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Virtual work
Virtual work arises in the application of the principle of least action to the study of forces and movement of a
mechanical system. The work of a force acting on a particle as it moves along a displacement will be different for
different displacements. Among all the possible displacements that a particle may follow, called virtual displacements,
one will minimize the action. This displacement is therefore the displacement followed by the particle according to the
principle of least action. The work of a force on a particle along a virtual displacement is known as the virtual work.

Historically, virtual work and the associated calculus of variations were formulated to analyze systems of rigid
bodies,[1] but they have also been developed for the study of the mechanics of deformable bodies.[2]

Contents
History
Overview
Introduction
Static equilibrium
Constraint forces
Law of the lever
Gear train
Dynamic equilibrium for rigid bodies
Generalized inertia forces
D'Alembert's form of the principle of virtual work
Virtual work principle for a deformable body
Proof of equivalence between the principle of virtual work and the equilibrium equation
Principle of virtual displacements
Principle of virtual forces
Alternative forms
See also
External links
References
Bibliography

History
The principle of virtual work had always been used in some form since antiquity in the study of statics. It was used
by the Greeks, medieval Arabs and Latins, and Renaissance Italians as "the law of lever".[3] The idea of virtual work
was invoked by many notable physicists of the 17th century, such as Galileo, Descartes, Torricelli, Wallis, and
Huygens, in varying degrees of generality, when solving problems in statics.[3] Working with Leibnizian concepts,
Johann Bernoulli systematized the virtual work principle and made explicit the concept of infinitesimal displacement.
He was able to solve problems for both rigid bodies as well as fluids. Bernoulli's version of virtual work law appeared
in his letter to Pierre Varignon in 1715, which was later published in Varignon's second volume of Nouvelle mécanique
ou Statique in 1725. This formulation of the principle is today known as the principle of virtual velocities and is
commonly considered as the prototype of the contemporary virtual work principles.[3] In 1743 D'Alembert published
his Traité de Dynamique where he applied the principle of virtual work, based on Bernoulli's work, to solve various

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problems in dynamics. His idea was to convert a dynamical problem into static problem by introducing inertial
force.[4] In 1768, Lagrange presented the virtual work principle in a more efficient form by introducing generalized
coordinates and presented it as an alternative principle of mechanics by which all problems of equilibrium could be
solved. A systematic exposition of Lagrange's program of applying this approach to all of mechanics, both static and
dynamic, essentially D'Alembert's principle, was given in his Mécanique Analytique of 1788.[3] Although Lagrange had
presented his version of least action principle prior to this work, he recognized the virtual work principle to be more
fundamental mainly because it could be assumed alone as the foundation for all mechanics, unlike the modern
understanding that least action does not account for non-conservative forces.[3]

Overview
If a force acts on a particle as it moves from point A to point B, then, for each possible trajectory that the particle may
take, it is possible to compute the total work done by the force along the path. The principle of virtual work, which is
the form of the principle of least action applied to these systems, states that the path actually followed by the particle is
the one for which the difference between the work along this path and other nearby paths is zero (to first order). The
formal procedure for computing the difference of functions evaluated on nearby paths is a generalization of the
derivative known from differential calculus, and is termed the calculus of variations.

Consider a point particle that moves along a path which is described by a function r(t) from point A, where r(t = t0), to
point B, where r(t = t1). It is possible that the particle moves from A to B along a nearby path described by r(t) + δr(t),
where δr(t) is called the variation of r(t). The variation δr(t) satisfies the requirement δr(t0) = δr(t1) = 0. The
components of the variation, δr1(t), δr2(t) and δr3(t), are called virtual displacements. This can be generalized to an
arbitrary mechanical system defined by the generalized coordinates qi , i = 1, ..., n. In which case, the variation of the
trajectory qi (t) is defined by the virtual displacements δqi , i = 1, ..., n.

Virtual work is the total work done by the applied forces and the inertial forces of a mechanical system as it moves
through a set of virtual displacements. When considering forces applied to a body in static equilibrium, the principle of
least action requires the virtual work of these forces to be zero.

Introduction
Consider a particle P that moves from a point A to a point B along a trajectory r(t), while a force F(r(t)) is applied to it.
The work done by the force F is given by the integral

where dr is the differential element along the curve that is the trajectory of P, and v is its velocity. It is important to
notice that the value of the work W depends on the trajectory r(t).

Now consider particle P that moves from point A to point B again, but this time it moves along the nearby trajectory
that differs from r(t) by the variation δr(t)=εh(t), where ε is a scaling constant that can be made as small as desired
and h(t) is an arbitrary function that satisfies h(t0) = h(t1) = 0. Suppose the force F(r(t)+εh(t)) is the same as F(r(t)).
The work done by the force is given by the integral

The variation of the work δW associated with this nearby path, known as the virtual work, can be computed to be

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If there are no constraints on the motion of P, then 6 parameters are needed to completely describe P's position at any
time t. If there are k (k ≤ 6) constraint forces, then n = (6 - k) parameters are needed. Hence, we can define n
generalized coordinates qi (t) (i = 1, 2, ..., n), and express r(t) and δr=εh(t) in terms of the generalized coordinates.
That is,

,
.

Then, the derivative of the variation δr=εh(t) is given by

then we have

The requirement that the virtual work be zero for an arbitrary variation δr(t)=εh(t) is equivalent to the set of
requirements

The terms Qi are called the generalized forces associated with the virtual displacement δr.

Static equilibrium
Static equilibrium is a state in which the net force and net torque acted upon the system is zero. In other words, both
linear momentum and angular momentum of the system are conserved. The principle of virtual work states that the
virtual work of the applied forces is zero for all virtual movements of the system from static equilibrium. This
principle can be generalized such that three dimensional rotations are included: the virtual work of the applied forces
and applied moments is zero for all virtual movements of the system from static equilibrium. That is

where Fi , i = 1, 2, ..., m and Mj , j = 1, 2, ..., n are the applied forces and applied moments, respectively, and δri , i = 1,
2, ..., m and δφj , j = 1, 2, ..., n are the virtual displacements and virtual rotations, respectively.

Suppose the system consists of N particles, and it has f (f ≤ 6N) degrees of freedom. It is sufficient to use only f
coordinates to give a complete description of the motion of the system, so f generalized coordinates qk , k = 1, 2, ..., f
are defined such that the virtual movements can be expressed in terms of these generalized coordinates. That is,

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The virtual work can then be reparametrized by the generalized coordinates:

where the generalized forces Qk are defined as

Kane[5] shows that these generalized forces can also be formulated in terms of the ratio of time derivatives. That is,

The principle of virtual work requires that the virtual work done on a system by the forces Fi and moments Mj
vanishes if it is in equilibrium. Therefore, the generalized forces Qk are zero, that is

Constraint forces
An important benefit of the principle of virtual work is that only forces that do work as the system moves through a
virtual displacement are needed to determine the mechanics of the system. There are many forces in a mechanical
system that do no work during a virtual displacement, which means that they need not be considered in this analysis.
The two important examples are (i) the internal forces in a rigid body, and (ii) the constraint forces at an ideal joint.

Lanczos[1] presents this as the postulate: "The virtual work of the forces of reaction is always zero for any virtual
displacement which is in harmony with the given kinematic constraints." The argument is as follows. The principle of
virtual work states that in equilibrium the virtual work of the forces applied to a system is zero. Newton's laws state
that at equilibrium the applied forces are equal and opposite to the reaction, or constraint forces. This means the
virtual work of the constraint forces must be zero as well.

Law of the lever


A lever is modeled as a rigid bar connected to a ground frame by a hinged joint called a fulcrum. The lever is operated
by applying an input force FA at a point A located by the coordinate vector rA on the bar. The lever then exerts an
output force FB at the point B located by rB. The rotation of the lever about the fulcrum P is defined by the rotation
angle θ.

Let the coordinate vector of the point P that defines the fulcrum be rP, and introduce the lengths

which are the distances from the fulcrum to the input point A and to the output point B, respectively.

Now introduce the unit vectors eA and eB from the fulcrum to the point A and B, so

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This notation allows us to define the velocity of the points A


and B as

where eA⊥ and eB⊥ are unit vectors perpendicular to eA and


eB, respectively.

The angle θ is the generalized coordinate that defines the


configuration of the lever, therefore using the formula above
for forces applied to a one degree-of-freedom mechanism, the
generalized force is given by This is an engraving from Mechanics Magazine
published in London in 1824.

Now, denote as FA and FB the components of the forces that are perpendicular to the radial segments PA and PB.
These forces are given by

This notation and the principle of virtual work yield the formula for the generalized force as

The ratio of the output force FB to the input force FA is the mechanical advantage of the lever, and is obtained from the
principle of virtual work as

This equation shows that if the distance a from the fulcrum to the point A where the input force is applied is greater
than the distance b from fulcrum to the point B where the output force is applied, then the lever amplifies the input
force. If the opposite is true that the distance from the fulcrum to the input point A is less than from the fulcrum to the
output point B, then the lever reduces the magnitude of the input force.

This is the law of the lever, which was proven by Archimedes using geometric reasoning.[6]

Gear train
A gear train is formed by mounting gears on a frame so that the teeth of the gears engage. Gear teeth are designed to
ensure the pitch circles of engaging gears roll on each other without slipping, this provides a smooth transmission of
rotation from one gear to the next. For this analysis, we consider a gear train that has one degree-of-freedom, which
means the angular rotation of all the gears in the gear train are defined by the angle of the input gear.

The size of the gears and the sequence in which they engage define the ratio of the angular velocity ωA of the input gear
to the angular velocity ωB of the output gear, known as the speed ratio, or gear ratio, of the gear train. Let R be the
speed ratio, then

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The input torque TA acting on the input gear GA is


transformed by the gear train into the output torque TB
exerted by the output gear GB. If we assume, that the gears
are rigid and that there are no losses in the engagement of the
gear teeth, then the principle of virtual work can be used to
analyze the static equilibrium of the gear train.

Let the angle θ of the input gear be the generalized


coordinate of the gear train, then the speed ratio R of the gear
train defines the angular velocity of the output gear in terms
of the input gear, that is

The formula above for the principle of virtual work with


applied torques yields the generalized force

Illustration from Army Service Corps Training on


Mechanical Transport, (1911), Fig. 112
Transmission of motion and force by gear wheels,
compound train

The mechanical advantage of the gear train is the ratio of the output torque TB to the input torque TA, and the above
equation yields

Thus, the speed ratio of a gear train also defines its mechanical advantage. This shows that if the input gear rotates
faster than the output gear, then the gear train amplifies the input torque. And, if the input gear rotates slower than
the output gear, then the gear train reduces the input torque.

Dynamic equilibrium for rigid bodies


If the principle of virtual work for applied forces is used on individual particles of a rigid body, the principle can be
generalized for a rigid body: When a rigid body that is in equilibrium is subject to virtual compatible displacements,
the total virtual work of all external forces is zero; and conversely, if the total virtual work of all external forces
acting on a rigid body is zero then the body is in equilibrium.

If a system is not in static equilibrium, D'Alembert showed that by introducing the acceleration terms of Newton's laws
as inertia forces, this approach is generalized to define dynamic equilibrium. The result is D'Alembert's form of the
principle of virtual work, which is used to derive the equations of motion for a mechanical system of rigid bodies.

The expression compatible displacements means that the particles remain in contact and displace together so that the
work done by pairs of action/reaction inter-particle forces cancel out. Various forms of this principle have been
credited to Johann (Jean) Bernoulli (1667–1748) and Daniel Bernoulli (1700–1782).

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Generalized inertia forces


Let a mechanical system be constructed from n rigid bodies, Bi, i=1,...,n, and let the resultant of the applied forces on
each body be the force-torque pairs, Fi and Ti, i=1,...,n. Notice that these applied forces do not include the reaction
forces where the bodies are connected. Finally, assume that the velocity Vi and angular velocities ωi, i=,1...,n, for each
rigid body, are defined by a single generalized coordinate q. Such a system of rigid bodies is said to have one degree of
freedom.

Consider a single rigid body which moves under the action of a resultant force F and torque T, with one degree of
freedom defined by the generalized coordinate q. Assume the reference point for the resultant force and torque is the
center of mass of the body, then the generalized inertia force Q* associated with the generalized coordinate q is given
by

This inertia force can be computed from the kinetic energy of the rigid body,

by using the formula

A system of n rigid bodies with m generalized coordinates has the kinetic energy

which can be used to calculate the m generalized inertia forces[7]

D'Alembert's form of the principle of virtual work


D'Alembert's form of the principle of virtual work states that a system of rigid bodies is in dynamic equilibrium when
the virtual work of the sum of the applied forces and the inertial forces is zero for any virtual displacement of the
system. Thus, dynamic equilibrium of a system of n rigid bodies with m generalized coordinates requires that

for any set of virtual displacements δqj. This condition yields m equations,

which can also be written as

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The result is a set of m equations of motion that define the dynamics of the rigid body system.

If the generalized forces Qj are derivable from a potential energy V(q1,...,qm), then these equations of motion take the
form

In this case, introduce the Lagrangian, L=T-V, so these equations of motion become

These are known as Lagrange's equations of motion.

Virtual work principle for a deformable body


Consider now the free body diagram of a deformable body, which is composed of an infinite number of differential
cubes. Let's define two unrelated states for the body:

The -State : This shows external surface forces T, body forces f, and internal stresses in equilibrium.
The -State : This shows continuous displacements and consistent strains .
The superscript * emphasizes that the two states are unrelated. Other than the above stated conditions, there is no
need to specify if any of the states are real or virtual.

Imagine now that the forces and stresses in the -State undergo the displacements and deformations in the -State:
We can compute the total virtual (imaginary) work done by all forces acting on the faces of all cubes in two
different ways:

First, by summing the work done by forces such as which act on individual common faces (Fig.c): Since the
material experiences compatible displacements, such work cancels out, leaving only the virtual work done by the
surface forces T (which are equal to stresses on the cubes' faces, by equilibrium).
Second, by computing the net work done by stresses or forces such as , which act on an individual cube,
e.g. for the one-dimensional case in Fig.(c):

where the equilibrium relation has been used and the second order term has
been neglected.

Integrating over the whole body gives:

– Work done by the body forces f.

Equating the two results leads to the principle of virtual work for a deformable body:

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where the total external virtual work is done by T and f. Thus,

The right-hand-side of (d,e) is often called the internal virtual work. The principle of virtual work then states: External
virtual work is equal to internal virtual work when equilibrated forces and stresses undergo unrelated but
consistent displacements and strains. It includes the principle of virtual work for rigid bodies as a special case where
the internal virtual work is zero.

Proof of equivalence between the principle of virtual work and the equilibrium
equation
We start by looking at the total work done by surface traction on the body going through the specified deformation:

Applying divergence theorem to the right hand side yields:

Now switch to indicial notation for the ease of derivation.

To continue our derivation, we substitute in the equilibrium equation . Then

The first term on the right hand side needs to be broken into a symmetric part and a skew part as follows:

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where is the strain that is consistent with the specified displacement field. The 2nd to last equality comes from the
fact that the stress matrix is symmetric and that the product of a skew matrix and a symmetric matrix is zero.

Now recap. We have shown through the above derivation that

Move the 2nd term on the right hand side of the equation to the left:

The physical interpretation of the above equation is, the External virtual work is equal to internal virtual work when
equilibrated forces and stresses undergo unrelated but consistent displacements and strains.

For practical applications:

In order to impose equilibrium on real stresses and forces, we use consistent virtual displacements and strains in
the virtual work equation.
In order to impose consistent displacements and strains, we use equilibriated virtual stresses and forces in the
virtual work equation.
These two general scenarios give rise to two often stated variational principles. They are valid irrespective of material
behaviour.

Principle of virtual displacements


Depending on the purpose, we may specialize the virtual work equation. For example, to derive the principle of virtual
displacements in variational notations for supported bodies, we specify:

Virtual displacements and strains as variations of the real displacements and strains using variational notation
such as and
Virtual displacements be zero on the part of the surface that has prescribed displacements, and thus the work
done by the reactions is zero. There remains only external surface forces on the part that do work.
The virtual work equation then becomes the principle of virtual displacements:

This relation is equivalent to the set of equilibrium equations written for a differential element in the deformable body
as well as of the stress boundary conditions on the part of the surface. Conversely, (f) can be reached, albeit in a
non-trivial manner, by starting with the differential equilibrium equations and the stress boundary conditions on ,
and proceeding in the manner similar to (a) and (b).

Since virtual displacements are automatically compatible when they are expressed in terms of continuous, single-
valued functions, we often mention only the need for consistency between strains and displacements. The virtual work
principle is also valid for large real displacements; however, Eq.(f) would then be written using more complex
measures of stresses and strains.

Principle of virtual forces


Here, we specify:

Virtual forces and stresses as variations of the real forces and stresses.
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Virtual forces be zero on the part of the surface that has prescribed forces, and thus only surface (reaction)
forces on (where displacements are prescribed) would do work.

The virtual work equation becomes the principle of virtual forces:

This relation is equivalent to the set of strain-compatibility equations as well as of the displacement boundary
conditions on the part . It has another name: the principle of complementary virtual work.

Alternative forms
A specialization of the principle of virtual forces is the unit dummy force method, which is very useful for computing
displacements in structural systems. According to D'Alembert's principle, inclusion of inertial forces as additional
body forces will give the virtual work equation applicable to dynamical systems. More generalized principles can be
derived by:

allowing variations of all quantities.


using Lagrange multipliers to impose boundary conditions and/or to relax the conditions specified in the two
states.
These are described in some of the references.

Among the many energy principles in structural mechanics, the virtual work principle deserves a special place due to
its generality that leads to powerful applications in structural analysis, solid mechanics, and finite element method in
structural mechanics.

See also
Flexibility method
Unit dummy force method
Finite element method in structural mechanics
Calculus of variations
Lagrangian mechanics
Müller-Breslau's principle

External links
Examples applications of the virtual work principle (http://sameradeeb.srv.ualberta.ca/variational-principles/the-pri
nciple-of-virtual-work/)

References
1. C. Lánczos, The Variational Principles of Mechanics, 4th Ed., General Publishing Co., Canada, 1970 (https://book
s.google.com/books?id=ZWoYYr8wk2IC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&
q&f=false)
2. Dym, C. L. and I. H. Shames, Solid Mechanics: A Variational Approach, McGraw-Hill, 1973.
3. Capecchi, Danilo (2012). History of Virtual Work Laws. Milano: Springer Milan. doi:10.1007/978-88-470-2056-6 (h
ttps://doi.org/10.1007%2F978-88-470-2056-6). ISBN 978-88-470-2055-9.
4. René Dugas, A History of Mechanics, Courier Corporation, 2012
5. T. R. Kane and D. A. Levinson, Dynamics: theory and applications, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1985
6. Usher, A. P. (1929). A History of Mechanical Inventions (https://books.google.com/books?id=Zt4Aw9wKjm8C&pg=
PA94). Harvard University Press (reprinted by Dover Publications 1988). p. 94. ISBN 978-0-486-14359-0.

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OCLC 514178 (https://www.worldcat.org/oclc/514178). Retrieved 7 April 2013.


7. T. R. Kane and D. A. Levinson, Dynamics, Theory and Applications (https://www.amazon.com/Dynamics-Theory-
Applications-Mechanical-Engineering/dp/0070378460), McGraw-Hill, NY, 2005.

Bibliography
Bathe, K.J. "Finite Element Procedures", Prentice Hall, 1996. ISBN 0-13-301458-4
Charlton, T.M. Energy Principles in Theory of Structures, Oxford University Press, 1973. ISBN 0-19-714102-1
Dym, C. L. and I. H. Shames, Solid Mechanics: A Variational Approach, McGraw-Hill, 1973.
Greenwood, Donald T. Classical Dynamics, Dover Publications Inc., 1977, ISBN 0-486-69690-1
Hu, H. Variational Principles of Theory of Elasticity With Applications, Taylor & Francis, 1984. ISBN 0-677-31330-
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Langhaar, H. L. Energy Methods in Applied Mechanics, Krieger, 1989.
Reddy, J.N. Energy Principles and Variational Methods in Applied Mechanics, John Wiley, 2002. ISBN 0-471-
17985-X
Shames, I. H. and Dym, C. L. Energy and Finite Element Methods in Structural Mechanics, Taylor & Francis,
1995, ISBN 0-89116-942-3
Tauchert, T.R. Energy Principles in Structural Mechanics, McGraw-Hill, 1974. ISBN 0-07-062925-0
Washizu, K. Variational Methods in Elasticity and Plasticity, Pergamon Pr, 1982. ISBN 0-08-026723-8
Wunderlich, W. Mechanics of Structures: Variational and Computational Methods, CRC, 2002. ISBN 0-8493-
0700-7

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