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Notched beam

Linear finite-element
analysis does not Authored by:
provide enough Paul M. Kurowski

information about Tom P. Kurowski
Project Engineer
buckling to make A notched beam is loaded with a 1N compressive load uniformly distributed over the
end face. The beam is analyzed with a free end (top) and a sliding end (bottom). The Design Generator Inc.
correct design illustration is not to scale. London, Ontario, Canada

with decisions, especially
when designing
Edited by Leslie Gordon
Linear buckling, free end
Design Generator Inc., www.
lightweight designgenerator .com
Note: All examples were
components. solved with SolidWorks
Simulation 2010. You can
download the models at http://
In many design projects, engineers must calculate the lems are best presented in the context of two other failure Results of the linear-buckling analysis of the notched beam
factor of safety (FOS) to ensure the design will withstand modes: excessive displacements and yielding, as summa- with the free end show the BLF to be 567. So the analysis
the expected loadings. Calculations require correctly rized in the Failure modes table. predicts buckling at the load of 567 N. Displacement values
recognizing the mechanisms of failure, and this is a dif- are only relative and, therefore, meaningless.
ficult task. All too often we associate structural failure Linear-buckling analysis
only with yielding and are satisfied when design analysis First, consider a linear-buckling analysis (also called
shows a sufficient FOS related to yield. eigenvalue-based buckling analysis), which is in many
However, yielding is not the only mode of failure. For ways similar to modal analysis. Linear buckling is the most — depending on the particular FEA package) to obtain the nonconservative results. However, BLFs are also overesti-
example, it is necessary to consider displacements to en- common type of analysis and is easy to execute, but it is buckling-load magnitude. mated because of modeling errors. FE models most often
sure the part or assembly does not deform too much. Also limited in the results it can provide. The buckling mode presents the shape the structure represent geometry with no imperfections and loads and
important is buckling, which is all-too-often forgotten and Linear-buckling analysis calculates buckling load assumes when it buckles in a particular mode, but says supports are applied with perfect accuracy with no offsets.
yet poses a dangerous mode of design failure. Buckling magnitudes that cause buckling and associated buckling nothing about the numerical values of the displacements In reality though, loads are always applied with offsets,
happens suddenly, without little if any prior warning, so modes. FEA programs provide calculations of a large or stresses. The numerical values can be displayed, but faces are never perfectly flat, and supports are never per-
there is almost no chance for corrective action. number of buckling modes and the associated buckling- are merely relative. This is in close analogy to modal fectly rigid. Even if supports are modeled as flexible, their
Certain problems tend to arise in buckling analysis per- load factors (BLF). The BLF is expressed by a number analysis, which calculates the natural frequency and stiffness is never evenly distributed. Imperfections are al-
formed with finite-element analysis (FEA). These prob- which the applied load must be multiplied by (or divided provides qualitative information on the modes of vibra- ways present in the real world. Considering the combined
tion (modal shapes), but not on the actual magnitude of effect of discretization error (a minor effect) and modeling
displacements. error (a major effect), designers should interpret the re-
Failure modes Theoretically, it is possible to calculate as many buck- sults of linear buckling analysis with caution.
MODE OF LEVEL OF ling modes as the number of degrees of freedom in the For an example of a linear buckling analysis, consider
FAILURE RECOGNITION ATTRIBUTES FEA model. Most often, though, only the first positive a model of a beam in compression (beam material is 1060
buckling mode and its associated BLF need be found. This aluminum). The model is studied in two configurations:
Excessive At times we forget to This is a global failure mode. Excessive displacements, by themselves, may render a is because higher buckling modes have no chance of tak- with a free loaded end, and with a sliding loaded end.
displacement check for displacements design unusable but do not have to lead to structural collapse. Displacements are ing place — buckling most often causes catastrophic fail- In the Notched beam figure, note the small notch — its
easy to model using FEA.
ure or renders the structure unusable. importance will soon become clear. Also, try predicting
Yielding A well-recognized mode Typically a local failure mode; small yield zones can often be tolerated. Does not The nomenclature is “the first positive buckling mode” which way the beam should buckle in each configuration.
of failure necessarily lead to structural collapse. Yield is relatively easy to model using FEA. because buckling modes are reported in the ascending or- In the Linear buckling, free end figure, why has the
Buckling The most-often forgotten This is a global failure mode. Happens without any prior warning. Almost always der according to their numerical values. A buckling mode beam buckled in the wrong direction, and not toward
mode of structural failure leads to structural collapse. Buckling is difficult to model with FEA. with a negative BLF means the load direction must be re- the side where the notch is? Because the linear-buckling
versed (in addition to multiplying by the BLF magnitude) analysis only predicts the buckled shape and not the direc-
The modes of structural failure include displacement, yielding, and buckling. Of course, this is not a complete list of failure
for buckling to happen. tion of buckling.
modes .
As a consequence of discretization error, linear buck- The Linear buckling, sliding end figure shows the beam
ling analysis overestimates the buckling load and provides buckling in the correct direction, but this is purely co-


Linear buckling, sliding end Sheet metal under load Linear versus nonlinear analysis
Results of the
analysis of the
notched beam
with the sliding
end show the BLF
to be 9623. So the
analysis predicts
buckling at the
load of 9,623 N.
values are

incidental. The color legends with Nonlinear buckling, free end

displacement magnitudes in both
figures point out their meaningless-
ness. They show that linear buckling
analysis cannot provide quantitative
Results of a linear-buckling analysis of the plate incorrectly
results for displacements or stresses. show the buckling direction (left). Nonlinear results correctly
In addition, linear-buckling anal- The red line shows the predict that buckling happens towards the center of curvature
ysis does not show what happens to relation between the Buckling does not necessarily lead to (right). A load-displacement curve would show a stiffening
a structure after buckling. Does the load factor (X axis) and structural collapse as seen in this example of a effect in the postbuckling stage, meaning that the plate
structure collapse, or will it retain the vertical displacement thin curved steel plate. regains stiffness after buckling has taken place.
the load-bearing ability in the buck- of the loaded end (Y axis) of a
led shape? How much will it deform beam made with a linear elastic
when it buckles? To obtain more material. The blue line shows the to implement in a buckling analysis. When buckling hap- sis of the notched beam.
information than the BLF and the load-displacement curve for an pens, the structure undergoes a momentary loss of stiff- Note that in the figure Nonlinear buckling, free end,
elastic-perfectly plastic material.
qualitative buckled shape, it is neces- ness and the load control method would result in nu- the red line shows that buckling happens at about
A 1 N force was applied, so the
sary to enter the domain of nonlinear load factor on X is numerically the merical instabilities. Nonlinear buckling analysis requires 550 N, close to what the linear-buckling analysis pre-
buckling analysis. same as the actual load. another way of controlling load application — the arc dicted. The beam buckles towards the notched side as it
length control method. Here, points corresponding to should. Then, the displacement grows at an almost con-
Nonlinear-buckling consecutive load increments are evenly spaced along the stant load. The result implies that the beam is capable of
analysis load-displacement curve, which itself is constructed dur- balancing the 550 N acting at an increasing load offset,
ing load application. but this is clearly unrealistic because the buckling of
As with any other nonlinear anal- Nonlinear buckling, sliding end In contrast to linear-buckling analysis, which only cal- the notched beam initiates a chain of events leading to
ysis, nonlinear-buckling analysis re- culates the potential buckling shape with no quantitative structural collapse.
quires that a load be applied gradu- values of importance, nonlinear analysis calculates actual To model these events, it is necessary to account for an-
ally in multiple steps rather than in The graph shows displacement displacements and stresses. To better understand the in- other source of nonlinearity beside the already considered
results of a nonlinear buckling
one step as in a linear analysis. Each analysis of the notched beam with
ner workings of nonlinear-buckling analysis, first consider geometric nonlinearity. That other source is yielding. This
load increment changes the struc- sliding end using elastic material what happens in running a nonlinear-buckling analysis on is done by using an elastic perfectly plastic material, the
ture’s shape, and this, in turn, changes (red) and elastic-perfectly plastic an idealized structure. Imagine a perfectly round and per- simplest type of nonlinear material models.
the structure’s stiffness. Therefore, material (blue). fectly straight column under a perfectly aligned compres- In the figure Nonlinear buckling, free end, the blue
the structure stiffness must be up- sive load. Theoretically, buckling will never happen, but in line, which represents the load-displacement curve for
dated at each increment. In this ap- actuality, buckling will take place because of imperfections this material, looks much different than the red line.
proach, which is called the load con- in the geometry, loads, and supports. The buckling still happens at 550 N, indicating that
trol method, load steps are defined When real-world imperfections are absent in the FEA the onset of buckling took place with the material still
either by the user or automatically model, buckling will still happen, but it will be initiated by in the elastic range. After a period of elastic buckling
so the difference in displacement be- imperfections introduced by discretization errors. There- (the vertical portion of the blue curve that leads to its
tween the two consecutive steps is fore, nonlinear buckling requires a model with some ini- maximum load the beam can support), the load rapidly
not too large. tial imperfection. When no such imperfections are pres- drops. This is because to maintain equilibrium, it would
A lt h ou g h t h e l o a d - c ont rol ent, they must be added to control the onset of buckling. In be necessary to reduce the applied force.
method is used in most types of non- the example, the imperfection is the notch. However, when the load stays the same, as is most often
linear analyses, it would be difficult Consider what happens in a nonlinear buckling analy- the case, the end of the vertical portion of the curve marks


Where modal and buckling analyses meet

Linear-buckling analysis is also called eigenvalue buckling or Euler buckling analysis because it predicts the theoretical
buckling strength of an elastic structure. Eigenvalues are values of load at which buckling takes place. Eigenvectors are
buckling shapes associated with the corresponding eigenvalues. According to eigenvalue-buckling analysis, buckling
takes place when — as a result of subtracting the stress stiffness induced by a compressive load from the elastic stiffness
— the resultant structure stiffness drops to zero.
Both linear-buckling analysis and modal analysis (which is also linear) can predict a large number of modes. In a
buckling analysis, the only mode of practical importance is the first one with a positive buckling load factor (BLF). In
modal analysis we are usually interested in the few first modes.


Natural frequency (more precisely, the square
Eigenvalue Load-causing buckling
of angular frequency)
Mode (shape) assumed by the structure when Mode assumed by the structure as it vibrates
loaded with a load-causing buckling with the natural frequency
How many modes have
The first mode with a positive BLF Usually only the first few modes
practical importance?
The table summarizes analogies and the differences between buckling and modal analysis.

The natural frequencies may significantly Frequency versus load

depend on the applied load. If this is the case,
modal analysis should account for prestress.
Tensile stresses boost natural frequencies,
illustrated by tuning a guitar string or by the
stress stiffening of a rotating component such
as a turbine blade.
Rotating machinery typically requires that
designers consider the effect of prestress.
Compressive stresses reduce natural
frequencies. For example, an analysis of The natural frequency of a
natural frequencies of a compressed column column under compressive
demonstrates that the first natural frequency load decreases as the
declines with the load. Note that load compressive load rises. The
magnitude corresponding to zero frequency load magnitude for which
equals the buckling load because this is when the frequency becomes zero
is the buckling load.
the compressed column looses its stiffness.

the beam’s structural collapse. Here, the beam is totally place at 2,500 N, when the notched cross section is already
plasticized and can no longer support the load. If you ex- plastic.
amined the deformed shape you would have noted that The upshot: linear-buckling analysis can only provide
most of the deformation takes place at the support where limited information, often not enough to make a design
the plastic “hinge” develops. decision, especially when designing lightweight com-
In repeating the analysis for the same beam with the ponents. Nonlinear-buckling analysis should, therefore,
sliding restraint, the results, as shown in Nonlinear buck- become more routine in design departments. Most often
ling, sliding end, reveal that the linear material model the nonlinear-buckling analysis should account both for
(red) predicts buckling at about 9,500 N, close to the lin- geometry nonlinearity and for nonlinear material. The
ear BLF. However, a load this high causes yielding of the increased computing power of hardware combined with
entire cross section in the notched area and this cannot be easier-to-use FEA software now make it practical to add
modeled with a linear elastic material model. The elastic- nonlinear buckling analyses to almost any design engi-
perfectly plastic model (blue) shows that buckling takes neer’s toolbox. MD