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Design of joints, members and hybrid elements for glass structures

Frank Wellershoff
Institute of Steel
RWTH Aachen, Germany

Gerhard Sedlacek
Professor Dr.-Ing.
Institute of Steel
RWTH Aachen, Germany

Ruth Kasper
Institute of Steel
RWTH Aachen, Germany

- born 1967
- received his civil engineering
degree 1994 (Univ. of
- engineer in the consulting
office CSK (Bochum) 1994
- since 1997 scientific assistant
at RWTH Aachen
- research fields: Wind
engineering; Structural use of
glass in building

- born 1939
- received his civil engineering
degree 1964 (Univ. of
- doctorate degree 1967 (TU
- leading engineer for MAN
Gustavsburg and Krupp
(bridge building)
-1976 Professor for steel
construction (RWTH Aachen)
- foudation of the consulting
office PSP 1990

- born 1974
- received his civil engineering
degree 2000 (RWTH Aachen)
- since 2000 scientific assistant
at RWTH Aachen
- research fields: Structural use
of glass in building

The use of point supported or bearing type connected glass panes is no longer an exception in
representative buildings and the number of engineers calculating these systems increases fast. To
enable an efficient and safe design the FE-methods used are verified with test series with a large
number of different support systems. Glued connections are theoretically perfect for glass elements.
To enable the development of those connections the deformation behaviour of suitable adhesives
and calculation methods are analysed. When load bearing functions are intended glass panes can be
used as columns, beams, bracing elements or as members in hybrid elements. With larger in pane
loads the stability of these slender elements becomes relevant. For future codes the investigation of
the stability of these systems is currently one mayor research field.
Keywords: point fixing; bearing type connection; glued connection; glass beam; glass column;
bracing elements; hybrid elements

1. Introduction
The most common and standard use of glass in building is for uniformly distributed loads on each
glass plate and linear supports along the four edges. The stresses follow from the analytical
solutions of the plate-theory. A first step with rising complexity was reached by glued supports in
structural glazing facades. With different silicone types the weather sealant and the bearing
resistance for negative wind loads were realised. A further step with more complexity was reached
by introducing point supports. In high transparent point supported facades every plate still carries
its own load without any interaction between the glass plates. For these facades the engineer has to
calculate and to control the stress concentrations at the drilled hole. The latest step of design
evolution are load bearing glass elements like columns, beams or shear elements. Actual research
programs are focused on design rules for those elements and their joints.

2. Joints

Point supports

2.1.1 Objective
Point fixings possess different geometries and materials to avoid contact between glass and steel.
The geometry of the hole can be cylindrical or conical (figure 1). Beside the general static system
all these parameters have an influence on the stress concentration at the glass holes caused by
loading. For design purpose FE-methods are used to detect the maximum stress near the hole. The

results of these calculations are highly influenced by FEM-parameters like mesh size, element type
and the youngs modulus of the interlayer materials. To enable an efficient and safe design the
influences of the point fixing type on the stress distribution are analysed and proposals are made
how FEM methods can be calibrated to achieve reliable results.

Fig 1:Types of point fixings

2.1.2 Test series
To investigate the stress concentration near the glass hole a lot of detail tests were performed.
Rectangular glass plates (400 x 400 mm) were linearly supported at all four edges in a steel frame.
The jack load was applied by a point support in the middle of the glass plate. By rotating the steel
frame different load angles could be adjusted. Strain gauges were applied on the glass surface near
the drilled hole. The force-strain relations were then measured with different point support systems
to evaluate the influence of parameters like the diameter of the point support, the shape of the
drilled hole (cylinder or cones), the position of hinges etc. These test data are available for
calibration purpose [1].

Fig 2: point supports / test set up

Table 1: Data Sheet with stress-straincharacteristic for the loading direction of 0

Load F = 2500 kN
Eccentricity e = 0 mm
E-Modulus bush
E = 350 N/mm
E-Modulus elastomer
ring E = 25 N/mm
principal stresses [N/mm]



path 1

Distance of the axis of the hole [mm]


path 25

strain [mm/m]





Distance of the axis of the hole [mm]


2.1.3 Influence of point fixing geometry

The tests described above have shown that for cylindrical drilled holes the maximum stress of a
fixing type with a 80 mm diameter covering plate is up to 40% less than for a fixing type with a 50
mm diameter covering plate.
With the same fixing type the maximum stress is almost not influenced by the diameter of a
cylindrical drilled hole.
For conical drilled holes the maximum stress in the cone differs up to 16% depending on the shape
of the cone.
2.1.4 Verified test data concept
Finite-element-models can be calibrated to test data for each point fixing. In the first step the detail
tests are calculated and the FE-Model is modified until the calculated and the measured strains
correlate with little deviations. In the second step elements may be added at the edges of the
verified point support area to comply with the need of the actual pane to be verified.
2.1.5 Hot spot method
Another idea to deal with the problem of stress concentrations at point supports is to treat point
supports in a similar way as for fatigue verifications of welded connections. When using the hot
spot method the designer calculates the maximum stress in a safe distance to the drilled hole.
Safe means that the influence of the type of the point support and of the finite-element-program,
the element type and the element mesh is small. The maximum peak stress is then calculated with a

simple magnification factor. The problem is to determine this factor.

2.2 Bearing type connections
One solution for introducing higher in pane loads are bearing type connections. Different interlayer
materials can prevent a direct contact between the steel bolt and the glass hole. These connections
have three mayor aspects.
A drilling process from two sides leaves a small sharp edge in the middle part of the cylindrical
glass hole. Harder interlayer materials as e.g. aluminium lead to stress peaks at this point and are
not suitable for this connection-type. Therefore softer interlayer materials like POM or PEEK are
used in single pane applications.
In multilayer glass elements the holes are not congruent. Therefore mortar systems like Hilti Hit
HY-50 or Epple-Easy 5610 are used.
The third major aspect is the eccentricity of the load. Tests with perfectly centric loads and
controlled eccentricities were performed [1].

Fig 3: bearing type connections / test set up

2.3 Glued connections
In structural sealant glazing facades the bearing for the wind load is realised with glued connections
between the glass elements and the faade profiles. For these applications only silicone adhesives
are allowed today [2].
To transfer higher in pane loads stiffer adhesives are necessary. For the design of glued connections
for transient and persistent loads in facades the following aspects have to be considered.
The bearing capacity of glued connections is defined by the resistance to adhesive forces (forces
between the surface of materials and adhesives), the resistant to cohesive forces (forces inside the
adhesive) and the stiffness of the adhesive. These parameters change during the application time
under various environmental conditions. Glued connections are therefore tested after aging (storing
with high humidity and UV-radiation, etc.) in tensional tests and shear tests with different stress
rates [3].

max. adhesive temperature [C]

Fig 5: shear tests for glued connections

For the design of adhesives in facades temperatures from 20C up to 80C have to be considered
in Mid-Europe. The stiffness of suitable adhesives like polyurethanes or acrylates varies under these
temperatures extremely. The negative correlation of the material temperature and the wind speed
could be considered in design rules for applications with wind as the major load. [4]

3 Tage
10 Tage
50 Tage
100 Tage
300 Tage
500 Tage
700 Tage
1000 Tage
1400 Tage
1700 Tage


0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1

relative gust wind load q/qmax [-]

Fig 6: expected correlation of wind speed and adhesive temperature in 100 years in Germany

3. Glass Members
3.1 Columns
The steel grid roof of the glass pavilion in Rheinbach is carried only by glass columns and glass
walls and the residual strength is guarantied by multilayer glass panes and by coping with damage
scenarios with totally broken columns for design [5].

Fig 7: Glass Pavilion, Rheinbach

The buckling of glass columns is being investigated in recent research programs [6] [7].

Fig. 8: test set up / buckling of glass columns

For the design of glass columns two different design concepts are considered today. Both differ
from the design concept for steel columns because the failure of steel columns is caused by
exceeding the maximum pressure strength of the steel and the failure of glass columns is caused by
exceeding the maximum tensile strength of the glass.
3.1.1 Buckling curve method
The buckling curve is related to the geometric slenderness of the column and the bending strength
of the glass type. The buckling strength takes care for all imperfections (glass thickness, initial
deformation). For columns with low slenderness the buckling strength exceeds the bending
strength. The verification rule is:
N Ed N Rd =

k = L i

k ( k , f k ) A



k ( k , f k )

buckling strength of glass type

geometric slenderness
bending strength of the glass type
partial factor for resistance

3.1.2 Direct bending strength verification with second order calculation

The well-known equations for second order theory calculations can be used. In this case the real
glass thickness and the initial deformation must be considered. In [7] the following values are
t = 0.976 t nominal


w0 = L



3.2 Beams
Glass beams carry the glass roof of the savings bank in Dsseldorf and hidden steel ropes on the
topside of the beams guarantee the residual strength. In case a beam breaks the rope would be
activated with large deflections.

Fig 9: Savings Bank, Dsseldorf

The stability problem Lateral-torsional-buckling occurs when slim beams rotate over the
longitudinal axis and the flange in compression deflects laterally. The deformation of the beam is
controlled by two degrees of freedom; the horizontal deflection and the rotation.

Fig 10: test set up for lateral torsional buckling

In this three point bending test the direction of the force, introduced by a jack, is fixed, therefore the
fork bearings at the ends of the beam are placed on rollers. With this trick the first buckling mode
with free deformation of the beam between the end forks is possible [8].
The buckling load is influenced by the structural imperfections of the glass beam and the stiffness
of the PVB-foil, which shows a typical rheological material behaviour. The stiffness, indicated by
the shear modules G, depends on the loading velocity and the temperature of the PVB-foil.
Two different design concepts are possible for LTB of glass beams:
a) Stress resultants calculated with the first order theory multiplied with a buckling coefficient
depending on the slenderness.
b) Stress resultants calculated with the second order theory by using an equivalent torsional stiffness
and an equivalent second moment of area.

Fig 11: moment diagram

Fig 12: moment in middle line

M yII = M yI


M zII ( x) = M yI II ( x)




3.3.1 Diagonal Forces

The atrium of the Maximilian Museum in Augsburg is covered by a filigree glass shell structure
with pre-stressed steel cables and glass panes under permanent compression.

Fig 13: Maximilian Museum, Augsburg

The appropriate stability problem is called buckling of plates under diagonal forces. This occurs
if a diagonal force is introduced into a rectangular plate only fixed at the corners. In according tests
the initial crack was identified at the edge of the diagonal under pressure. This means, that at this
point the addition of the positive stress due to bending and the negative stress due to the load
introduction leads to a local maximum.

Fig 14: buckling under diagonal forces

The design concept include two equations [4]:
a) The maximum local contact pressure is limited by the shape of the contact area and the mortar,
which is used as an infill material to avoid direct contact between the steel connections and the
glass surface.
b) The stability load is limited by the slenderness of the structure, for which buckling factors could
be defined. In shell structures with additional out of pane loads (wind, snow etc.) the interaction of
the loads must be considered.
3.3.2 Shear Forces
So far many steel-grid-roofs have been braced with pre-stressed steel-cables.

Fig 15: museum in Hamburg

The idea is to glue the glass panes to the steel frames to enable the glass panes to carry the stability
loads of the shell-structure instead of the bracing.
To analyse the buckling of panes under shear forces rectangular steel frames with four hinges and
one degree of freedom are stabilised by glued glass panes. Under shear forces the typical buckling
mode occurred.

Fig. 16: buckling under shear forces

In the crack pattern the distribution of the surface stresses in the moment of fracture is frozen in. It
shows the shape of buckles as expected.

4. Hybrid Elements
4.1 Steel-Glass-Beams
The wind loads to the faade of the new museum of modern art and design in Nrnberg are carried
by hybrid steel-glass-beams. In the web of the girder the shear transfer between the steel flanges is
performed by the glass panes that act as struts loaded by contact elements made of poly-oximethylen (POM).

Fig 17: Museum of Modern Art, Nrnberg

Hybrid steel glass beams can also be produced by gluing the components together. In a prototype

the adhesives were applied to adapter profiles that were then pressed to the glass web and bolted to
the steel flange.

Fig. 18: steel glass beam with glued components

The deformation behaviour of adhesives could be calculated in FE-programs with hyper-elasticmodels according to the assumptions of Mooney-Rivlin and Ogden [3].
4.2 Glass-GFRP-Plates
With the gluing technique also sandwich plates with different materials are possible. Prototypes
with small GFRP-Profiles and glued heat strengthened glass panes on both sides were produced and

Fig. 19: hybrid glass-GFRP-Plate

These elements could be used as wall or roof elements and enable the architects to play with the
daylight shading.

Fig. 20: shading example

In first tests different GFRP-Profiles from three different producers were used.
The main advantage of the hybrid elements becomes obvious when the stiffness is considered. The

deflections measured in the middle are compared with the theoretical deflections of prototype 4 for
monolithic action and for non-laminated action.

Fig. 21: Four point bending test / Glass-GFRP-Plate

Fig. 22: deflection in four point bending tests

5. Acknowledgment
This article gives an overview about recent research projects with funding by different institutions
and with additional sponsorships by many companies. We thank FKG, Cologne; AIF, Cologne;
DFG, Bonn and KICT Korea for funding. Many test specimen and materials are sponsored by Saint
Gobain Glass, Germany; Sanco Glas, Germany; Bischof Glastechnik, Germany; Glas Engels,
Germany; Eckelt Glas, Austria; Glas Sprinz, Germay; Sika, Switzerland; Delo, Germany; Fiberline,
Denmark; etc.




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