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Analysis of simply supported isotropic thin-plate bending problem

by finite difference method

1 2 3
Emma Consuelo O. Como , Jaan Ruy Conrad P. Nogot and Gilbert M. Oca
Materials Physics Research Group, Physics Division, IMSP, CAS, UP Los Baños
Computational Physics Research Group, Physics Division, IMSP,CAS, UP Los Baños
October 7, 2010


An isotropic thin-plate supported along its edges is subjected to an areal load, bending the
plate in the process. The resulting deflection along the transverse direction (z-direction) of
the plate is computed and analyzed in this study. A second-order differential equation is
first defined to simplify the Classical Plate Equation to a Poisson equation counterpart. This
simplified equation is then solved using the finite differential method, ensuing the
deflection of the plate along the z-direction. This deflection increases when the applied
transverse load is increased, the plate is made thinner and the plate is made of a material of
a relatively smaller flexural rigidity.


For problems involving complicated geometries, loadings, and material properties, it is generally
not possible to obtain analytical mathematical solutions. Hence, one needs to rely on numerical
methods, such as finite difference method (FDM)4, for acceptable approximate solutions. A typical
problem area of interest that is solvable by use of the FDM is the structural analysis of the plate-bending
problem (see figure 1).

A plate can be considered the two-dimensional extension of a beam in simple bending. Both
plates and beams support loads transverse or perpendicular
to their plane and through bending action [2].

The small transverse (out-of-plane) displacement z of

a thin plate (see figure 2) is governed by the Classical Plate

where D is the flexural rigidity of the plate, w its deflection in Figure 1. General plate-bending problem
the transverse (z) direction and q, the applied transverse load.

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FDM is one of the three basic discretization methods, where one replaces the domain by a finite point set and replaces derivatives by differences [1]
The flexural rigidity is given by


where h is the plate’s thickness, E is the Young’s Modulus, and v is the Poisson’s ratio5 of the plate
material [3].

The differential operator in eq. 1 is called the Laplacian differential operator ∆, where


When D is constant throughout the plate, the plate equation can be simplified to,


where is called the biharmonic differential operator [4].

This small deflection theory assumes that w is small in comparison to the thickness of the plate
h, and the strains and the midplane slopes are much smaller than 1.

Figure 2. Simply supported square plate with load q

Poisson's ratio is the ratio of the relative contraction strain, or transverse strain normal to the applied load, to the relative extension strain, or axial
strain in the direction of the applied load. Ranges from engineering materials from .2 to .5 [5]
A plate is called thin when its thickness h is at least one order of magnitude smaller than the span or diameter of the plate [6]

Figure 2 shows a thin-plate with an area load q acting on it. The plate is assumed to be isotropic6
and is supported along the edges. No deflections at the plate’s edges and slope normal to the boundary
are zero. Given the foregoing boundary conditions, the deflection along the z-direction is determined.


The deflections of a square plate, with supported edges subjected to an areal load q, in the z
direction is given by


where D is called the flexural rigidity and q is the areal load.

The above equation can be simplified by defining another equation u which is equal to


Equation 5 then becomes


Equation 7 is solved using finite difference

method. A region, shown in figure 3, is partitioned into a
grid with points satisfying the boundary conditions
specified in figure 2. When applying the finite difference
method in the nine discretized domain points, nine
equations are produced. The solutions u1, u2,…, u9 of
the nine equations are solved numerically using Gaussian
elimination method [7][8][9]. The computed ui’s are
correspondingly equated in expression 6 to finally solve
for z. The same method, utilizing finite difference
method and Gaussian elimination, was used to work out

Figure 3. Discrete Finite Differential Grid

Isotropic materials are materials having no directional variation in their mechanical properties (e.g. wood, and many crystals); homogeneous.

the z values for equation 6.

The algorithm7, implementing the method, is presented here.

1. Compute for the Areal load divided by the Flexural rigidity (q/D).
2. Initialize the coefficient matrix and constant matrix produced by FDM in equation 7.
3. Solve ui’s using Gaussian elimination method.
4. Initialize new coefficient matrix produced by FDM in equation 6 with elements of the constant
matrix replaced by ui’s.
5. Solve z values using Gaussian elimination method.

The behavior of equation 5 was examined by varying the areal load and changing the flexural
rigidity (changing the material) and the thickness of the plate.

Results and Discussion

Figure 4 shows the deflection along the z-direction of a 1 cm thick copper thin-plate under
different loads. As the load is varied from 50 N to 500 N to 1000 N, the deflection of the plate is
observed to have also increased. One sees a direct proportionality of the deflection and the applied
transverse force (load), and these results satisfy the governing equation (4). Being simply-supported, it is
also observed from the following figure that there is no deflection along the plate’s edges, satisfying the
specified boundary condition.




Figure 4. Deflection of a copper plate along the z axis when a load, q, of (a) 50N, (b) 500N, (c) 1000N is applied
For the Fortran 90 program, email or contact any of the authors.

Figure 5, on the other hand, shows the deflection along the z direction of a 1 cm thin (a)
aluminum and (b) copper plate both subjected to 500 N. Aluminum has a E value of 7.0 x 1010 Pa and a
Poisson’s ratio (v) of 0.334. Copper has 11 x 1010 and 0.355, respectively [10]. Based from the obtained z
deflection, it appeared that for a constant load, aluminum plate bends relatively greater than copper
plate. It can be observed that the flexural rigidity of aluminum is 6565.8, which is smaller than copper’s
10,488.5. From the governing equation (4), the flexural rigidity is inversely proportional to the
deflection, and the foregoing findings satisfy this claim.

5a 5b

Figure 5. Deflection of a (a) aluminum, (b) copper thin-plate under 500 N

Shown in figure 6 are the corresponding deflections of a copper thin-plate when its thickness is
varied. It is observed that as the thickness of the plate is decreased, the deflection along the z-direction
increases. This follows that the thinner the plate, the more it can be bend by an introduction of a
transverse load. The foregoing observations imply an inverse relationship between the thickness of the
material and its deflection along the transverse direction, complying with the governing equation for

Moreover, it is observed for all three cases that the deflections of the nine discretized domain
points (see figure 3) vary from each other. However, and more importantly, a trend of the deflection can
be deduced from these three cases. Domain point 33 is observed to have the greatest deflection along
the transverse direction compared to the other eight points’, which appear to decrease substantially,
relative to domain point 33. There are no deflections along the plate’s edges for the three cases because
the plate is simply supported. This Gaussian-like surface was observed because the plate is initially
conceived as isotropic and homogenous and the load is subjected in the plate’s center.

6a 6b


Figure 6. Deflection of a copper plate of (a) 1mm, (b) 1cm, (c) 0.1m copper thin-plate under 500 N loads

Summary and Conclusion

The study attempted to compute for the deflection along the transverse direction of a simply
supported isotropic thin-plate resulting from an applied transverse load. A second order differential
equation was first defined to simplify the given plate equation to an equivalent Poisson equation, thru
the property of the biharmonic differential operator, and by using the finite difference method to solve
the simplified plate equation, this objective was successfully meet.

To validate the results of the study, the areal load, the flexural rigidity and the thickness of the
plate were varied and the corresponding trends were analyzed. An increase in the deflection along the
transverse direction of the thin-plate can be accounted by an increase in the load applied to the plate, a
decrease in the thickness of the plate and the usage of a plate made from a material with a relatively
smaller flexural rigidity D. These results, all and all, comply with the Classical Plate equation.


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