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Materials and Structures/Matériaux et Constructions, Vol.

34, January-February 2001, pp 7-13

Crack development in concrete structures due to

imposed strains – Part I: Modelling
D. Pettersson and S. Thelandersson
Div. Structural Engineering, Lund University, Sweden

Paper received: January 11, 2000; Paper accepted: May 19, 2000


In the present paper, a technique for the modelling of Cette publication présente une modélisation du développe-
crack development in reinforced concrete structures ment des fissures dans les constructions en béton armé soumis à
exposed to imposed deformations is described. In a sec- des déformations. Dans une deuxième publication, des études
ond paper, parametric studies are performed for a wall paramétriques sont réalisées sur un mur encastré à la base.
fully restrained at the base. The objective of this research L’objectif de ce travail est de permettre à l’ingénieur de mieux
is to improve the control of cracking in engineering contrôler le développement des fissures.
design. Un modèle bi-dimensionnel aux éléments finis à quatre nœuds
A two-dimensional Finite Element model with four- est utilisé pour simuler le comportement du béton. Les efforts
node elements is used to simulate concrete. Closing internes de fermeture des fissures sont modélisés par des éléments de
forces in cracks are modelled with spring elements. The raideur. Ceux-ci sont déterminés par la relation contrainte d’adhé-
spring stiffness is estimated from bond stress – slip rela- rence - glissement pour l’armature et pour le ramollissement en trac-
tions for reinforcement and tension softening of con- tion du béton. Le cisaillement de l’armature est également inclus
crete. Yield of reinforcement is also included in the dans le modèle. Un changement de température simule le charge-
model. Temperature change is used as load and the cal- ment, et les calculs sont réalisés par étapes, en contrôlant l’écarte-
culations are performed stepwise with opening of nodes ment des nœuds et l’ajout d’éléments de raideur.
and implementation of spring elements. Il est démontré que le ramollissement en traction du béton
It is shown that tensile softening of concrete can be peut être négligé, mais l’existence de multiples fissures doit être
neglected but multiple cracking must be considered in prise en compte dans l’analyse. La progression des fissures dans la
the calculations. The progression of cracking in the construction est simulée dans l’analyse. Les résultats présentés
structure is simulated in the analysis. Results are given in illustrent le développement des fissures en fonction de l’augmenta-
terms of development of crack width with increasing tion de la température. La largeur des fissures atteint une valeur
temperature load. The crack widths approach an upper maximale pour des températures élevées. Le modèle proposé peut
limit for large temperature loading. The proposed model également être adapté à d’autres structures et d’autres modes de
can also be adapted to other structures and restraints. contrainte.

1. INTRODUCTION reinforcement at yield should be higher than the force

necessary to create a new crack, see e.g. Jaccoud [1] and
Control of cracking of concrete structures is impor- CEB [2]. Cracking due to imposed deformations was
tant in engineering design, but often treated in a rather studied with a one-dimensional model by Reinhardt [3]
crude way. This is especially valid for structures exposed and Nagy [4].
to imposed deformations. Reinforcement is used to limit For other types of structures and boundary condi-
the crack width by creating several narrow cracks instead tions, the approach in [1] and [2] will probably lead to an
of a few wide-open cracks, but it does not prevent crack- overestimation of minimum reinforcement and thereby
ing. The required amount of reinforcement to limit the more expensive structures with decreased functionality.
crack width is normally based on the concept of a con- Crack spacing and crack widths from imposed deforma-
crete bar fixed in both ends where the capacity of the tions in concrete walls fully restrained at the base were

Editorial Note
Prof. Sven Thelandersson is a RILEM Senior Member.

1359-5997/01 © RILEM 7
Materials and Structures/Matériaux et Constructions, Vol. 34, January-February 2001

e.g. dealt with in ACI Commitee 207 [5], Rostásy [6], concrete outside cracking zones is assumed to behave lin-
Kheder et al. [7] and Iványi [8]. Stoffers [9] indicated that early elastic. The behaviour in the vicinity of cracks is gov-
the restraint at the base has a crack distribution effect erned by tensile softening/cracking of concrete and closing
also for non-reinforced walls. This effect gives that rein- forces imposed by reinforcement crossing the crack. Both
forcement ratios lower than minimum reinforcement these effects are modelled by springs in element bound-
also will limit the crack widths. Iványi [8] also showed aries, with stiffnesses estimated from simplified considera-
that the minimum reinforcement can be reduced for tions of fracture mechanics and bond - slip behaviour of
base restrained walls. Harrison [10] showed the inf lu- reinforcement, respectively.
ence of the restraint for walls and some other structures.
For further studies of crack widths and crack spacing,
improved methods are needed that can be used for dif- 2.2 Characterisation of spring properties
ferent structures and boundary conditions.
In development of crack calculation methods the The present model is based on the following concep-
focus must be on the cracking behaviour. Fracture tual behaviour. The cracking process starts when the
mechanics deals with the fracture process and softening tensile stress exceeds the tensile strength of the concrete.
of concrete in a single crack, see e.g. Karihaloo [11]. The Upon further deformation, the concrete exhibits soften-
closing forces in cracks mainly originate from the rein- ing, i.e. gradual decrease in tensile stress until an open
forcement crossing the crack, and are affected by the crack is formed, see e.g. Karihaloo [11]. At the same
bond of the reinforcement in the vicinity of the crack. time, reinforcement bars crossing the crack will be suc-
Tests of bond stress – slip relations were performed e.g. cessively activated so that the whole force is carried by
by Magnusson [12] and Bigaj [13], and are also reported reinforcement once the crack is fully open. In the soft-
in Concrete Manual [14]. Modellings of bond have been ening phase, load is carried by both concrete and rein-
done e.g. by Bigaj [13] and Lundgren [15]. For crack cal- forcement, and both effects are modelled by equivalent
culations in realistic structures modelling of the bond springs. When the crack is fully open, only the spring
behaviour must be simplified. representing reinforcement is active.
The studied cracks arise from a combination of
imposed deformations and restraint. CEB [16] deals with Concrete softening
imposed deformations in form of thermal effects. Crack Tension softening of concrete is assumed localised to
risks in fully restrained walls have been studied e.g. by the fracture crack plane and is described by a linearly
Emborg [17], and for walls and slabs with varying decreasing relation between stress σ and fictitious crack
restraint conditions by Pettersson [18, 19]. Crack devel- opening w. For this case, the fracture energy Gf is the area
opment in walls as field observations has been studied by under the σ-w curve. A characteristic length ch, which can
many e.g. Kheder et al. [7]. be seen as a material parameter, is defined as (see e.g. [11]):
The present paper is the first in a series of two. The G f Ec
research is part of a project with the aim to develop lch = (1)
improved methods for estimation of crack widths and fct2
crack spacing in reinforced concrete structures exposed where fct is the tensile strength and Ec is the elastic mod-
to imposed deformations. The cracking process in a wall, ulus of concrete. In the softening phase, the relation
fully restrained at the bottom, is analysed with the help between stress change ∆σ and change in crack width,
of a two-dimensional Finite Element model. Tension ∆w, is:
softening of concrete and yield of reinforcement are ∆σ = kc ∆w w < wo (2)
considered. The effect of reinforcement on crack width
under decreasing temperature is studied. The method where the incremental distributed (negative) stiffness of
can be applied to other structures and boundary condi- the concrete, kc [N/m3], during softening and the width
tions, and in the second paper parametric studies will be wo of the crack when it opens (when σ becomes zero), can
performed with the purpose to improve control of be expressed in terms of the material properties as:
cracking in practical design.
kc = (3)
2 ⋅ lch
Closing effects of reinforcement
2.1 General The closing force of a reinforcement bar crossing a
crack is represented in the model by a linear spring with
The purpose here is to study crack development in stiffness Kr [force/unit length], connecting the opposite
realistic concrete structures and to find a method good faces of the crack. A linear bond stress-slip relation for
enough to estimate the crack widths and crack spacing one reinforcement bar is used to calculate the displace-
without studying the cracking process in detail. Therefore, ment u(0) of the bar relative to concrete at the crack
the strategy employed here is to find a model, which is faces. The spring stiffness Kr is then given by the relation
simple, but yet can describe the cracking process with suf- between the force in the bar and the slip 2⋅u(0), for the
ficient accuracy for the stated purpose. In the model, the two faces of the crack. This stiffness can then be trans-

Pettersson, Thelandersson

kb is of interest and it is here estimated as the secant stiff-

ness corresponding to a stress level equal to 0.8⋅bond
strength. The bond stiffness kb depends on test set up,
concrete quality and diameter. From test results pre-
sented in [12-14], kb can be estimated to 60 GPa/m for
ribbed bars with Φ = 12 mm. For bars with larger diame-
ter the value of kb is somewhat lower.
Fig. 1 – Boundary conditions for a reinforcement bar between In the tests, the reinforcement bars are normally con-
two cracks.
fined. For less confined bars in realistic structures the
curves are expected to develop in a similar way but with
formed into a distributed stiffness kr [N/m3] representing lower bond strength, which means that the same kb may
all bars crossing the crack. be used. In reality the action of reinforcement in con-
A general theoretical solution for the displacement crete is distributed along the bar a certain distance from
u(x) along a bar supported by linear, axially distributed the crack. In the FE-model with springs this action is
springs was first given by Volkersen [20]. Fig. 1 shows a described by a concentrated force in the finite element
bar between two cracks with spacing ‘2a’, and the corre- node in the crack. This simplification leads to an error in
sponding linear model. With the boundary conditions the local stress field, but will have negligible effect on
N(0) = P and u(a) = 0, the following solution is obtained: the global behaviour of the structure.
With kb = 60 GPa/m and Φ = 12mm Equation (5)
ux = P
λEs A Φ
cosh λx ⋅ tanh λa − sinh λx ] (4) gives λ ≈ 10 m-1. For λa ≥ 1.5 we have tanh λa ≈ 1. For a
12-mm bar this is valid when the crack spacing ‘2a’ is
where: larger than 0.3 m. This means that Kr is independent of ‘a’
except for highly reinforced structures which are highly
kb π ⋅ Φ
λ= (5) stressed so that the minimum crack distance becomes very
EsA Φ small. In the calculations, the spring stiffness K r in
and: Equation (6) was evaluated assuming tanh λa = 1, for the
P = the force in the bar crossing the crack [N] whole cracking process.
ES = elastic modulus for the steel [Pa] The modelling of bond behaviour used here is sim-
AΦ = cross section area for a bar with diameter Φ [m2] plified and associated with some uncertainty. The effect
kb = the distributed bond-slip stiffness along the bar, of bond properties on the cracking behaviour will there-
defined as the ratio between bond stress and slip fore be investigated in more detail in the second part of
[Pa/m]. the paper.
Equations (4) and (5) are then used to express the
spring stiffness Kr in the crack for one bar: Total spring stiffness
The average stress in the crack as function of the
Kr = P = λEs A Φ = k b π ⋅ Φ ⋅ Es A Φ
(6) crack width is illustrated in Fig. 3. The behaviour is gov-
2⋅u 0 2 tanh λa 2 tanh λa
erned by Equations (3) and (7). The average stress σy
The distributed spring stiffness in the crack from over the cross section at yield of reinforcement is σy =
reinforcement is given by fstρ. A minimum reinforcement ratio ρmin (= fct/fst ) can
be derived from the criteria of not exceeding the yield
K rρ
kr = K r n = (7) strength of the reinforcement at the onset of a crack.

n = number of bars per 1 m2 [m-2]
ρ = reinforcement ratio (As/Ac) [-].
Bond stress – slip tests with short embedment lengths
can be assumed to describe the local bond behaviour in
bars. A typical bond stress – slip relation from tests is
shown in Fig. 2. In the present context only the stiffness

Fig. 2 –
Bond stress
- slip rela-
tion from
tests, with
linearized Fig. 3 – Average stress in the crack as function of the crack width
stiffness kb. for reinforced concrete. The influences of changes in fct, fst and ρ
are indicated.

Materials and Structures/Matériaux et Constructions, Vol. 34, January-February 2001

2.3 Implementing the spring element Reinforcement/bond, Φ = 12 mm:

ES = 200 GPa (E-modulus)
The concrete structure is modelled with plane finite fst = 600 MPa (tensile strength)
elements where the concrete is regarded as linear elastic. kb = 60 GPa/m (bond stiffness).
The cracking behaviour is modelled with non-linear
springs introduced in the nodes. The properties of the
springs have been described above. Two different 3.2 FE-model
approaches have been used in the analysis, an incremental
solution and a total method giving stepwise valid solutions. The FE-program ANSYS, version 5.4 was used for
The primary principle for the incremental method is the calculations [21]. The concrete structure is simulated
linear solutions of incremental changes in the system, with two-dimensional plane four-node elements, assum-
with updating of spring properties after each step, taking ing plane stress. The elements are chosen quadratic with
into account both softening of concrete and closing side length 0.1 m. The structure is fixed at the bottom
forces of the reinforcement crossing the crack. The and the symmetry of the structure is used to limit the
results from each step are superimposed to obtain the size of the problem. The predefined infinitely stiff spring
final solution. elements change status to simulate cracking.
In the stepwise valid solution method, the softening The number of temperature load steps is adapted to
of concrete is neglected and springs describing the effect cover a reasonable span of temperature decrease. The
of reinforcement are introduced successively. After each shape of the temperature change is regarded as a reason-
modification, the system is analysed and the range of able simplification with respect to outer temperature
validity of each solution is determined. The result is that changes and the influence from the ground.
the behaviour of the structure (including crack widths)
during the cracking process can be simulated, assuming
that softening of concrete can be neglected. 4. A STRUCTURE WITH A SINGLE CRACK
The Finite Element program can be set up to do this
automatically in a rather simple way, by introducing non- A crack predestined to the symmetry line of the struc-
linear spring elements in both x- and y-directions in all ture is studied with the purpose to compare the incre-
nodes from the outset. The properties of the springs will mental method and the method with stepwise valid solu-
change during the process from practically infinite stiff- tions. All calculations give that cracking first appears about
ness (before cracking) to a finite stiffness representing the 300 mm above the base where the temperature profile
closing force of reinforcement in the open crack and to a changes from linear to uniform, see Fig. 4. The crack then
prescribed force in the spring representing yield in the develops upward, but also a bit downward. The position
reinforcement. The cracking criterion is based on the of maximum crack width then moves upward, sometimes
magnitude of the force in the spring elements instead of all the way to the top of the structure.
element or node stresses, which also means that cracks Fig. 5 shows two curves for temperature change as
can only be created at element boundaries. function of maximum crack width for a high reinforce-
By comparing the two methods, it will be shown ment ratio, ρ = 0.020. Tension softening is influencing
below that it is reasonable to disregard the effect of soft- the incremental solution at smaller crack widths and
ening, for the present purpose. thereafter the curves are almost identical. Generally the
effect of softening is not significant. Calculations show
that the inf luence of softening further decreases with
3. THE STUDIED STRUCTURE decreasing reinforcement ratio ρ. The explanation for
this is that softening is only active in cracks with a width
3.1 Input data smaller than wo ≈ 0.1 mm. Softening is described with
the material parameter Gf. It is shown e.g. in Hillerborg
Fig. 4 shows the geometry for the studied structure
and the load in principle, given as a temperature decrease
in the wall relative to the base. The input material prop-
erties are representative for normal reinforcement and
hardened concrete. The effect of reinforcement in cracks
is described according to section 2.2 with tanh λa = 1.
Calculations are performed for reinforcement ratios, ρ,
from 0.001 to 0.020.

Input material properties

Ec = 32 GPa (E-modulus)
fct = 3.5 MPa (tensile strength)
ch = 0.4 m (characteristic length)
α = 10·10-6 K-1 (coefficient of thermal expansion). Fig. 4 – Geometry and temperature loading for the studied structure.

Pettersson, Thelandersson

Fig. 7 – Order of
cracking for
method (in the
symmetric half
of the struc-

Fig. 8 –
loading - maxi-
Fig. 5 – Temperature change - maximum crack width, calculated mum crack
with the two methods. width curves in
principal for
structures with
one and several

Table 1 – Temperature change and maximum crack width

immediately after cracking for the second node from the
bottom in the symmetry line, here given for two
reinforcement ratios
∆T (°C) wmax (mm)
ρ = 0.005 (1 crack) 13.07 1.39.10-3
multiple cracking 13.34 0.88.10-3
ρ = 0.005 (1 crack) 13.09 1.16.10-3
Fig. 6 – Temperature change - maximum crack width, stepwise multiple cracking 13.24 0.77.10-3
valid solutions.

[22] that larger structures become more brittle and cracking. The short length of the cracks and small dis-
thereby the influence of softening decreases. The con- tances between them implies that the initial cracking
clusion is that softening can be neglected so that the sim- zone near the base can be regarded as a softening zone
pler method with stepwise valid solutions can be with more or less uniform softening.
employed especially for lower reinforcement ratios. Fig. 8 shows in principle the difference between the
Fig. 6 shows curves for different reinforcement ratios case when only one crack is allowed and the case with
ρ obtained with this method. Yield of reinforcement is multiple cracking. Table 1 gives, for two different values
shown as a descending of the linearly growing parts of of ρ, a comparison of the maximum crack widths imme-
the curves. A study of the stresses outside the symmetry diately after cracking for the second node from the bot-
line indicates stresses exceeding the tensile strength of tom in the symmetry line. It is seen that the crack is
the concrete. Thus, modelling which allows cracking formed at a higher temperature change for multiple
only in the symmetry line is not sufficient to estimate cracking and that the crack width becomes smaller. The
crack widths in the structure. arrow in Fig. 8 also illustrates this. The first crack in the
structure appears for ∆T = 12.8°C.


5.2 The method with stepwise valid solutions
5.1 The incremental method
This method is more convenient to use, but tension
Fig. 7 shows the order of cracking calculated with the softening of concrete has to be neglected. As indicated it
incremental method with the possibility of multiple is possible to neglect tension softening for one crack and
cracking implemented. The first crack (1) arises in the especially for lower reinforcement ratios. The influence
same position as for one crack. Vertical cracks are then of softening will be higher for structures with multiple
created with small distances from the symmetry line and cracking, because the crack width is spread out to several
outwards on the same level above the base. Cracks are cracks. As lower reinforcement ratios are of interest the
formed to about halfway to the end of the structure method is still regarded as sufficiently accurate.
before the second node in the symmetry line (X) is The order of cracking in structures for the method

Materials and Structures/Matériaux et Constructions, Vol. 34, January-February 2001

Fig. 9 – Order of
cracking for
stepwise valid
solutions (in the
symmetric half
of the struc-

with stepwise valid solutions is indicated in Fig. 9 for the

first eight cracks. This order of cracking is in good agree-
ment with cracking observed in tests. The first crack will
arise in the symmetry line as for the previous cases. The Fig. 10 – Temperature change - maximum crack width, for dif-
ferent number of cracks.
second crack appears approximately in the middle of the
symmetric half of the structure. The next two cracks arise
in the fourth points of the structure. Then, four cracks
arise between the existing cracks. The first cracks are
developed to the full height before the next crack starts to
develop. Some variation of the order may arise for the later
cracks with varying reinforcement ratios.
Analyses were performed where the number of
cracks was artificially limited. Fig. 10 shows the maxi-
mum crack width as function of the temperature change
for different maximum number of cracks in the symmet-
ric half of the structure for ρ = 0.005. As is indicated in
the figure the number of cracks is very important for the
maximum crack width. Without restrictions on the
number of cracks the FE-calculations give that the num-
ber of cracks is limited to eight for temperature changes
up to 40°C. This gives a crack spacing of about 0.5 m, Fig. 11 – Temperature change - maximum crack width, for the
eight different cracks.
which is reasonable. For highly reinforced structures
with high temperature changes minimum crack spacing
may have to be imposed by restrictions in the program. For reinforcement ratios of 0.005 and higher the
The maximum crack width wmax may be located in influence of element size is small. For a reinforcement
any of the cracks and may also change position with ratio of 0.001 and side length 0.1 m, the crack width will
increasing temperature change. Fig. 11 shows the maxi- be overestimated with almost 20% compared to calcula-
mum crack width for each of the eight cracks for the case tions with smaller element. Elements with side length
with free cracking. The curves can be assembled to the 0.1m have been used to limit the size of the calculations,
curve for free cracking shown in Fig. 10. even though smaller element would have given a bit
As is shown, the different cracks develop towards more reliable results. The results from the calculations
almost the same crack width. The maximum crack shall not be interpreted in absolute terms, but will give a
width sometimes decreases with increasing temperature good estimation of crack widths and can be used for
change. The reason for that is that a new crack has been parametric studies.
formed and this leads to partial closing of the cracks in
the vicinity.
The order of cracking is given by Fig. 9 and cracks of 6. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
higher order starts at a higher temperature change. Note
the big difference in the starting temperature between A simplified FE-method to calculate crack widths and
the fourth and fifth cracks, which is explained by the crack distributions in reinforced concrete structures is pro-
cracking order. posed. Closing forces in cracks are modelled with spring
For multiple cracking the side length of the plane elements. The spring stiffness is estimated from bond stress
elements in the FE-model affects the crack widths. – slip relations for reinforcement and tension softening of
Larger elements give restrictions for the crack develop- concrete. Yield of reinforcement is also included in the
ment. This implies a bit larger crack widths for larger model. Temperature change is used as load and the calcula-
elements (see Fig. 10). This effect is small for higher tions are performed stepwise with opening of nodes and
reinforcement ratios. For lower reinforcement ratios the implementation of spring elements.
effect is increasing due to increased extent of yielding of Results are given as maximum crack widths as func-
reinforcement. tion of temperature change. It is shown that reinforce-

Pettersson, Thelandersson

ment has a closing effect of the crack widths. Multiple REFERENCES

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ACKNOWLEDGMENT [23] Thelandersson, S., Alemo, J. and Nagy, A., ‘Cracking of con-
crete structures due to imposed strains with regard to design of
Elforsk AB – the Swedish Electr ical Utilities reinforcement’, Mater. Struct. 31 (1998) 442-450.
Research and Development Company, financially sup-
ported this work.


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