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Proceedings of the First International Conference on Advances in Bridge Engineering 26 - 28 June 2006

THE STRENGTH OF CURVED STEEL PLATES


Angus Low
Arup

Abstract
Designers are being more adventurous in the use of curved elements of fabricated
steelwork. Current methods for assessing the effect of out-of-plane curvature on the
effective in-plane yield stress are valid when the curvature is quite slight and are
conservative for greater curvature. This paper extends a recent computational study
which investigated the benefits of plastic redistribution of stresses for cases with
greater curvature.
Keywords: Curved steel plates. Plasticity. Von Mises.

1.0

Introduction

Curved members are increasingly being used in steel structures in situations where the in-plane forces in
the constituent plates are required to follow a curve and, in so doing, they set up out-of-plane forces on the
plate. There are clauses in current codes [1] and there are guides [2] which provide guidance for designers,
but these are restrictive or uneconomic once the curvature becomes significant. There are also the Merrison
Rules [3] which were written as a response to the failure of four different steel box-girder bridges in the
early 1970s but they are not easy to use.
This paper is based on studies made by the author when he was designing the Drachten cycle bridge in The
Netherlands where the curvature was quite tight. The main lesson learnt from the studies is that the
reduction in strength due to the curvature was not as much as we initially expected. This was partly due to
the decision to design the panels with moment continuity along their edges. The studies are reported in [4].
The core of the studies is repeated here and the opportunity has been taken to compare the findings with
those for the method given in the Merrison Rules [3].

2.0

The Problem.

The A7 Cycle Bridge, Drachten, (Fig 1) crosses the A7 motorway and a canal. It is a cable-stayed bridge
whose single tower is based on a bicycle wheel. The spokes of the wheel have been pulled outwards to
become the stays of the bridge. The wheel takes the form of a tilted ellipse. The tilt conveys the sense of
speed, as seen in old photographs with vertical action focal plane shutters, and it also matches the geometry
of the stays which rise from a deck which is curved in plan. The ellipse is rationalised into a series of
circular arcs. The tightest radius is 3.03m for the inner plate which is 4.33m for the outer plate.
The section of the "wheel" is a hexagonal steel box girder whose section resembles the section of a bicycle
wheel rim with a tyre (Fig. 2). When the box member experiences axial forces or bending moments in its
own plane, the panels of the section experience axial forces which have to follow the curvature. These
forces need to be kept in equilibrium by transverse bending in the panels. The stresses due to this
transverse bending modify the effective longitudinal yield stress of the panel, in accordance with Von
Mises yield criterion. This paper derives the effective longitudinal yield stresses for a range of parameters.

THE STRENGTH OF CURVED STEEL PLATES

Proceedings of the First International Conference on Advances in Bridge Engineering 26 - 28 June 2006

Fig. 1. A7 cycle bridge, Drachten.


The panels considered in this paper are long panels in the direction of the applied stress, so the curvature
effect is resisted only by transverse bending. The relevant parameters are:
b
t
R

The breadth of the panel


The thickness of the plate
Radius of curvature of the mid-plane of the panel
The angle of the panel within the plane of the cross-section of the member, to the axis of
the curvature. For the inside and outside panels of the Drachten wheel = 0.

For this paper the parameters R and are combined into an effective radius R' = R/cos .
Another factor which needs to be considered in a longitudinally loaded panel is the effect of local buckling
of the panel. For flat panels this effect is covered in current codes, e.g.[1]. It is significant for panels with
high b/t ratios. Clause 4.3 of [5] introduces inert strips in the mid-panel region when the b/t value exceeds
32, assuming the yield stress is 355 MPa. Any rules for the longitudinal strength of curved panels should
merge into these existing rules for flat panels as R' becomes large.

3.0

Other Methods

Clauses 9.3.5 of [1] restricts designs so the transverse stresses are never greater than 25% of the
longitudinal stresses. In these conditions the effect of curvature is slight. The guide [2] uses the Von Mises

THE STRENGTH OF CURVED STEEL PLATES

Proceedings of the First International Conference on Advances in Bridge Engineering 26 - 28 June 2006

yield criterion, but assumes a uniform state of longitudinal stress across the panel. This misses the
considerable benefits of redistribution of the stresses.

100

900

100
15
15

400
W

NO STRESS

900

Fig. 2. Section of the box girder

Fig 3. Section of panel

It is becoming common in current practice to rely on FE packages which will derive the Von Mises
equivalent stress, and display it at every point in the structure. Provided a curved panel is modelled with a
fine enough mesh, such an analysis will satisfactorily pick up the equilibrium action needed. However in
most cases it is linear elastic FE packages which are used. Because these do not consider plasticity they can
significantly under-estimate the strength of the panel when plasticity is possible.
The IDWR rules [4] treat curvature with a plot. Fig. 10.3 of the rules shows how the strength varies with
b/(R.t). Because the rules are based on assumptions which are not aligned with current practice, they are
difficult to use. In particular they require residual weld stresses and initial imperfections to be quantified
explicitly. They address the issue of large radiuses by adding a threshold curvature of 1/40b to the actual
curvature of 1/R. The additional curvature is similar to the local curvature implied by the permitted
tolerances for plate flatness given in [6]. The author does not know the derivation of the values given in the
IDWR rules, but they are plotted with the results of the current study, below.

4.0

Equilibrium of the Panel

The equilibrium of the panel has been studied using a simple program written in Quick Basic. The
longitudinal force carried in the panel generates outward forces due to the curvature of the panel. The panel
spans transversely to carry these forces to its edges. Hence the longitudinal force the panel can carry is
limited by its transverse spanning capacity. It is a problem in pure plasticity because the transverse bending
of the panel is not affected by any buckling actions. Following the theorems of plasticity the problem is one
of finding the distribution of stress which satisfies the Von Mises yield criterion everywhere and
maximises the longitudinal force in the curved panel. It is sufficient to vary parameters which describe the
possible patterns of stress and to find the maximum longitudinal force derived for any of the patterns.
Transverse stress does not necessarily reduce the longitudinal yield stress below its uniaxial value. The
Von Mises criterion allows maximum stresses which are up to 2/3 (1.15) times greater than the uniaxial
yield value. If the neutral axis is at mid-depth then the transverse compression and tension stresses will
have an equal magnitude. If this magnitude is about 10% or less of the uniaxial yield stress, then the two
transverse stresses will increase and decrease the longitudinal yield stress in approximately equal measure
and they have a very small effect on the net longitudinal capacity.

THE STRENGTH OF CURVED STEEL PLATES

Proceedings of the First International Conference on Advances in Bridge Engineering 26 - 28 June 2006

The section of the panel is shown in Fig. 3 with 10 strips down each side of the panel and each strip with a
top and bottom zone above and below the neutral axis for transverse bending. There is also a central
window of no longitudinal stress, making 41 different zones with a constant stress state throughout each
zone. The Von Mises yield criterion was applied to each zone in turn. The problem is symmetrical. The
depth of the neutral axis for transverse bending is a variable which is iterated for each strip in 100 equal
steps through the thickness of the plate.
As a starting condition the computer program assumes the whole panel is subject to a low longitudinal
stress, set as 30% of the uniaxial yield stress. For a given set of longitudinal stresses the program calculates
the total free transverse moment, MF. It assumes transverse continuity with the transverse moment at the
edge of the panel equal to .MF, where is a solution parameter. It works through each strip in turn,
evaluating the transverse moment at each one. In general the moment is evaluated at the mid-line of the
strip but, for the edge strip and the strip nearest the mid-line the moment is evaluated at the edge of the
strip, to ensure the full moment range MF is covered. For each strip it finds the maximum longitudinal force
in the strip out of all the neutral axis depths it considers. After it has worked through all the strips the
values of the longitudinal forces in each strip are used to calculate the next value of MF, and process is
repeated until a stable solution is reached.
Centred along the mid-line of the panel there can be a window of zero longitudinal stress of width w. For
low b/t ratios it is found that the maximum longitudinal force occurs with w = 0. However, for large values
of b/t the addition of the window can significantly increase the total longitudinal force. Is it sufficient to
consider only windows with no longitudinal stress? If the window carried a stress which was only part of
the longitudinal stress allowed by the yield criterion then, along the edges of the window there would be an
abrupt step down in longitudinal stress at the junction with the adjacent strip. This step would imply that
there was a local capacity to carry more longitudinal force. As this position is nearer the edges of the panel
than the rest of the window it would reduce the transverse moment MF if some force elsewhere in the
window were transferred to this edge. Hence the maximum longitudinal force will always occur with zero
longitudinal stress in the window, if there is a window. It should be noted that, because there is no
longitudinal force in the window, there is no lateral force generated either. Hence the transverse moment is
constant across the window, and it experiences no moments greater than those in the adjacent strips.
1.2

0.8
Current study
From IDWR Fig.10.3
With uniform stress

0.6

0.4

0.2

0
0

b*

Fig. 4. Strength reduction factors due to curvature


The program is run with a given set of input parameters b, t and R. The two solution parameters and w
are varied to find the highest longitudinal flange force. Sometimes a trial may report a failure because in

THE STRENGTH OF CURVED STEEL PLATES

Proceedings of the First International Conference on Advances in Bridge Engineering 26 - 28 June 2006

one or more of the strips there was no neutral axis depth which generated sufficient transverse moment
capacity.
The results of the current study are plotted in Fig.4. using the format of Fig.10.3 of [3]. The ratio m of the
mean effective longitudinal yield stress to the uniaxial yield stress is plotted against the non-dimensional
curvature and plate slenderness parameter b/(R.t) which is called b*. Note that the results are independent
of the yield strength of the steel. Also plotted in Fig.4 is the curve from Fig.10.3 of [3] for the case when
the web thickness is at least twice the thickness of the flange plate being considered. This condition is
assumed to correspond to full-strength transverse continuity. The third plot in Fig.4 is derived assuming
that longitudinal stress is uniform, the transverse moment capacities are modified using Von Mises and
some transverse moment redistribution is allowed so both the mid-panel and edge moments are half the
free moment. This condition is close to the method proposed in [2]. By observation it appears that the
IDWR [3] method is close to the uniform stress method for low values of b*, but some other factor has
been included which adds to the strength for high values of b*.

5.0

Conclusions

By allowing the longitudinal yield stress in a curved panel to vary from zone to zone it is possible to derive
mean effective yield strengths which are up to 40% greater than those derived using other methods.

References
[1]

BS 5400, Part 3:2000. "Steel, concrete and composite bridges. The design of concrete and steel
bridges". BSI 2000.

[2]

KING C., BROWN D. "Design of Curved Steel" SCI Publication P281, 2001

[3]

MERRISON A.W. (chairman). "Inquiry into the basis of design and method of erection of steel box
girder bridges, Interim Design and Workmanship Rules, Parts 1&2." HMSO, London. 1974

[4]

LOW A. "The strength of curved steel plates under in-plane forces." IABSE Symposium, Budapest,
2006.

[5]

prEN 1993-1-5 (11-6-04). Eurocode 3: Design of steel structures.


elements.

[6]

BS 5400, Part 6:1999. "Steel, concrete and composite bridges. Specification for materials and
workmanship, steel". BSI 1999.

Part 1.5: Plated structural

THE STRENGTH OF CURVED STEEL PLATES