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The Effect of Post-Tensioning On the Buckling Behaviour of a Glass T-Beam


Assistant Professor Ph.D.Researcher Civil Engineer
Ghent University Delft University of ABG Consulting
Ghent, Belgium Technology Moorslede, Belgium
Delft, The Netherlands
Jan Belis, born 1975, received Karen Verfaillie, born 1983,
his civil engineering-architect Christian Louter, born 1979, received her civil engineering
degree and his PhD degree from received his building engineering degree from Ghent University,
Ghent University, Belgium degree from Delft University of Belgium


Professor Ph.D. Researcher
Ghent University Ghent University
Ghent, Belgium Ghent, Belgium
Rudy Van Impe, born 1954, Dieter Callewaert, born 1982,
received his civil engineering received his civil engineering-
degree from Ghent University architect degree from Ghent
and his PhD degree from Vrije University, Belgium
Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

The experimental failure behaviour of an innovative post-tensioned glass beam with a T-shaped
cross-section has been compared with a numerical failure analysis in order to evaluate the potential
risk of buckling in the case of simple supports.
The overall effect of post-tensioning on the buckling behaviour of the prototype has been
investigated by means of finite elements models. The post-tensioning seems to have a negligible
positive effect on the buckling resistance of the examined geometry.

Keywords: glass beam, buckling, post-tensioning, numerical analysis, finite elements method.

1. Introduction
In 2004 the prototype of an innovative glass beam has been presented [1]. The proposed design
differs from ordinary glass beams basically in four aspects. The first is the general shape: a T-
shaped cross-section, composed by an in-plane curved glass web and glass flange, is in contrast to
the usual straight web-only geometry. The second aspect is the use of an adhesive bond that
makes it possible to exceed the maximum production length of standard glass panes. Next, the
beam is post-tensioned by means of a small tendon that is guided through a small stainless steel box
section. Finally, only annealed float glass, which fails at relatively low bending stresses, was used.
In comparison to concrete, glass beams are composed of very slender elements. For this reason,
they might be subjected to an increased risk of lateral torsional buckling.
The post-tensioning process induces residual stresses, mainly in the longitudinal direction of the
beam. It is well known that normal stresses might affect the rotational rigidity and that residual
stresses might affect the buckling resistance.

2. Beam design
In 2004 Louter [1] presented an innovative design for a post-tensioned 12 meters long structural
glass beam. To validate the structural behaviour of this beam design a scale 1:4 prototype has been
built and destructively tested. The beam design consisted of four innovative features:
2.1 T-section
Contrary to common structural glass
90 mm 60 mm beams, which are often constructed as
full section beams, this beam was
designed as a T-section beam. In this
110 mm design the glass flange was
adhesively bonded to the glass web.
210 mm Web and flange were curved in such a
way that section dimensions are at
maximum at mid-span, in accordance
with the bending stresses. Hence, the
scale 1:4 protoype varied in height
from 110 m to 210 mm and in width
Fig. 1 Section dimension of T-section beam prototype from 60 mm to 90 mm (Figure 1).
at mid span (left) and at the beam end (right).

2.2 Bonded glass segments

With a length of 12 meters the T-section beam exceeded the standard maximum production size of
glass panes, being 6 m x 3.21 m. The beam was therefore composed of multiple overlapping glass
segments that were adhesively bonded using an acrylic photo-initiated curing adhesive.
Applied in a very thin layer (0.01 mm) this adhesive bond accounts for a very stiff and strong
connection, which is not susceptible
3000 mm to creep.
3000 mm
T-section beam The adhesive bond enables the
realization of fully transparent
continuous large span glass beams,
without using any steel joints that
Web segments affect the transparency of the beam
The glass web of the scale 1:4
prototype consisted of three layers (8
Flange segments mm 10 mm 8 mm) and the glass
flange of two layers (8 mm 8 mm).
All glass layers were segmented in
Fig. 2 Both web and flange are segmented either two sheets of 1500 mm 1500
mm, or three sheets of 750 mm
1500 mm 750 mm (Figure 2).

2.3 Post-tensioning tendon

To increase the load-bearing capacity the T-section beam was post-tensioned by means of an
unbonded steel tendon, which was fed through a small stainless steel box section. This box section
was integrated in the web of the beam and located under the middle glass layer (Figure 1, above).
The box section was adhesively bonded to the surrounding glass layers and acted as reinforcement.
The steel tendon was tensioned and anchored at the beam-ends and the applied pre-stress was
transferred to the glass by means of steel heads and neoprene interlayers (Figure 3, below). For the
scale 1:4 prototype a 10 mm x10 mm x 1 mm stainless steel section and a = 7 mm high strength
steel tendon was applied.
Top view neoprene
steel head
Side view


Fig. 3 The T-beam is post-tensioned using a steel tendon, steel heads and a neoprene interlayer

2.4 Annealed floatglass

Glass beams are generally constructed of foil laminated toughened glass. The T-section beam
however was composed of ordinary annealed float glass that, unlike toughened glass, fails in large
shards. Upon overloading the beam will crack but not totally disintegrate. Due to the applied
compressive pre-stress and the dissipation of fracture energy by elongation of the stainless steel
reinforcement, crack propagation will be limited. Both stainless steel section and steel tendon will
serve as a crack bridge that takes up the tensile forces. Together with the compressive force in the
(uncracked) compression zone the beam will still be able to carry the external load. This way safe
ductile failure behaviour was obtained.
The scale 1:4 prototype was subjected to a four-point bend test. Test results are discussed in detail
in [3]. Cracks started at reasonable stress levels and the beam showed safe ductile failure behaviour
and a high residual strength (Figure 4 and Figure 5). The specimen was tested to full destruction
and finally exploded due to too high stresses in the compression zone.


First clearly
visible cracks
F [x 10,000 [N]

Very small
local crack

Displacement [mm]

Fig. 4 Load-displacement curve of post- Fig. 5 First visible cracks occur at 20.5 kN
tensioned T-section beam prototype
3. Failure mechanisms
3.1 General
Theoretically, different mechanisms can cause a beam to fail in carrying a load. The first
mechanism that comes into mind when dealing with glass structures (see 2.4), is brittle fracture
(strength problem). Secondly, it is shown before that lateral torsional buckling can become an
important parameter in the design of glass beams with a rectangular cross-section [4].
During the destructive experiment as described above, the beam was forced to fail due to material
failure (strength problem). Lateral torsional buckling was artificially made impossible by means of
additional supports that excluded any lateral displacement of the web at mid-span (Figure 5, above).
In case the boundary conditions, unlike the experimental test set-up, do not provide in lateral
restraints, lateral torsional buckling could theoretically cause the beam to collapse (general
instability problem) [6].

3.2 Lateral torsional buckling

A perfect beam (i.e. without imperfections or
v eccentricities) will initially bend only in the
u vertical plane when subjected to a vertical
load. In the assumption that all appearing
bending stresses can be taken by the material
X without any problem, a theoretical maximum

Y value of the load exists, called the critical load
or buckling load (Fcr). When the critical load is
reached, the beam becomes instable and will
deform out of the vertical plane in an
Fig. 6 Physical principle of lateral torsional uncontrolled way (Figure 6).
buckling [4]
Since rotations around the longitudinal axis
are restricted only at the supports, cross-
F sections will rotate more towards mid-span:
perfect beam the beam is supported to torsion as well. It is
Fcr easily understood now that the torsional
bifurcation point rigidity as well as the bending stiffness about
imperfect beam the weak axis are important characteristics to
determine the buckling load. Compared with
horizontal the graph for perfect beams, the load-
displacement u deformation curve of imperfect beams will
show deviations that are dependent of the
Fig. 7 Load-displacement curve of a perfect magnitude of eventual imperfections
and an imperfect elastic beam (Figure 7).

3.3 Relation with post-tensioning

The post-tensioning obviously causes mainly residual normal stresses along the longitudinal axis of
the beam. From structural analysis theory it is known that normal actions can have an influence on
the torsional rigidity (Wagner effect, [5]), and so on the buckling resistance. In addition, residual
stresses (e.g. due to a hot rolling process) can influence the buckling load of steel members.
For this reason, normal actions and residual stresses due to the post-tensioning process of the glass
prototype are of interest in relation to the buckling behaviour.
4. Numerical modelling
4.1 Model
The software used for the finite elements analyses was Abaqus [7]. Different element types have
been tested. The numerical models of the prototype that are discussed here consist of continuum
elements with 20 nodes (C3D20). The mesh used is based on a parametric study [8].
Because the different glass leaves of the experimental prototype have been combined by means of a
very thin and brittle adhesive bond, they have been considered one monolith in the numerical
approach. Obviously, this supposition is in good agreement with reality.
The models used at first show a good resemblance with the real prototype geometry, although some
simplifications are present (Figure 8). The first
is that the glass plate in the middle of the web
laminate was modelled identically to the outer
web plates: the cross-section of the web was
never indented. The second is that the flange
has a constant width (60 mm) instead of a
variable width (60 mm 90 mm 60 mm).
The effects of these simplifications on the
Fig. 8 Tendon embedded in web results is discussed below ( 5.2).

4.2 Static analysis

The pretensioning tendon was modelled with
truss elements, which were embedded in the
continuum elements of the web (Figure 6,
above). As a consequence, the degrees of
freedom of the tendon were limited to those of
the web.
First, the initial stress conditions were defined:
the tendon was given a preload numerically.
Fig. 9 Normal stress distribution in the beam During a static analysis, the software was
after initial static analysis. Red colour = capable of redistributing the mechanical
tensile stresses, blue colour = compressive stresses. In the course of the analysis, the
stresses preload in the tendon was held constant. As a
result of these operations, a new state of stress
10 equilibrium in tendon and glass components
9 was established (Figure 9). The maxim tensile
8 stresses appeared on the upper side of the
flange at mid-span. For a tendon preload of 10
kN, the maximal value for the tensile stresses
4 amounted to 1.9 N/mm. The corresponding
3 maximum compressive stress was 5.4 N/mm
2 and was situated at the lower rim of the web
1 (Figure 10). If the preload was raised further
-3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 6
normal stress [N/mm] up numerically to 30 kN, a consequent
increase of both tensile and compressive
Fig. 10 Stress distribution in cross-section at stresses was noticed. The glass failure stress,
mid-span, for a tendon preload of 10 kN (which was taken 15 N/mm
according to [1]), however, was never reached
by only the preloading conditions that have
been described here.
After the static analysis, the prestressed beam
model shows a general bow with a curvature
Fig. 9 General bow (scaled up) after static opposite to the curvature that gravity loads
analysis would cause (Figure 9).

4.3 Buckling analysis

In a second phase, the prestressed beam was subjected to a buckling analysis. The beam is therefore
loaded with a vertical concentrated load at mid span. The analysis furnishes eigenvalues, the
minimum positive value of which corresponds to the critical load for lateral torsional buckling, for
the given loading sense.

5. Discussion
5.1 Effect of tendon preload on buckling load

buckling load [kN] The application of a preload on the tendon

58,86 implies that initial stress conditions of the
overall beam are changed. Successive analyses
have been performed in order to examine the
58,84 effect on the buckling load of an increase of
the tendon preload.
As illustrated in Figure 10, higher preloads of
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 the tendon will result in a higher value of the
preload on tendon [kN] critical load. In view of the absolute values of
the buckling load in the graph, however, the
Fig. 10 Relation between tendon preload and overall effect definitely is of minor
critical load importance.

5.2 Effect of simplifications

The geometrical simplifications assumed in
4.1 have been avoided in a more sophisticated
model (Figure 11).
The buckling load of the refined model is
approximately 50% higher than the buckling
load obtained with the simplified model. The
main parameter causing this difference is the
widening of the flange, which results in a
significant increase of both torsional rigidity
and second moment of area, especially near
Fig. 11 Model without geometrical The total effect of all simplifications was
simplifications conservative (safe) with respect to lateral
torsional buckling.
5.3 Comparison of failure mechanisms
The experimental failure load (the load that caused the first cracks) was about 21 kN. The
numerically determined buckling load of the prototype with various preloads, on the other hand,
was of the order of magnitude of 60 kN. It should be noted that the latter was determined for a
perfect beam, without eccentricities or imperfections. Second order effects have not been examined
here, but due to the relatively high torsional rigidity and bending stiffness about the weak axis of
the T-shaped glass beam, they are not expected to cause problems in a serviceability limit state
design. For the geometry and materials chosen, the comparison of fracture load and buckling load
clearly shows that a risk of buckling is not present. Consequently, it can be concluded that the
lateral supports to avoid buckling during the experiment actually were not necessary until the first
cracks appeared. Possibly they have had a positive effect on the general post-failure behaviour of
the broken prototype.

6. Conclusions
The post-tensioning method that has been realised in the experimental prototype has a posteriori
been investigated numerically. The most important conclusions are:
o The proposed post-tensioning method results in an appropriate stress distribution: at mid-span,
where maximum bending stresses are expected, prestresses are induced in an effective way in
order to counteract bending stresses. For the examined preloads, there is no risk of material
failure (fracture) due to exaggerated preload values.
o Simplifications in the modelling geometry should be avoided, since they can have a significant
influence on the results. In this case, however, the overall effect of all simplifications was
conservative (safe) with respect to lateral torsional buckling.
o The value of the lateral torsional buckling load of the examined prototype is not significantly
dependent on the value of the preload.
o A comparison of the actual failure load during the destructive experiment on the one hand, and
the numerical lateral torsional buckling load on the other hand, shows that the geometry of the
prototype will fail due to fracture of the float glass. The geometry of the prototype has a
relatively good resistance to buckling. It should be noted, however, that the effect of
(unavoidable) shape imperfections and eccentricities was not examined in this paper.

7. References
[1] LOUTER, C., Ontwikkeling van een glazen overkappingsconstructie, Master thesis, Delft
University of Technology, Delft, 2004. Not published.
[2] LOUTER, C., BELIS, J., BOS, F., VEER, F., HOBBELMAN, G., Reinforced Glass
Cantilever Beams, Proceedings of Glass Processing Days, 2005, pp. 429-433.
[3] BOS, F.P., VEER, F.A., HOBBELMAN, G.J. & LOUTER, P.C., Stainless steel reinforced
and post-tensioned glass beams, Pappalettere, C (Ed.), Proceedings of International
conference on experimental mechanics / icem12 / advances in experimental mechanics, 2004,
pp. 1-9.
[4] BELIS, J., Kipsterkte van monolithische en gelamineerde glazen liggers, Dissertation,
Laboratory for Research on Structural Models, Ghent University, Ghent, 2005.
[5] VANDEPITTE, D., Berekening van constructies Bouwkunde en civiele techniek,
Wetenschappelijke uitgeverij E. Story-Scientia P.V.B.A., Gent, Antwerpen, Brussel, Leuven,
[6] THIMOSHENKO, S. & GERE, J., Theory of elastic stability, Second edition, New York,
Toronto, London, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., Tokyo, Kogkusha Company Ltd., 1961.
[7] ABAQUS INC., Abaqus Version 6.5 Documentation, 2004.
[8] VERFAILLIE, K., Effect van naspanning op het kipgedrag van glazen liggers: numerieke
studie, Master thesis, LMO, Ghent University, Ghent, 2006. Not published.