3 and ND4, then we can construct another stiffness matrix [KD] from new
co-ordinates of the nodes. If the deflection is ‘large’, then [K] will not be equal
to [KD]. This is the main theory behind geometric non-linearity. If we increment
the load at each time instant and update [K] according to ‘changing’ displaced
position of the structure, then it will be a geometric non-linear analysis. So, the
main steps for geometric non-linear analysis are summarized below.

1. Divide the total load incrementally i.e. F = Σ(∆Fi)

2. Apply load ∆Fi at each time instant.
3. Compute (element and then) global stiffness matrix [K]i depending on
original configuration of the structure.
4. Find deflection ∆Di = ∆Fi/[K]i
5. Update [K] to [K]i+1 on the displaced nodes of the structure.
6. Go to step 1, update load to ∆Fi+1
7. Find deflection ∆Di+1 = ∆Fi+1/[K]i+1
8. Repeat above steps until ∆Dn = ∆Dn-1
9. Then total deflection D = Σ(∆Di).

This calculation is more demanding than material non-linearity case, since you
will have to perform the whole calculation of setting up stiffness matrix at every
step! Now imagine what will happen if you need to analyze a large complex
structure with both types of non-linearity. May I add some dynamics as well?
Hey buddy, why people learn engineering?

What are you looking for? A numerical example? Well, may be in some later
sections! But there remains one most important question – when you should
consider a deformation large enough for geometric NLA? The answer is not

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easy! Often in large deformed state, the structure may behave entirely different
manner than that of small-deformed state. This depends on particular type of
structure, loading and material properties etc. Some analysis programs have an
in-built option to warn you if deflection comes out to be more than certain
percentage (say 5%) of length of largest dimension of the structure. The %
value is by no means to be taken as an absolute in determining whether or not
displacements are large. In a very long or very tall structure, inter-story or
inter-span deflections can easily be less than 5% of the overall dimension yet
large enough to violate the small displacement assumptions. The ultimate
decision is yours!

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36. Mechanical Event Simulation

Mechanical Event Simulation (MES) is also known as ‘Virtual Prototyping’. As

the name suggests, this is a method by which you can perform a ‘virtual
experiment’. Traditional FEA programs calculate stresses usually at a single
instant of time and requires assumption about forces. That means, in linear static
stress analysis, you must input the force quantity explicitly. But MES
intrinsically calculates loads and stresses as motion takes place at each instant in
time throughout the event, facilitating a more efficient design/analysis process
since the need to estimate and specify forces is eliminated. The whole thing will
become clear if you consider an example.

Mass m

dimension L x B x d

Figure 36-1

The figure shows an experiment where a weight of ‘mg’ is dropped over a bar
of known dimension form a specific height ‘h’. We need to determine the
stresses at the bars.

In conventional LSSA, out model will be as shown in next figure.


Figure 36-2

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Look, here we need to specify the force ‘F’ explicitly. But in case of MES, all
we need to do is specify the dimension of the bar, height h and dimension and
weight of the falling object, position of the objects and the meshing the model
(as shown in fig. 36-1). When we perform MES on the model, it does a time
varying analysis at each instant. The program will display stress and motion at
each instant of time. You will see the steps like animation. Did you realize the
advantage? You actually performed a virtual experiment of a mechanical event!
The example given here may appear too simple, but imagine that this method
can be successfully employed in crash test simulation of an automobile!
However, there are a few disadvantages as well. The very simple example
described above took me 90 minutes to perform for just 1-second simulation in
a 233 MHz PII computer. So, when you make a simulation of real world
problems say, crash test simulation, it may take as much as 24 hours of
computing! No joking! Anyway, MES is highly sophisticated analysis indeed.
In fact, to use these kinds of calculations seriously, you will need a super
computer rather than a PC!

What is the theory behind MES?

In classical LSSA, we solve familiar equation F = Kd, where F = force, K =

stiffness of the structure and d = displacement. But, from Newtons 2nd law of
motion, we know, F = ma, where m = mass and a = acceleration. So, we can
write ma = Kd and this is our governing equation for MES. Later we shall see
how this equation is part of general structural dynamic equation ma + cv + kd =
F(t), where c = damping, v = velocity of body and F(t) = time varying force.

A similar method of MES is ‘Multi-physics analysis’ which involves

simultaneous analyses of a model for more than one physical effect. Some
example of multi-physics analyses are – thermal stress, fluid flow, combined
thermal and fluid flow, electricity and electro-magnetism. Let me explain in a
lucid way. Suppose you want to analyze fluid flow around an airfoil. (Sounds
whacky?) With multi-physics analysis, you can visualize pattern of fluid flow
over the surface of the airfoil in real time view. You can verify and see whether
the flow at a particular point is laminar or turbulent. The things are really mind-
boggling. A detailed analysis of these topics is beyond the scope of this book. If
you are really inclined this kind of analyses, you better try using the FEA
programs, which offer these features, for example, Algor, Adams, Ansys etc.

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37. Importing model from CAD programs

Most Windows based structural analysis programs do allow you to import

geometry from CAD packages like AutoCAD. If you find it difficult to draw
the actual structure in the analysis program, particularly 3D frame or complex
structures for finite element analysis, drawing them in AutoCAD/Mechanical
Desktop/Solid Edge/Solid works etc. are an easy alternative. Since the CAD
programs themselves are high-end drawing programs, creating the drawing in
them is always easier. But be careful! Not all analysis programs can import all
CAD object types.

“Lines” in AutoCAD are converted to frame members upon importing. “Nodes”

are automatically created at the intersections. Sometimes “Plates” (known as
“2D Solid” in AutoCAD) can also be imported. Remember to “Explode”
rectangles, poly-lines and polygons into “Lines”. After drawing the structure in
AutoCAD, be sure to “Export” it into “DXF” format. Please note that DXF files
are AutoCAD’s version specific. If your analysis program can’t read AutoCAD
R2000 DXF then you should save the AutoCAD drawing file in R14 or R13
DXF format. You can also perform reverse process that is exporting your
analysis model from your analysis program to AutoCAD DXF format.

Analysis Program AutoCAD

Frame Line
Nodes Automatically created at intersections
of elements
Plate 2D Solid / 3D Face
Shell 3D Solid

Except for simple lines, other AutoCAD entities are often treated differently by
various programs. If you are importing DXF file with plate, shell or wire frame
elements, you may find discrepancy in geometry upon importing. Therefore, it
is always better to check what AutoCAD entities your program can successfully
import. If you find your program can’t successfully import AutoCAD drawing
(DWG/DXF), then you should draw in the analysis program’s graphical
environment. Note that your analysis programs may or may not keep track of
AutoCAD’s ‘layers’ feature in imported drawing.

However, when drawing solid models, it is better to use ‘parametrically defined’

drawing programs like Mechanical Desktop, Solid Edge, Solid Works etc. In
these programs, you can modify the geometry by just changing the dimensions.

An example is given below to explain parameter-defined geometry.

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Suppose you have drawn the following drawing in AutoCAD as shown in fig.
37-1. If you change the radius of the right end circle, the drawing will look as
that of fig. 37-2. However, in parameter defined CAD programs, if you ‘tell’ the
program, that the lines will always be tangent to the circles, the drawing will be
updated automatically as shown in fig. 37-3.

Figure 37-1 Figure 37-2

Figure 37-3

Did you see the difference? This kind of relationship is very convenient for
solid object modeling. Some of the already named CAD programs have the
capability of converting 2D drawings in to 3D solid models! Wow!

A popular ‘neutral file’ format for solid models is IGES (Initial Graphics
Exchange Specification). Many CAD programs can export solid models into
this format. These files have *.IGES or *.IGS extension. This is actually a text
file. Programs write model information in the files. When you import an IGES
file, the analysis programs read that information and re-generate the model.

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38. Virtual Reality in Engineering (VRML)

Do you know what VRML stands for? Well, it’s Virtual Reality Mark-up
Language. It’s a new wonder of visual display. Fortunately, a large number of
structural analysis programs can export your model to VRML format. This file
has an extension of WRL. You can view VRML files using any standard web
browser like Internet Explorer. However, you must install first the VRML
viewer support files (normally come with your operating system CD). VRML
files can show the models in a 3D view like in actual life! You can rotate,
enlarge or even ‘walk through’ your model! You can even visualize different
materials of the structure. It’s an excellent feature to impress your clients
because you can show them what your structure will look like when it would be
built in real life. You are probably aware of ‘rendering’ feature of CAD
programs. VRML is just like that, but looks more realistic. VRML is actually a
text file. The browser reads the data in the file first and then develops the
realistic model. But here’s a warning! Finite element solid models, which
contain thousands of nodes, can result to very large VRML files. Moreover,
when you will try to open the same file using your web browser, the computer
may create staggeringly large (> 1 GB) virtual memory in your hard disk and it
will take a few minutes to display the model on screen.

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39. Linear Programming in spreadsheet

In this section, I’m going little bit off track. I’ll show you how to solve linear
programming problems using your favorite spreadsheet! Linear programming is
often required by engineers to solve certain design problem for example – in
pre-stressed concrete section design and various other ‘optimization’ problems
etc. Linear programming can be also be solved in programs like MATHCAD or
MATLAB etc., however, since these mathematical applications are not very
common in design offices, you better bet on versatile spreadsheets. Do you
know spreadsheet is the largest selling type of application in the world? The
procedure presented here are for Microsoft Excel 97, but if you any other
spreadsheet like Lotus 123 or Borland Quattro Pro you will find similar
functions in those programs as well. I assume that you are familiar with basic
spreadsheet operations. So, I’m directly going to the problem. Please make sure
that you have installed Analysis ToolPak add-in in Excel.

Consider the equation Z = 3x + 4y subjected to constraints 4x + 3y <= 80, 2x +

5y <= 180 and x => 0, y => 0. Our aim is find out the maximum value of ‘Z’
subjected to above constraints.

To solve it by Excel, follow the steps illustrated.

Step 1: Define the problem as shown in the figure 39-1, which resembles the
cells of the spreadsheet.
1 X 0
2 Y 0
3 Z =3*B1+4*B2
4 C1 =4*B1+2*B2
5 C2 =2*B1+5*B2
Figure 39-1

Note that in cell B3, the equation for Z has been input. Here cells B1 and B2
stands for variable x and y respectively. The strings in column A is for
understanding purpose only. The constraints are defined in cells B4 and B5.
You may like to note that there are two more constraints that both x and y has to
be positive number. These constraints will later be defined using B1 and B2
cells. After you do this, initially all cells in the range B1:B5 will show 0.

Step 2: Click on ‘Tools’ and then ‘Solver…’ from Excel’s menu bar. The solver
dialog box appears as shown in figure 39-2.

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Figure 39-2

Make the ‘Set Target Cell’ box to cell B3, because this cell contains the
definition of our main function Z. Now set the ‘By Changing Cells:’ to
$B$1:$B$2. You can either type the cell range yourself or you can select the
range on the worksheet by clicking the red arrows as shown in the figure. Also
make sure that the ‘Equal To:’ selection is set to ‘Max’ for this problem. When
done, click on ‘Add’ button to specify constraints. When you do so, you will see
following dialog box.

Figure 39-3

Specify the Cell Reference and Constraint (for 4x + 3y <= 80) so that the figure
look like as shown below.

Figure 39-4

In the same way specify the other three constraints namely 2x + 5y <= 180, x
=> 0, y => 0. Click OK when done. After that ‘Solver Parameters’ dialog box
should look like figure 39-5.

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Figure 39-5

Remember to use proper ‘<=’ or ‘=>’ sign while specifying constraints. If

everything seems ok, click the ‘Solve’ button. And that’s all. Excel will solve it
within seconds and dumps you another dialog box like figure 39-6.

Figure 39-6

You will of course want to retain solver solution. Now you get the solution as
shown in figure 39-7.
1 X 2.5
2 Y 35
3 Z 147.5
4 C1 80
5 C2 180
Figure 39-7

Obviously the maximum value of Z comes out to be 147.5 and for x = 2.5 and y
= 35. So, our problem is solved.


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Find the minimum value of P = a – 3b + 3c subjected to the constraints a, b, c

>= 0, 3a – b + 2c <= 7, 2a + 4b >= - 12, - 4a + 3b + 8c <= 10.
Answer is Pmin = - 28.6 for a = 6.2, b = 11.6 and c = 0.

Remember spreadsheet is a very powerful as well as useful application. Try to

exploit its full potential. Often you’ll find that spreadsheet is your best rescuer.

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40. Reinforcement detailing in continuous beams

Figure 40-1

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When students see the reinforcement bar arrangements in building codes, they
normally have a hard time digesting it. This is because; detailing is often shown
in single color, which makes it difficult to follow. Figure 40-1 shows detailing
arrangement for a continuous beam as per IS456-1978 and SP34. Note that only
the bending reinforcement is shown. You must provide shear reinforcement
with vertical stirrups as well. Reinforcement arrangement generally follows
bending moment pattern in the beam. If interested, you can model the beam as
2D FEM (as discussed in Section 23) to visualize what are the highest zones of
stresses. Building codes specify lots of guidelines in ‘terse’ languages!
Unfortunately, detailing in most analysis programs is often unreliable. This is
mainly because, unlike analysis, design is subjective. Many codes allow the
engineers to use their ‘judgment’ in detailing. In fact, detailing is a subject
itself. A good designer must not finish his duty only after analysis, he should
prepare the accurate detailing as well let alone the drawing too if possible. The
general trend in design offices is that the detailing is done by the draftsman
rather than the engineer who performs the analysis. This often creates a
‘communication gap’, which is undesirable. Remember, if detailing is wrong,
then all the result of a good analysis will go astray! Traditionally, the detailing
drawing is drawn in monochrome (single) color. However, because of
availability of low cost color printing, the printing cost has been drastically
reduced in recent times. So, whenever possible, use colors in your drawings. It
will make the whole thing much clearer to everybody. The world around us is
colorful, why not your drawings?

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41. A guide to some Structural Engineering & Finite Element

Analysis Programs

I have discussed my personal views about the programs. You should test them
yourself, before deciding which program will serve your purpose best. Actual
prices may vary.

We shall divide the programs in two main groups – Civil Engineering and
Mechanical Engineering analysis programs. You must differentiate between
them first. A typical civil/structural-engineering program offers beam and truss
elements and sometimes plate/shell elements as well. It also often offers design
features (concrete/steel/aluminum/wood) for slabs, beams, columns, trusses,
footings, base plates etc. according to various country codes. It may include
both static and dynamic analysis. In contrasts, a typical mechanical engineering
analysis program contains a large number of element types for solid modeling.
This includes brick, tetrahedral etc. elements. In addition, it also includes all the
elements used in civil engineering analysis i.e. beams, plates etc. In fact,
mechanical engineering programs use finite element analysis in true sense.
These programs’ features include static, dynamic, thermal, multi-
physics/mechanical event simulation/virtual prototyping etc. Mechanical
engineering analysis programs are normally far more expensive than pure civil
engineering analysis programs. Since, mechanical programs offer versatile finite
element library, it is possible to solve all types of civil engineering structural
analysis problems using these programs. However, there are drawbacks as well.
Mechanical engineering programs do not offer concrete design facility
according to country codes. They mainly concentrate on solid model analysis
e.g. machine parts, rather than pure frame structures. Also, their output for
frame structures is generally much less varied compared to pure civil
engineering structures. So, for day to day building or industrial structure
analysis, it is much better to use civil engineering analysis programs. Although
some developers offer product for both civil and mechanical engineering
analysis, they generally contain separate modules for specific type of analyses.

I only described a brief description of the most used programs only. Note that I
didn’t have the opportunity to use all the programs myself. This is because not
all developers offer demo/trial version of their programs. The programs, which I
have used, I presented the features available, ease of use, reliability etc. For
other programs, I wrote the descriptions from product literature. I again tell you
that my personal views about the programs may differ a lot from your views.
So, judge them yourself before buying.

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Civil Engineering programs

Program name: Visual Analysis, Visual Design, Visual Tools etc.

Developer: Integrated Engineering Software
Description: 3D frame and 2D plate, P-delta analysis, response spectra dynamic
analysis, concrete/steel/wood/aluminum design as per US codes.
Price: USD 700 – 1,500 (Student version USD 50 only!)
Demo: 30-day trial full version CD available
My comment: An excellent program for frame and plate analysis. Simple to use
and very user-friendly. Student version has no node or member size limitation!
Has excellent customer support.

Program name: SAP2000 Standard/Plus/Non-linear

Developer: Computer and Structures Inc.
Description (for non-linear version): Static, Dynamic Response Spectrum, Time
History, Bridge and Dynamic Nonlinear Time History Analysis with frame,
shell, solid, asolid and non-linear link (as external Damping, Base Isolators, Gap
and Hook) elements. Concrete and steel design as per ACI, AASTHO,
Canadian, British and Euro codes. Its predecessor SAP90 is still used for
educational purposes.
Price: USD 5,000 – 7,000
Demo: 30-node demo CD available
My comment: Good overall general-purpose static/dynamic structural analysis
program. Easy to use. However, non-linear analysis options are difficult to
comprehend. Also, solid elements can’t be drawn graphically.

Program name: Spacegass

Developer: Integrated Technical Software
Description: Frame analysis only – beam, truss, grillage and cable etc., non-
linear dynamic and concrete/steel design. Supports Australian, British, Euro and
US code.
Price: USD 1,000
Demo: 30-day full version copy can be downloaded from net. File size 6 MB.
My comment: Good program for frame analysis. However, graphics should
have been better. It shows different sections in various colors, which makes
geometry creation easier. Some dialog boxes offer too many options. Data can
be entered conveniently by on screen as well as using spreadsheet like format.
However, there is no plate element and time history dynamic analysis is not

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Program name: RISA

Developer: Risa Technology
Description: 3D-frame and 2D-plate analysis program.
Price: Not known
Demo: 150-node 150-member demo can be downloaded from net. File size
around 6 MB including tutorial.
My comment: Graphics should be better.

Program name: STAAD Pro/ Fabricad/ FEMkit etc.

Developer: Research Engineers Inc. (recently re-named as Netguru Inc.)
Description: Frame and finite element analysis, dynamic and non-linear
analysis, design of piles, retaining wall, bolt groups, pre-stress concrete, as per
US, Indian, Canadian, Japanese, Chinese, European etc. codes.
Price: USD 5,000 – 6,000/ INR 75,000 – 150,000
Demo: 6-member demo CD available.
My comment: Overloaded with many features but I found quite difficult to use.
Program’s help files are not very comprehensive. Demo version is ridiculously
limited to do anything good.

Program name: STRAP

Developer: ATIR
Description: 3D-frame and plate/shell static/dynamic analysis program.
Concrete and steel design according to European, Indian, Canadian, British and
US code. Separate bridge and foundation design modules are available.
Price: USD 4,000 – 4,500/ INR 75,000 – 150,000 (full capacity student version
INR 25,000)
Demo: 12-node demo CD available.
My comment: Interface is somewhat complex. Its model wizard can generate
various types of structures easily. Design feature is quite good. Due to node size
limitation, I couldn’t test it extensively.

Program name: GT-STRUDL

Developer: Georgia Institute of Technology
Description: 3D frame, plate, non-linear dynamic, finite element analysis etc.
Price: USD 2,000 – 12,500/ INR 60,000 – 80,000
Demo: 50-node 200-member Student version CD available
My comment: Somewhat complicated to use.

Program name: SAFI 2D/3D/TOWER/BRIDGE etc.

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Developer: SAFI
Description: Frame, plate/shell linear/non-linear static and dynamic analysis.
Price: Not known
Demo: 50-node 50-member demo can be downloaded from web site.
My comment: I didn’t use it.

Program name: Robot

Developer: Integrated Structural Software
Description: Frame, truss, cable, plate, shell, grillage non-linear static/dynamic
analysis, concrete/steel design.
Price: Not known
Demo: 25-member demo CD available.
My comment: I didn’t use it.

Program name: AxisVM

Developer: Inter CAD
Description: Performs static, vibration and buckling analysis on any
combination of truss, beam, rib, membrane, plate, and shell 3D structures, gap
and spring elements for nonlinear support modeling. Supports Eurocode.
Price: USD 800 – 2,000
Demo: 30-beam/truss, 100-surface element version can be downloaded from the
net. File size around 5 MB.
My comment: Graphics is good, but has too many dialog boxes for model
creation. Some common commands are difficult to find.

Program name: ETABS

Developer: Computers and Structures Inc.
Description: Specific program for building frame analysis. Similar to SAP2000
in features – static & dynamic analyses – automatic load distribution to
members, steel, concrete design and optimization, non-linear pushover analysis,
US and Euro codes.
Price: Not known
Demo: Not offered
My comment: User friendliness is similar to that of SAP2000. Unless your
design job involves only multistory building frames, it is better to use SAP2000,
which is more versatile.

Program name: Diana

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Developer: Diana Analysis bv

Description: finite element analysis – static/dynamic, soil/concrete, solid
modeling, pre-stress, mobile loads, modeling of embedded reinforcement in
concrete, bridge, dam, offshore structure design. Various separate
design/analysis modules are available. Available on Unix as well.
Price: Not known
Demo: Not offered
My comment: I didn’t use it.

Mechanical Engineering programs

Program name: FEMAP

Developer: Enterprise Software Products Inc., Structural Dynamic Research
Description: Finite element pre and post processor only. Does not analyze
anything by itself.
Price: USD 3,500 – 5,000
Demo: 300-node demo CD available (30-day trial full version available in North
America only) with m-tab ( stress for analysis.
My comment: Draws models, creates mesh and import/export models from/to
20 different finite element analysis programs’ formats. Has many advanced
options but difficult to use. Sometimes cannot translate models successfully to
some specific formats. FEMAP is sometimes bundled with other finite element
analysis programs.

Program name: NISA

Developer: Engineering Mechanics Research Corporation
Description: Finite element analysis
Price: Not known
Demo: Available from net, but not clear what file to download.
My comment: I didn’t use it.

Program name: ALGOR

Developer: Algor Inc.
Description: Linear and non-linear static and dynamic finite element stress
analysis with motion for physics based mechanical event simulation/virtual

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prototyping. Incorporates beam, truss, plate, 2D, membrane, brick, contact, gap,
laminar, composite, sandwich, tetrahedral etc. elements. Can import model from
varieties of CAD programs. Separate modules are available for CAD
integration, heat, electricity, fluid flow, pipe stress etc. analysis.
Price: USD 2,000 – 18,000
Demo: 30-day trial full version CD available.
My comment: Very powerful programs containing lots of features, but advanced
options are difficult to use without training. Good buy if you analyze complex
finite element models often. To use this program to its full extent, you should
have good knowledge of finite element theory.

Program name: Cosmos/Design Star/Geo Star/N Star etc.

Developer: Structural Research & Analysis Corp.
Description: Analyzes solid by finite element method; linear stress analysis,
dynamic analysis, buckling, heat transfer, can import model from a variety of
CAD programs. Separate modules are available for non-linear static/dynamic
analysis, fatigue, optimization, fluid flow and electro-magnetism.
Price: USD 5,000 – 20,000
Demo: 30-day trial program can be downloaded from net. File size 55 MB. Trial
CD also available.
My comment: Excellent FEA program. Easy to use. Uses special Fast FE solver,
which is many times faster than common FEA solver. Can’t create model by
itself (GeoStar is required to create models, Nstar for non-linear analysis), but
can import model from a variety of CAD programs. Graphics is also very good.
Help system is comprehensive. However, Design Star analyzes 3D solid models
only and does not have beam/truss elements.

Program name: ABAQUS

Developer: HKS
Description: Non-linear/dynamic finite element analysis for mechanical, civil,
structural, biomedical etc. Various other modules are available for wave
propagation, heat, offshore design, CAD/CAE integration.
Price: Not known
Demo: Not offered.
My comment: I didn’t use it.

Program name: Ansys

Developer: Ansys

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Description: Finite element analysis. Various other separate analysis/design

modules are available for structural, mechanical, multi-physics, thermal, fluid
flow, acoustic, electro-magnetism etc.
Price: Not known
Demo: Not offered.
My comment: I didn’t use it.

Program name: ADAMS

Developer: Mechanical Dynamics Inc.
Description: Analysis and virtual prototyping (mechanical event simulation) of
mechanical systems. Separate modules are available for linear, car, engine, tyre,
rail, hydraulics, mechanism etc.
Price: Not known
Demo: Not offered.
My comment: Finite element application for mechanical engineering. Versatile
program but complex. To use this program to its full extent, you should have
good knowledge of mechanics and finite element theory. With Adams, you can
create a whole model of virtually anything – a sports car to a railway
locomotive with all engineering details and they you can analyze it! You can
even simulate it! It’s a really wonderful program! Like a video game, you can
drive a car here and can refine analysis at every stage! Besides this, Adams has
all other features of a typical FEA program. These programs will drive you

Program name: Nastran

Developer: Macro Industries/NASA
Description: Finite element analysis of frame, plate, shell, solid, shear panel,
fluid etc.
Price: USD 2,750
Demo: Version 1.0 is available for downloading. File size 12 MB.
My comment: I didn’t use it.

Program name: Patran

Developer: Mechanical Solutions
Description: Finite element analyses, can read/write to various other FEA
programs’ formats, various modules are available separately.
Price: Not known
Demo: Not offered.
My comment: I didn’t use it.

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Program name: Adina

Developer: Adina R & D Inc.
Description: Finite element analysis of solid, fluid flow etc.
Price: Not known
Demo: Not offered
My comment: I didn’t use it.

Program name: I-DEAS

Developer: Structural Dynamics Research Corporation
Description: Integrated CAD/CAM/CAE Finite element analysis. Mechanical
event simulation – virtual prototyping etc.
Price: Not known
Demo: Not offered
My comment: I didn’t use it.

Program name: JL Analyzer

Developer: AutoFEA Inc.
Description: Static, buckling, frequency, dynamic, spectrum, thermal, electric,
seepage and nonlinear static FE analyses.
Price: USD 285 – 5,000 (depending on node capacity)
Demo: 300-node demo can be downloaded from net.
My comment: Complicated to use.

Some CAD programs…

Some developers provide feature-limited demo. See their web site for details.

Program name: AutoCAD/ Mechanical Desktop


Program name: Solid Edge


Program name: Solid Works


Program name: Cadkey


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Program name: Turbo CAD


Prices in INR are shown only for those companies, which have dealer/
representative in India and you can buy the product in Indian currency. Some
companies sell their full capacity student version at reduced cost, but that
version cannot be used commercially. Some developers do offer university
license at very nominal cost.

A useful point on downloading large files from the Internet. Use a download
utility program such as Go!Zilla ( or something else, which
can resume broken download from where it left. Also, it can be set to disconnect
from Internet automatically after downloading is complete.

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42. How to select the most appropriate program for your need?

Here are some simple points to check before buying the program.

How easy is the program? How quickly you can create and analyze a model
using the program after installing? Use the sample problems in this book and
see how quickly you can analyze the structures with your programs.

Try reading the programs’ manuals at first. See if you can analyze models
successfully by just reading the example problems rather than by getting help
from the developers.

How good is the interface? Does the program follow standard Windows
conventions? For example, pressing F1 should bring context sensitive help and
Ctrl+O should show Open File… dialog box.

How good is the visualization? Does the model look similar to actual structure?
Does it offer dynamic viewing? Can it show the model in VRML format?

Can it generate complex models automatically? For example, to generate a

10x10 bays 20-story building, the program should draw the model by itself. Can
it create finite element mesh automatically? Can you control the size of mesh

Before buying a program decide what features you do really need. There is no
justification of buying a high-end ‘feature overloaded’ expensive finite element
analysis program if your main purpose is building-frame analysis. Such
programs are generally much less expensive. In general, most civil
engineering design firms do not need high-performance FEA programs.
Only a frame analysis program will serve the purpose in most of the cases.
FEA is still mainly used in mechanical engineering.

Does the program is ‘forgiving’? Can it check model for instability or buckling
by itself? Does it allow ‘snapping’ members to intersection or end points?

How good is the program’s post processing capability? Can it show force
diagrams for any individual member? Can you clearly see the reaction forces in
the result? Can it display bending moment or shear force values in the
respective diagram?

How about printing through the program? Will it allow you to change paper
size, margin etc. before printing?

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What about generating report of analysis? Does it have the option of displaying
tailor made report specific to project requirement or it just dumps 100 pages of
numbers without telling you what to do with them?

Check if your program is compatible with other programs in the market. Many
programs allow copy-paste option with spreadsheet programs. Some offer cross
platform (i.e. different operating system) compatibility. Check if the program
can import/export models from/to CAD or other analysis programs.

Next comes the design part. Some programs do not offer design capability
according to your country code. This may dictate you to choose an inferior
program just for the sake of design calculation. Unlike analysis, design is not
something impossible to do manually. Sometimes, it is possible to ‘tailor made’
other codes according to your country codes. For example, in reinforced
concrete design, Euro code and Indian code give almost identical values of steel
area. You can use one code instead of other without much loss of accuracy. So,
the choice is yours.

An important point – how good is the customer support? Some companies may
offer free technical support by phone/e-mail. Others may insist on annual
maintenance contact (and demands a hefty sum for it). But to use high-end FEA
programs, you really need developers support. There will be many situations
when you will require technical support to know what a particular command
does or whether the program does a particular calculation automatically etc.

Lastly, what is your budget? Can you afford buying the program what impresses
you most? Some finite element analysis programs are very fascinating but their
prices often make them affordable by large corporate firms only.

Ask the vendors whether they offer free demo. Some generous companies may
offer 30-day full product trial. However, most companies offer limited
capability (e.g. 100-node maximum) demos. These limited demos may hide the
programs actual performance from you. You may not realize certain pitfalls of
the program unless you use full product for sometime. Therefore, try to select
your program from those, which offer full-product tryouts. Sometimes even the
low cost commercial versions of the programs do have node or member size
limitation (e.g. 1500 nodes maximum for SAP2000 Standard version)!

Many structural analysis programs nowadays come with hardware locks

(hasp/dongle) as copy protection. It means that if you want to use the programs
in more than one computer, you need to pay more! Although it may be against
the law to copy the program into another computer, I don’t find it wrong to

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make another copy in your laptop computer. But copy protection will prevent
you even doing that. Remember this while selecting your program.

Since these programs are quite expensive it does not make sense to change your
analysis programs frequently. More so, new programs may not open or analyze
your existing old projects. So, when you will select programs, you have keep in
mind that you must use it continuously for a couple of years at least. Ask the
developers how they like to upgrade their products in the near future.

My main aim is to make you realize that you must try the programs first before
making a final decision on purchase. Every company will boast that their
products are the best. They will swamp you with pictures of structures designed
using their programs! Very few companies offer you a money back guarantee
with first few weeks of purchase. Therefore, it is not an easy task to choose the
most suitable product for your need. But if you follow the above guidelines you
may by a gainer.

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43. How to check the result for accuracy?

Before performing an analysis, check carefully all input data. Verify loads are
in the directions you intended. Make sure co-ordinate directions as per you
specified. Check the member properties and end releases. Verify that you have
the correct support conditions. Take a look at the real time view (if this feature
is available in your program) of the structure and visually observe member sizes
and locations. Are they correct? You might also use spreadsheet like input
reports to make sure no information have missed.

When you obtain analysis results from analysis programs, you should perform
some simple checks to verify that the results are valid. First of all, look at the
deformed shapes that are presented to you. Do they make sense based on the
loading and structure?

Secondly, look at the magnitude of the largest displacement shown. Is it large?

(Generally, the displaced shape is automatically scaled suitably so that you can
see it!) If displacements are too large, the basic assumption of small
displacement is violated and results must be questioned. In that case you should
perform geometrically non-linear analysis.

Third, look at the member internal forces and stress levels reported in the
highest stressed members (beam/shell etc.) elements. Do these stresses yield,
crack, or fail or buckle the material? Again if they do, the response is violating
the basic assumption of linear-elastic material behavior.

As a fourth check, look for static check. If your loads are correct, yet reactions
do not balance, check for nearly unstable structures. If you have poor geometry
or very flexible members in critical areas, the structure may collapse due to

Finally use your engineering judgment. If something seems wrong, investigate

it carefully. Convince yourself that the results are correct before continuing.
Recall that “With good engineering judgment you can produce on the back of an
envelop that which otherwise cannot be produced with a ton of computer

If you think you have found an error in the program, contact the program
developers immediately for clarification.

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44. File name extension guide (for some CAD/CAE programs)

Extension Description
ANS Ansys input
ASM Mechanical Desktop/Solid Edge assembly
CDL Cadkey wire frame model
DAT Nastran input
DFT Solid Edge draft
DGXASM Cosmos Design Star Assembly
DGXPRT Cosmos Design Star Part
DWG AutoCAD drawing /Mechanical Desktop model
DXF AutoCAD drawing interchange
ESD Algor input
IGS IGES solid model
INP Abaquas input
MOD Femap input
NAS Nastran input
NEU Patran input
NIS NISA input
PAR Solid Edge part model
PRT Solid Works model
SAT AutoCAD objects representing trimmed NURB surfaces, regions,
and solids to an ACIS file in ASCII (SAT) format. Other objects,
such as lines and arcs, are ignored.
SDB SAP2000 input
SG Spacegass input
SLDPRT Solid Works
STL Stereolithograph Apparatus (SLA) format, in which the solid data
is transferred as a faceted mesh representation consisting of a set
of triangles
STP STEP model
VAP Visual Analysis project
X_T Parasolid

Note: during runtime, programs create various files with different file name
extensions. If you delete those files, you may not view result without analyzing
the model again.
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45. Common error messages and solutions

Operating system related

1. Not enough memory for calculation/initialization of graphics...

May be misleading message sometimes. Check the program in another

computer with same amount of memory (preferably with same hardware
configuration as well). If the program runs successfully there, try reinstalling the
program in your computer. Rarely, the program may demand better quality
graphics card. (This is more common in computer games rather than structural
analysis programs, though!) If all fails, stuff some more RAM into your
computer and see what happens. If you're lucky everything will go ok, if not
contact the program vendor. Sometimes, simply changing your color setting
from 256 to 16/24-bit color works!

2. This program has preformed an illegal operation and will be shut down. If
the problem persists, contact the program vendor.

This is a common error message for all Windows programs. It can be rectified
by just rebooting the machine in most cases. However, if you continue to get the
message every time, something is definitely wrong. Contact the developers.

3. This program is set to run in DOS mode. All other programs will shut
down if you proceed. Continue?

Some analysis programs are made in such cumbersome manner, that they
incorporate some Windows programs and some DOS programs. I am not sure
why this happen. It may be due to operating system problem rather than that of
your analysis program. Try reinstalling the program. If it's of no use, then I am
afraid that you may need to reformat your hard disk and load all from scratch. I
myself faced this very situation while installing Algor for the first time. After
erasing everything from my hard disk, and then refilling all, I was finally to run
the program.

4. A program was running fine in last week, but to my surprise, it refuses to

run now.

The possibilities of this cause are endless. Did the problem start after installing
any new application? Then uninstalling that application might help. There may

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be some jumbled DLL and OCX files. My SAP2000 refused to show dynamic
analysis result after I loaded GT-STRUDL. Ultimately I discovered that an
OCX file required by SAP2000 was overwritten by STRUDL with backdated
version. After restoring that file, both were happy again.

Analysis program related

Analysis programs, which display the specific error message, are shown within
bracket. “Common” means many analysis programs show this

1. The structure is unstable (common)

You must specify proper boundary conditions, so that the structure does prevent
rigid body motion. That means the global stiffness matrix must not be singular.
Also see (8).

2. Your model may not be tied down (Algor)

Same as above. However, some FEA programs can still continue solving the
problem and ultimately you may get result with no force or stress at all. Quite

3. Load case "X" has no load (common)

Some programs will not accept any load case that has no loading specified.
Remove that load case or apply some load in that load case.

4. I have analyzed the structure successfully. But it shows all zero

forces/stress in the result (common)

The resulting forces/stress might be too small. Try changing the units, for
example, from kN-m to N-mm and see if you find any value now. Also see (2).

5. Zero stiffness found during assembly for DOF Ry of joint 5 (SAP)

It means that the joint has no stiffness in that direction. It should be connected
to at least one member or support without releases.
6. Excessive loss of accuracy during the solution of equations – the structure
is unstable of ill-conditioned (also Lost 6.4 digits of accuracy) (SAP)

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Equation solutions in most analysis programs are done in double precision

arithmetic. This allows for 15 significant digits to be carried in the calculation.
An internal check estimates the number of digits of accuracy lost during the
reduction of each degree of freedom. A warning is issued when the loss is
estimated to be above 6 digits and the degree of freedom is listed when this
occurs. Users should check the displacements, reactions and global equilibrium
balances to assure that the digit loss has not unacceptably degraded the results.
When the program detects over 11 digits accuracy loss it stops further
processing as the results are suspect. You should check for global instability and
local instability at or around the degree of freedom reported. See also (13).

7. Rigid body motion is not prevented in Z direction (common)

Somewhat similar to (1) and (2). There is no boundary condition specified to

prevent rigid body displacement (translational or rotational) to Z direction.
Specify a suitable constraint in that direction.

8. The structure is internally unstable (common)

A really annoying situation! Your structure has become a mechanism. So, any
load will make it fail (collapse). This is where you need to use your engineering
judgement. Add or remove some members until it becomes a stable structure.
You will have to perform some trial and error. This problem mainly occurs in
complex trusses.

9. I have applied loads on the model, but I can’t see the loads (common)

Look if there is any load ‘toggle’ menu. Some programs treat nodal load and
surface/pressure loads differently. You may need to specify surface/pressure
loads by some separate command. Sometimes there may be a pressure load
‘multiplier’. Make sure that it is not set to zero.

10. A smoothed stress tensor may not be meaningful for this model (Algor)

Stress values like σx, σy, τxy etc. is not meaningful for particular analysis
result. It is not so much that a smoothed tensor may not be accurate for a model,
but rather that with some element types and element generation methods, the
tensor may not provide meaningful results, i.e. a random mesh on a composite
element type.

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11. I see that my program does not have plate and shell elements separately

Some programs only have ‘shell’ element. In that case, ‘plate’ is considered a
special type of shell element (e.g. SAP2000). In some other programs, only
plate element is offered and shell is considered a type of ‘plate’ element (e.g.
Algor). However, there are many programs (e.g. Visual Analysis, Risa etc.)
which offer only ‘plate’ element, which can’t be used for shell analysis.

12. I can’t convert/export my model from one FEA format to another.

Exporting or converting your model from one analysis program’s format to

another’s is always bad. Except for very simple models, it often leads to loss of
data and thus unsuccessful translation. I strongly discourage you to exporting
whole FEA model data in this way. However, if you still want to do that, check
the following points:

• Have you defined the mesh? Most programs can’t export to another FEA
format unless you create the mesh.
• Be careful about the units used in both programs.
• If full model (i.e. with mesh, boundary conditions, loads etc.) export does
not work, then try exporting the model with mesh only.
• Upon importing the model in desired program, check the model carefully.
• Suppose you are exporting the model from program ‘A’ to ‘B’s format and
you will open it using another program ‘C’. Then make sure ‘C’ can also
‘read’ that ‘version’ of ‘B’s data!

13. The structure is ill-conditioned (common)

Ill-conditioning commonly occurs when frames contain members of widely

varying stiffness. When a very stiff member is connected to a very flexible
member and their stiffness matrices are assembled into the structure stiffness
matrix, some of the stiffness terms of the flexible member can be completely
lost due to their insignificance in comparison with the stiffness terms of the stiff
member. Hence, the flexible member is not completely represented and ill
conditioning occurs. If after the analysis, the sum of the reactions equals the
sum of the applied loads then it can be assumed that the frame is well

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46. References

1. Schaum’s Outline of Theory and Problems of Reinforced Concrete Design,

3rd edition, by Noel J. Everard, McGraw Hill
2. Finite Element Analysis: Theory and Programming, by Krishnamoorthy,
Tata McGraw Hill
3. Concept and Application of Finite Element Method, by Cook, Malkus,
Plesha, John Willey & Sons.
4. Schaum outline series of Finite Element, by Buchanan, McGraw Hill
5. Dynamics of Structures, by Chopra, Prentice Hall
6. Users’ Guide, Visual Analysis 3.5, IES
7. Users’ Guide, SAP2000, CSI
8. Algor R12 information brochures, tutorials and newsletters, Algor Inc.
9. Reinforced Concrete Design Vol 1 & 2, by Punmia, Laxmi Publication
10. Basic Structural Analysis, 2nd edition, by Reddy, Tata McGraw Hill
11. Shell Analysis, by Bairagi, Khanna Publisher
12. Users’ Guide, Femap
13. Users’ Guide, Strap
14. User’s Guide, Strudl
15. User’s Guide, Cosmos/Design Star, SRAC
16. Structural Dynamics, by M. Paz, E & FN Spons.
17. Elements of Structural Dynamics, by Glen Berg, Prentice Hall
18. Users’ Guide, Spacegass

The above list is not exhaustive. There are many other better books available.
You can find online reviews of a good number of books at

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