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Steel Construction

Developments in connections in
cold-formed building structures and
design specifications
A W Toma`
TNO Building and Construction Research, The Netherlands

For all building structures national and
international Codes are important in the design
process. This is also true for connections in
cold-formed building structures. Lightweight
construction has developed rapidly in this field,
but the Codes, by their very nature are far slower
in their development. For this reason a number of
connection types are not fully covered, or not
covered at all, by the existing Codes. Designers
thus face a different situation with respect to
connections than for usual steel buildings. This
paper describes the relation between traditional
connection systems and existing Codes. The ideal
situation should be that the development of

connection systems and their treatment in Codes

(fastener and structural codes) should be well
balanced for appropriate application in the
building industry. But, because of the
comparatively slow development of the Codes,
new developments (clinching, air driven pins and
adhesive bonding) require guidance on how to
proceed in design.
For selection of a connection system the
important structural and non-structural
parameters are surveyed. With the use of these
parameters it should be possible to choose
system, a fit for purpose i.e. a reliable (safe and
durable) and economical system.

Key words: connections in cold-formed steel structures; connections in thin-walled structures; mechanical fastening;
resistance welding; fillet welding; adhesive bonding; standards; clinching
Prog. Struct. Engng Mater. 2003; 5:145152 (DOI: 10.1002/pse.152)

The application of thin-walled steel, formed by a cold
rolling into sections or sheeting (e.g. trapezoidal,
sinusoidal), is a still growing market in the building
industry[1,2]. Mostly the application is with a
continuously hot-dip zinc-coated or aluminium/zinccoated finish layer, with or without an organic
coating. The application of thin-walled steel may be
chosen for the combined properties of light weight
and structural capacities. As a consequence of its easy
formability it is often in use as a finishing accessory
(formed mostly by a press braking process). For the
building industry well-known value-added
applications (Fig. 1) are: composite action with timber

AISI American Iron and Steel Institute
CEN Comite Europeen de Normalisation (European Committee for Standardisation)

CSA Canadian Standards Association

ECCS European Convention for Constructional Steelwork

Copyright & 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

board for floors and walls, perforated sheeting for

better acoustic performance, composite action of
sheets (as skin) and insulating core material in
sandwich panels, perforated sections for easy
assemblage in storage racks, steelconcrete composite
slabs, etc.
Besides these well-known applications, which have
a strong market share, new applications are focused
on steel framing for the housing industry. It is not
necessary that the application is all steel, a good
opportunity is provided by building elements based
on steel framing (such as floors, facades, partition
walls, roofs).
For a good and economical application of
thin-walled steel elements it is a first priority to

ECSC European Community for Steel

and Coal

SAA Standards Association of Australia

Prog. Struct. Engng Mater. 2003; 5:145152








Fig. 1 Value-added applications of cold-formed steel in the building industry: (a) timber board plus section in floor; (b) perforated
sheeting; (c) connection of sandwich panel; (d) perforated sections in storage racks; (e) steelconcrete composite slab (Courtesy of
Comite International du Profilage a` Froid, Staalbouwkundig Genootschap, ECCS).

have available connection techniques which are

fit for the purpose and economical in use[3]. Fit
for purpose implies regard to the structural capacities
and sustainable capabilities. Economical in
use implies regard to the price/quality ratio of the
connection system and easy (and reliable)
Many connection systems have been developed
especially for thin-walled steel. Up to now only a few
of these have been treated in the structural Codes and
Recommendations[412]. To make broad use of the
available connection techniques in the building
industry it is preferable that the development of the
systems and the treatment in Codes (including
structural ones) are well balanced, otherwise the
structural capacities should be determined on the
basis of research results.
This review summarizes the development in
connection systems for cold-formed steel structures,
the forthcoming systems for the building industry and
the history and status of Codes and
Recommendations. As said already the new
applications of thin-walled steel are focused on steel
framing and the new connection systems are also
related to those applications.

For making connections in cold-formed structures

a number of techniques are available, some are the
same as for the thicker hot-rolled steel and others are
specific for thinner steel, and make use of:

fastener}the connecting element in a fastening;

Copyright & 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


The traditionally used mechanical fasteners are blind

rivets[3,5,13,14], nuts and bolts[5,1418], screws (selftapping or self-drilling-self-tapping)[5,13,1925] and
powder actuated fasteners (cartridge fired pins)[5,13,20].
Well known applications are:

For this review the following distinctions are made:


mechanical fasteners;
deformation of the sheet material;
adhesive bonding.


Survey of connection possibilities

fastening}interaction of one mechanical fastener

(or a discrete spot weld) with the surrounding
connection}group (one or more) of fastenings or
continuous (fillet welds or adhesive bonds)

blind rivets}seam connections in sheeting

(Fig. 2a), bracing connection in storage racks;
nuts and bolts}for the thicker elements such as
overlap in purlins[26] (Fig. 2b);
screws}connection of sheets to the main structure
or seam connection, also the main connection of
sandwich panels[9] (Fig. 1c);
powder-actuated fasteners}connection of sheets to
the main structure (Fig. 2c)[27];
Prog. Struct. Engng Mater. 2003; 5:145152








Fig. 2 Some applications of mechanical fasteners in connections:

(a) blind rivet in seam connection in sheeting; (b) nuts and bolts
with overlap of purlins; (c) powder-actuated connection of
sheeting to the main structure (Courtesy of Comite International
du Profilage a` Froid, ECCS).

Fig. 3 Application of fusion welds in steel frames for housing

(Courtesy of CSSBI).


air-driven pins}also connection of sheets to the

main structure[28].
The new applications are:

connection of plywood to cold formed sections for

steel frame building in housing}the fasteners used
are screws or air-driven nails (Fig. 1a),
connection of stainless steel in structural
applications[29]}the fasteners used are screws,
blind rivets, nuts and bolts, for each application the
right material (stainless steel quality and grade) has
to be chosen.

In zinc-coated thin-walled steel or stainless steel,

the use of friction-grip bolted connections is not
possible. As a consequence of creep of the zinc
(relatively thick compared with the steel) or the
stainless steel, the preload disappears.



The welding methods applied are resistance welding

(line or spot) and fusion welding[30,31]. Both methods
can be used for fasten thin to thin steel or thin to thick
steel. For welding it is important to take into account
the possible coatings on the sheet material. These will
influence the quality of the weld to a large extent.
Welding of thin-walled steel in the building
industry is applied in the steel frame elements for
housing (Fig. 3) and in storage racks (end plates to



In roofing some systems make use of a standing seam

which is deformed and folded on site for the
longitudinal connection between the sheets.
Copyright & 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.



Fig. 4 Some examples of clinches (Courtesy University of


A new application in the building industry is

clinching[3234]. This technology is extensively used in
the automotive industry and is now transferred to the
application in steel frame elements for housing.
A clinch is a one-point fastening machined by a punch
and a die (Fig. 4). Both sides of the connection must be
accessible. A new clinching system specially
developed for the building industry is the so-called
rosette (from Rosette Systems Ltd., Finland). This is
formed by first penetrating (drilling or punching) two
plates and then deforming the edges of the hole into
each other with a special tool. This system can be
used, e.g. for connecting the elements in roof trusses
to produce high-strength and reliable connections.
The advantage over standard clinches is the higher
strength capacity and the reliability for automation.
Prog. Struct. Engng Mater. 2003; 5:145152



A well-known structural application of adhesive

bonding in the building industry is the connection of
thin sheets (skins) to insulation material (core) for the
production of sandwich panels.
Other possible structural applications of adhesive
bonding need for the research to derive the design
procedures for each application. These design
procedures should include the aspects of ageing,
deformation capacity (redistribution of stresses) and
prevention of peeling[35].

History and status of Recommendations

and Codes
In 1983 the ECCS published the European
Recommendations for mechanical fasteners and
connections in thin-walled (cold-formed) sheeting
and sections[4,5]. Most of the research for these
recommendations was partly financed by the ECSC.
The recommendations were based largely on a
deterministic philosophy, although load and material
factors have been used. The basis for the
determination of these factors was to achieve
consistency in design practice with the allowable
stress format used previously.
Then in 1996 CEN published the Eurocode (as a
European pre-standard) for cold-formed thin-gauge
members and sheeting[7]. The chapter concerning
connections was largely based on the ECCS European
Recommendations, but with a probabilistic analysis of
the material factors[36,37] within the framework of the
limit states philosophy. This led to a single material
factor for all of the failure modes: gM 1.25 and to
mechanical models for the failure modes (design
formulae) based on the tensile strength instead of the
yield strength of the steel. The connecting systems
treated in the ENV are mechanical fasteners (bolts,
screws, blind rivets and cartridge-fired pins) and
welding (resistance spot welding and fillet welding).
In September 2002 the ENV 1993-1-3 was converted
into the prEN 1993-1-3[12]. After a formal vote in 2003
this draft will lead to the EN 1993-1-3. Compared with
the ENV only some adjustments of the formulae for
fillet welding have been done.
In North America two important standards have
long been available. These are the one given by AISI
in the USA[10] (first edition in 1946) and the one from
the CSA in Canada[6] (first edition in 1963). In the near
future Canada, Mexico and the United States of
America will have one joint common standard. That
common standard has both formats, ASD (allowable
stress design) and LRFD (load resistance factor
Another important standard with regard to
connections is the joint Code by the Australian and
New Zealand Standards Associations[8]. For this
region special attention is necessary for loading effects
Copyright & 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

by cyclones[38,39], i.e. high values of wind loads and

specific repeated load spectra. This standard is of the
LRFD type. All the Codes mentioned provide
formulae to determine the strength of a connection.
Because the field of application of these formulae
cover a wide range, they are always on the
conservative side. Therefore in a number of situations
(mass production of elements, situations with
connections in which forces are higher than the
strength according to the formulae) it can be
profitable to determine the strength and stiffness by
means of testing[4,5]. All the Codes mentioned provide
the possibility to determine the strength and stiffness
of connections by means of testing.

Requirements and selection procedure

for connections
Because connections contribute to a substantial extent
to the costs of thin walled steel structures (as for
hot-rolled steel structures[40]) the selection procedure
for the type of connection should have a high priority.
Table 1 provides the parameters for such a selection
procedure. The procedure starts with the nonstructural requirements to determine the type of
fastening (for corrosion with regard to fastening
sheeting see Wieland[41]).
Then, the structural requirements are used to
determine the number of fasteners (or weld length, or
Table 1 Requirements for connections in thin-walled structures
Structural requirements

1. Strength (under static load and/or repeated load)
2. Stiffness (for load distribution in the structure and connections)
3. Deformation capacity (for reasons of load redistribution)

Non-structural requirements

1. Economic aspects
a) Total number of connections which have to be made
b) Assembly in the factory or on site
c) Skills required
d) Tools required
e) Ability to dismantle
f) Design lifetime
g) Installed costs of the connections

Cost of the fasteners

Direct labour cost
Indirect labour cost
Cost of tools, with possible mechanization
Cost of required energy supply
Cost of maintenance of tools
Development costs.

2. Durability with respect to

a) Chemical aggressiveness of the environment
b) Possible galvanic corrosion
c) Stress corrosion (e.g. chlorides and elevated temperatures for some types of stainless steel)
3. Watertightness for roofs and cladding
4. Aesthetics

Prog. Struct. Engng Mater. 2003; 5:145152


adhesive width) or spacings[42]. In detailing the
connections, it is important that designers are fully
aware of the structural properties of the thin-walled
elements in terms of stiffness, strength and
deformation capacity. The most effective mechanism
of force transfer is by shear in the connection, because
then the stiffness and deformation of the connection
leads to acceptable behaviour. Another aspect is that
cold-formed sections are open sections. i.e. the crosssection can deform, leading to second-order forces in
the connections. In general the designer should
prevent these second-order forces.
For adhesive bonding it is important to use a
quality assurance procedure to achieve a connection


which is fit for the purpose. Table 2 shows a generic

overview of such a quality assurance scheme for
adhesive bonding starting with the design stage up to
the use of the structure[43].

Forces in connections
The forces in connections depend on the external
loading on the structure and on the properties of the
structure (stiffness, e.g. in the diaphragm action of
trapezoidal sheeting, and deformation capacity
because ductile behaviour allows the use of design
models of the connections with simplified force
distributions)[44]. The external loads are determined

Table 2 Generic model for quality assurance of adhesive bonded connections


Quality requirement

Method of validation/

Corrective action

1. Selection and sourcing of
materials (adherends)

a) Joint design
b) Specified component

a) Test records
b) Supplier certifications
c) Published data
d) Experience of previous use

a) Return to supplier
b) Reselect
c) Design change

2. Selection and sourcing of


a) Joint design
b) Production requirements

a) Test records
b) Supplier certifications
c) Published data
d) Experience of previous use

a) Return to supplier
b) Reselect
c) Design change

3. Storage of adhesives

Requirements specified by
adhesive supplier
a) Shelf-life
b) Packaging
c) Temperature
d) Humidity

a) Inspection of packages
b) Batch/data number
c) Control of storage facility

a) Reject
b) Retest and recheck life

4. Pretreatment of surfaces

Requirements specified by
material properties
a) Cleaning
b) Surface removal
c) Chemical treatment

a) Use tested procedure

(error proof)
b) Trained staff

5. Assembly

a) Component fit-up:
correct component location
b) Application: type, mix,
quantity, temperature,

a) Inspection
b) Use of jigs
c) Metering by calibrated dispenser
d) Use tested procedure
(error proof)
e) Trained staff

a) Re-jig
b) Select correct
c) Reject
d) Reapply

6. Cure

Requirements specified by
adhesive supplier
a) Time
b) Temperature
c) Pressure
d) Heating/cooling rate

a) Use tested procedure

(error proof)
b) Trained staff
c) Time/temperature records

a) Reject
b) Re-cure

7. Final inspection

Joint meets design

a) Strength
b) Environment
c) Appearance
d) Reliability
e) Durability

a) Test programme
b) Review of process
documentation and records

a) Reject
b) Concession
c) Design change

8. Pre-usage storage

Joint meets design

a) Strength
b) Environment
c) Appearance
d) Reliability
e) Durability

Correct storage review of

test reports and supplier


a) Reject
b) Design change

Copyright & 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Prog. Struct. Engng Mater. 2003; 5:145152



by national standards. These loads will cause shear,

tension or a combination of these forces in the
connections. The forces in connections can be
distinguished as:

crushing of the fastener (Fig. 5b);

tilting and pull-out of the fastener (Fig. 5c);
* yield in tearing (thinner sheet only Fig. 5d,
both sheets Fig. 5e);
* end failure (Fig. 5f);
* failure of the net cross-section (Fig. 5g).
2. Connections loaded in tension (Fig. 6):
* tension failure of the fastener (Fig. 6a);
* pull-out of the fastener (Fig. 6b);
* pull-over (head punched through the sheet
by shearing Fig. 6c);
* pull through (head punched through the
sheet by bending Fig. 6d);
* gross distortion of the sheeting (Fig. 6e).

primary forces}forces which are directly caused

by the load;
secondary forces}forces which are indirectly
caused by the load and which may be neglected in
the presence of sufficient deformation capacity.

Typical loads and actions for building structures are

dead weight, imposed loads, wind, snow,
temperature differences. Under certain conditions it is
necessary to take into account the repetitive character
of the loads, such as wind load on sheeting which
causes tension in the fasteners (the thin sheet around
the fastener can fail by fracturing through low-cycle
fatigue caused by the repetitive bending). In the
existing design rules this aspect is covered.

Design strength of connections

The design strength of connections depends on the
type of fasteners and type and thickness of sheets to
be connected. Every combination of fastener type and
sheet possesses a related failure mode. Therefore, a
unique strength level is associated with every failure
mode. These strengths can be determined either by
means of Code formulae or by testing[4,5,11]. From the
perspective of limit states design, testing leads to
determination of characteristic strengths. Suitable
material factors allow the design strength to be
obtained from the characteristic strength. In the
Codes formulae are given to compute the design
strengths associated with each failure
mode[610,12,29]. The different failure modes to be
considered for connections with mechanical
fasteners are:
1. Connections loaded in shear (Fig. 5):
* shear of the fastener (Fig. 5a);



For connections loaded by a combination of tension

and shear the Codes provide interaction formulae.
The main parameters for controlling the design
values of connections are sheet thickness, sheet tensile
strength, fastener material (type of adhesive bond),
fastener diameter (width and length of bond layer,
length of weld), and end and pitch distances. Another
important item for connections is the necessary
deformation capacity, because this can lead to simple
models to determine the force distribution over the
connection. In the testing recommendations, this
minimum deformation capacity is defined to ensure
certain distribution of forces over the connection and
the structure. Codes providing formulae for the
determination of the design strengths cover the
requirement of adequate deformation capacity
through rules which state that failure modes,
characterized by insufficient deformation capacity
(e.g. failure by shear of the fastener itself), should be
associated with a higher level of strength than that of
the failure modes, characterized by sufficient
deformation capacity (e.g. hole-bearing).
As to the design of connections making use of
adhesive bonding, the following aspects are

determination of the external loads and

environmental conditions (the latter parameter is







Fig. 5 Failure modes of connections loaded in shear: (a) shear of the fastener; (b) crushing of the fastener; (c) tilting and pull-out of the
fastener; (d) yield of the thinner sheet only; (e) yield of both sheets; ( f ) end failure; (g) failure of the net cross-section (Courtesy of ECCS).
Copyright & 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Prog. Struct. Engng Mater. 2003; 5:145152








Fig. 6 Failure modes of connections loaded in tension: (a) tension failure of the fastener; (b) pull-out of the fastener; (c) pull-over; (d)
pull-through; (e) gross distortion of the sheeting (Courtesy of ECCS).

needed to appraise ageing properties), as well as

the temperatures and humidity during use (in
order to define possible fluctuation);
choice of the adhesive system, with reference to
type of adhesive, surface condition of the parts to
be connected and preparation of those surfaces;
detailing of the overlap of the parts to be connected
(prevention of peeling stresses is necessary).

systems, for the connection of cold-formed sections

with timber board made by adhesive bonding. In
future investigations should be focused on more
applications of connections with adhesive bonding
and new connection techniques which allow more
prefabrication, together with optimal assemblage
techniques on site.

Connections in cold-formed building structures are
made with traditional systems and with newly
developed ones. The traditional systems are
mechanical fasteners (screws, blind rivets, nuts and
bolts, cartridge-fired pins) and welding (fillet welds,
resistance spot welds). These systems are treated in
the codes with regard to design strengths. Standards
for the mechanical properties of fasteners are still
lacking for a number of fasteners. The designer thus
depends in many cases on information from the
manufacturer of the fastener.
New systems are under development for the
building industry, among them clinching, air-driven
pins and adhesive bonding. As to clinching, research
is currently in progress aimed at developing design
procedures. As to air-driven pins, it can be expected
that, when there is a high demand from the European
market, design specifications will soon follow. As to
adhesive bonding, reliability assessment of the design
procedure, even for its sole application in sandwich
panels, is still necessary.
The main issues under investigation are the design
procedure for clinched connections and, in floor
Copyright & 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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A W Toma`, MSc
TNO Building and Construction Research,
P.O. Box 49, 2600 AA Delft, The Netherlands
E-mail: A.Toma@bouw.tno.nl

Copyright & 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Prog. Struct. Engng Mater. 2003; 5:145152